I exchanged a few texts with a friend yesterday, cleaning up some murky plans to have lunch on Sunday, when she pointed out that a meeting I'm attending tomorrow night coincides with the Oscars.
I made a joke about the clueless nature of planners, which was less of a joke when you consider I'd never thought of the conflict. Because it's not a conflict.
There was a time when it would have been, absolutely. There were years when Oscar Night was a holiday, one in which I turned every television set in the house to ABC so I wouldn't miss a moment, and snacks were crucial, etc.
Now, it's been 3-4 years since I last bothered, and that was when I was visiting family and watched what they watched. It was fine. Birdman won that year, and I'd just seen it on the plane trip. It felt symmetrical, watching it win, as though I had a little stake in the game.
As with a lot of people, I just have too much on my plate, too much to see and sample and taste and discuss. Movies are expensive, and MoviePass is not really an option in my neighborhood for the foreseeable future. I don't have a companion, anyway, so I'd end up seeing movies by myself, sitting in the dark, not a bad thing but not, I suspect, all that healthy for me.
So we wait, just like everybody else. We have no pressure, no imperative. No rush. No hurry at all, even with something such as The Post, about journalism and politics and the practical application of the First Amendment. I eat this stuff up, but I missed my window of enthusiasm. I'll get to it.
Which is what I said about Lincoln, which also should push all of my movie buttons, and which I saw last year, I believe. Five years after the fact. So. It's a brave new world out there.
Movies have always felt like a universal passion to me, something I shared with pretty much everybody else. Who doesn't like movies?
And there's that. I can imagine plenty of people who never watch anything, preferring to read or, dunno, hike or hang-glide. Plenty of them. But they're exceptions, or so my thinking went. We all go to movies, and we should. You haven't seen The Last Jedi? What's wrong with you? Seriously. Something must be wrong.
Here I am, though, seeing maybe three films last year in a theater, Jedi one of them but only at the insistence of my family. I could have passed, although I loved the experience of seeing it with them on a big screen.
I grew up, in my prime film-going years, during a Golden Age of movie making, the 1970s, when the names that are still famous became that way: Streep, Redford, Nicholson, Eastwood, Hoffman. Gene Hackman. Men, mostly, or at least men are remembered. Men got more chances, as they aged, and while that seems to be slooooowly changing it's pretty slow. Stars that linger past their suspected due date tend to have a Y-chromosome.
But the films were spectacular, and I saw one every week, sometimes more often. In the early '80s, when my wife and I were first doing this stuff as a couple, we went to movies all the time, beginning with E.T., an accidental encounter of the most important kind. We just ended up sitting next to each other in a theater, not a big thing, no news coming out of that, but it's fun to remember.
Then there were the hours/days I spent in the summer as a teenager, soaking up yesteryear's big hits on the local Dialing For Dollars in the afternoon. This station apparently had a big Warner Bros. catalogue, so I dove into the Depression and the war years. and right into the arms of Bogie, Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, John Garfield, Walter Huston, Mary Astor, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda. I saw everything, loved everything, became a teenager with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular entertainment from 40 years in the past.
So I was primed for movies, early on, helped along by television, and it's hard to figure out when that all changed. Probably slowly, over time, and definitely in the past 10 years. I used to see movies all the time, in fact, with a friend in Seattle, just the two of us checking out whatever one of us was interested in. Lincoln apparently never made the list, weird. We definitely saw Superbad. It was really funny.
I still follow the subject. I pay close attention sometimes, particularly in the past few years as I've become more familiar with the process of making a movie, having, y'know. Made one.
So I know what's out there. I know the dark horses and the also-rans, the surprises, the disappointments, the big failures. I keep an eye on things. Just not two eyes. Not usually.
And I have no predictions for the big night, none. I won't be surprised or disappointed by anything, which I will learn about eventually. I have a meeting.
I do enjoy some the articles out there at the moment. The way the Academy was conceived by Jack Warner as a union-busting device, only slowly opening itself up to pageantry as the movie-crazy populace demanded more. The big (supposed) errors in winners and losers, the classics that were dissed and the mediocre held up as quality, bouncing off the box office.
I read a good piece this morning, in The Atlantic, reviewing the 50-year-old Mike Nichol's hit, The Graduate (released in 1967, nominated in 1968). These are younger people, which doesn't disqualify them but is obviously a different perspective than someone who remembers society at that time. Not like I do, but you understand. It's not like watching The Best Years of Their Lives and feeling alien from that world. I remember the 1960s, if through gauze and Vaseline. I sort of remember The Graduate, although it would be years before I got around to seeing it (so don't feel bad, Mr. Lincoln).
The overall gist of the piece is that The Graduate doesn't particularly hold up, feels a little dated and tone-deaf, even to the era. And one of the contributors made what I think is an excellent point about this, one that might not come from a contemporary, 1967 watcher: Katharine Ross, who plays Elaine Robinson, is just not a good actress, and brings the film down to her level.
This surprised me by being true, I think. As this person points out, she just got lucky, ending up in famous films around the same time (the other would be in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two years later). She really isn't very good, although lovely to watch and with a certain appealing presence, some steel behind the smile. But not great, although I haven't seen The Graduate in a while.
It's this kind of musing, though, that I enjoy. I'd rather talk about a good movie for hours than watch it, probably. Kinda moot.
At any rate, I won't be watching. Probably some YouTube clips will do it. I hope everyone has a good time. I hope Greta Gerwig wins something, because I really like Greta Gerwig.
I've seen two Best Picture winners out of the past 10, 8 out of the past 20, 11 out of 30, 18 out of 40, 28 out of 50, and you get it. The more time passes, the more likely I am to get around to one of these, but in my heyday? Between 1967 and 1977, I saw all 10 Best Picture winners, and I'm pretty sure I saw them all within a year or two of their release at most. I've seen a little more than half of the winners over the 90-year history of the awards. For what it's worth. Again, some of these have classic legs, and some of them wander off into oblivion.
The first winners were all silent films, as talkies were considered novelties, not so much with the art. It took them a few years.
The first winner I'm familiar with won the gold in 1933, It Happened One Night, and that's probably one of my top 10 Most Important Films (at least American films). It was a minor project, a bit of a demotion for Clark Gable (who was causing Louis Mayer problems and thus punished by making him work for another studio with a lesser director), a boost to the career of director Frank Capra, and a big surprise, winning all the major awards, something not repeated for 45 years.
And we all know the stories of those strange years, like 1939, when Gone With The Wind took the honors by besting The Wizard of Oz and Stagecoach, among half a dozen other, better movies. But it's GWTW.
Or 1941, when How Green Was My Valley beat Sergeant York, The Maltese Falcon, and Citizen Kane, arguably the best movie ever made. Crazy.
Anyway. No predictions from me. Not much interest, either. I've only seen one of the nominees for Best Picture, although I'll catch up soon. I watched Coco the other night and loved it, and I assume that will get more love tomorrow night, but otherwise, no skin in this game for me. I will be otherwise engaged.
But honestly? I wish I could go back to those days, when I saw all the movies and knew all the performances and loved the Oscars. To steal from Pauline Kael, I lost it at the movies, long ago. It'd be nice to find it again.