In keeping with my resolution to spend time among things that made me really happy before I started to doubt and dislike myself, I’m really stoked about the Oscars this year. When I was a kid, staying awake to watch the Academy Awards was one of my favorite nights of the year. By middle school, I was waking up early to commandeer my family’s basement as my Red Carpet Coverage Headquarters. When Monsters, Inc. was up for Best Animated Feature, I put a bowtie on my stuffed Mike Wazowski and took him as my date.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint why I enjoy award show, and the Oscars especially, so much. On paper, the Oscars represent and celebrate a lot of things I typically loathe. For example:
The treatment of female actors on the red carpet like well-groomed show ponies.
The circle-jerk-like insistence on the strength and bravery it takes for well-off Hollywood actors to slip into the lives of humans who are are actually struggling and finding courage in the face of daily adversity.
The dominance of the white, straight, cis male narrative.
And on and on and on.
So, why do I watch? Why do I care?
The first time I had deep, rabid, and personal stakes in the Oscars was when The Fellowship of the Ring was nominated for Best Picture (among others). Holy Battle of Five Armies, it meant so much to me that Fellowship be declared the best movie of the year.
Seeing Fellowship for the first time was an awakening for me. I had read The Hobbit in 5th grade, fresh off my Narnia days, and liked it a lot. I started The Lord of the Rings in middle school, but found myself struggling with it. Reading in 6th grade was devoted to programs like Accelerated Reader, which rewarded a student’s ability to read a lot of books in a relatively short amount of time. I couldn’t get through LotR fast enough to earn the points I needed. I turned to the delicious and relatively more bite-sized fantasy morsels of Brian Jacques and Tamora Pierce instead.
In 7th grade, I went with a big group of friends to the Mall of Georgia to see Fellowship. I was excited, of course, but in what I consider a normal, even healthy way. I had no idea what was lurking in the dark, waiting for me.
If John Williams’ opening title theme for Star Wars jolts off the screen jump-to-lightspeed style to punch you in the face, then the opening notes of Howard Shore’s epic LotR score creep, if not slither, out of the darkness to envelop you in smoke and blood and eternity. Coupled with Cate Blanchett’s delivery of the Prologue, I was transfixed from the very beginning.
Fellowship was the realest movie I had ever seen. It didn’t matter that the characters were Hobbits and Dwarves and Elves; I felt that I could physically reach out and brush my fingertips against their pain, their joy, their defeat, their triumphs, their despair, and their hope.
A lot of stories had already meant a lot of things to me by the time I was twelve years old, but the film version of Fellowship presented a new flavor of my appreciation– confidence. I loved this work of art, and I was 100% right about doing so. I couldn’t possibly be objective about Fellowship. It was incredible, and that was a fact.
It mattered a lot to me that everyone in the world agree with me about the brilliance in Fellowship. I knew it wouldn’t make me– a lifelong gawky, hopelessly devout bookworm with dumb hair– cool or pretty or popular, but it would make me right.
“Go ahead! Make fun of me! I liked the Best Movie of the Year, and I liked it before you, and that makes me better than you.”
You know, ’cause twelve year old jocks have a lot invested in the Academy Awards.
When Fellowship lost to A Beautiful Mind, I was fucking outraged. I went on the morning announcements at school the next day, and delivered a blistering rant about the injustice of the whole thing. To this day, I still kind of hate Russell Crowe. His failure to carry a tune in Les Miserables sustains me.
Why did this matter to me so much? I’m always tempted to roll my eyes and scoff at particularly rowdy and excited sports fans on the eve of a Big Game, but that just makes me a geeky hypocrite.
“Pssh. It’s not like you’re on the team. Why do you care so much about the outcome?”
It’s because the really good narratives of fellowship that speak to us, be they of team sports or ensemble-driven films, do make us feel like we’re part of the victory. What we care about and what we stand for is what’s actually at stake. Security and pride in our identity is the trophy we crave.
I wanted, even needed, Fellowship of the Ring to be recognized as the Best Picture of 2001, because it represented what matters most to me: loyalty, teamwork, and courage onscreen, as well as passion, determination, and even more teamwork offscreen.
It matters for more reasons than I can eloquently state that different kinds of movies featuring different kinds of heroes and different kinds of narratives get attention. For better or for worse, the Academy Awards provide some of that attention. Smarter people have written thoughtfully about this topic better than I can, and you should hear what they have to say. As a geeky tween, seeing Fellowship of the Ring garner attention and accolades made me feel validated and seen, in a weird transitive way.
This Sunday night, I’m going to grab some snacks and head over to a friend’s apartment to watch the Oscars. I’m going to swoon over the beautiful dresses on display, cry during the In Memoriam segment, tap my toes through all the performances of the Best Song nominees, and really listen to all the acceptance speeches. Whether it be a narrative to which I can personally relate or not, I want to hear what these stories and these films meant to all the diverse people who made them. I still want to believe in the power of movies.
The Oscars need to do better. There are twelve year olds out there, staying up past their bedtime on a school night and clutching their stuffed animals to their hearts in wonder. They should all have the opportunity to see their stories and their dreams represented and validated.
in case you care, dani’s pick for best picture this year: in fairness, i’ve only seen six of the nine nominees, but i’m pulling for you, moonlight.