Well, it’s that time of year again, Constant Reader – time for me to blog about this year’s Academy Awards ceremony despite not viewing it on television, or having watched many of the movies. I’ve seen two of the nominated films, Everything Everywhere All At Once and Tar, which I think is pretty good considering that damn pandemic is still going on. But I didn’t watch the Oscar ceremony. I’m not the sort of snob who thinks that the Oscars are without merit; in my heart, I’ll always be that child growing up in the cultural desert of suburbia, looking to the list of awards as a starting point, a beginner’s guide to that larger culture I so desperately wanted to find. But the ceremony itself? In an age of social media I don’t need to watch it in order to find out who won what. I don’t care about the glitz or the fashions; I don’t enjoy the production numbers. And most of all, I find the whole politicking behind the awards distasteful. If you believe in the arts as a noble pursuit in and of itself, if you’re an idealist, then the kind of behind the scenes jockeying and backstabbing that takes place is distressing.
Even so, sometimes an Oscar campaign manages to be inspiring. There were a whole lot of inspirational stories interspersed throughout last night’s telecast (Ke Huy Quan, people!), and the usual share of disappointments and outrages, but I’m specifically thinking of Jamie Lee Curtis’ win as Best Supporting Actress. Whether hers actually was the best supporting female performance of the year is, of course, debatable – Angela Bassett partisans have every right to be salty, as she really ought to have a statuette by now. If you think back to Stephanie Hsu’s work you can argue that Curtis, whose work is wonderful, was nevertheless not the best supporting actress simply within that movie. And of course, Curtis is Hollywood royalty in a company town, which clearly played a factor. It still needs to be said, that Jamie Lee Curtis ran the absolute best Oscar campaign of any actor in many a long year.
Largely because she was never campaigning for herself. At least, she never appeared to be.
Instead, all throughout this long campaign season, she’s served as Everything Everywhere All At Once’s head cheerleader. She’s loudly and publicly celebrated Michelle Yeoh’s work. She was on hand when James Wong received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She’s noisily rejoiced at each of her costar’s good fortune and probably DJ’d a birthday party for one of the key grips at some point. At every turn, she’s turned the spotlight away from herself and towards her collaborators – and last night, she reaped the rewards of the resulting goodwill.
Now, was this performative? Probably, to some extent. (And so what? The woman’s a performer, dammit.) But it’s still the most instructive, most positive lesson to come out of this ceremony in a good long while. Movies, like all performance mediums, are a collaborative art form. You cannot possibly succeed alone. No matter how strong your own work, you are entirely dependent upon the rest of your team – and they are dependent upon you. Whatever glory you might achieve – be that artistic, or financial, or whatever you prefer – can only be achieved by elevating your colleagues. Given the rampant egomania we tend to associate with Hollywood, it’s nice to see them remembering this, at least once a year.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish crying over Ke Huy Quan hugging Harrison Ford.