Little golden man puts classics in his shadow, stirs debate about quality of winners and losers

Kate Boswell:

Forget summer and spring, my favorite time of year is Oscar season. It’s that glorious time of year when the studios bring out the best and remind audiences that the art of filmmaking isn’t dead. The stories are engaging, the writing is smart, and the acting is superb. Other elements are other superlative words that mean awesome, and all of these elements come together to produce thought-provoking and emotionally charged films that immerse audiences to other worlds and times. Then one is crowned as the best of the year at the annual Academy Awards and joins the long list of films that represent a history of excellence in film.

Although I enjoy getting swept up in the hype of the Oscars and I have my favorites that I’ll be rooting for this Sunday, lately, I’ve been more concerned with the great history that film has provided. While we’re focusing on whether "The King’s Speech" or "The Social Network" will claim the top prize or if anyone can dethrone Colin Firth and Natalie Portman for the acting honors, we tend to forget the films that came before, making these films possible.

With every generation, there appears to be a stigma against classic movies for a number of reasons, whether it is because they are in black and white, there’s no major 3-D special effects or for the simple fact that they are old. But we cannot discard these treasures of cinema for such petty considerations. We should be embracing them, not only because they are the building blocks of modern cinema but because, more often than not, these films have stood the test of time and are still fresh after all these years.

Don’t believe me? Look at films like "Gone with the Wind," from 1939, or "Lawrence of Arabia," from 1962. These are epic films that still amaze audiences without an ounce of CGI or green screen in sight. Alfred Hitchcock’s "Psycho," "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest" still thrill and keep audiences on the edge of their seats with more intensity than any contemporary horror flick. Since the romantic comedies of today are considered boring, uninspired and just plain stupid, films like 1934’s "It Happened One Night" and 1940’s "The Philadelphia Story" remain original, clever and smart. Other films, like "Sunset Boulevard," "Casablanca" and "All About Eve," continue to captivate, even though it’s been more than 60 years since they were made.

More than anything, there is a certain kind of magic these older films have that is hard to recapture in modern times. For proof, look no further than any Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. The plots are simple and fluffy and have no value beyond entertainment. Despite that, the movies are so charming and engaging, largely due to the magnetism of Astaire and Rogers and their brilliant dancing, that you get suck into the world with ease. And these films are considered some of the best of the 1930s. If a modern studio tried to release a film following the same plot, it would be considered tired and silly.

Though we like to focus on the remarkable leaps and bounds film has made with technology in the past couple of years, what keeps audiences coming back to the theatres across America is great writing, directing and acting. And that is something that hasn’t changed since the inception of film over 100 years ago. So while you cheer for the newest editions to Oscar’s history this Sunday, take a trip through the archives of film history to find a fresh multitude of fresh ideas.

Aaron Hammond:

As someone who is obsessed with movies, I cannot help but get swept up in the early-winter showbiz fervor known as "Oscar season." The Academy Awards are on Sunday, Feb. 27, and just about everyone who has a laptop and likes movies at least a little bit has an opinion about them. There are some that love the pageantry of the event and just love the celebration of cinema that it brings. Others think it is an overblown self-congratulatory and hollow experience; that it is all, to quote Shakespeare, "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The Oscars are the only major awards show left that has any credibility. The Emmys, Grammys and Golden Globes are all popularity contests that do not base who wins their respective trophies on actual merit. Many have said the Oscars do the same thing, which they do, but to a lesser extent than the other award shows.
But my favorite thing about the Oscars is actually another reason why a lot of people hate the Oscars: they never give the awards to the people who deserve them. But I think arguing over who deserved to win and who did not is part of the fun. Award shows aren’t interesting if the right people win all the time. Sure, it is annoying when a terrible, overrated movie like "Crash" beat "Brokeback Mountain" for Best Picture in 2005. But hey, stuff like that starts conversations, which is a good thing in the end.
But one thing that does get under my skin about the Oscars is how political they can be. What I mean is they sometimes give or do not give Oscars to certain people not based on merit, but on whether or not they went around to all the parties and events the executives in Hollywood hold and did all the glad-handing that is expected. It is just like running for president. You have to go around, say all the right things, don’t ruffle any feathers and the Oscar is as good as yours. But if you do not do the campaigning, your chances of winning are pretty low. Also, they have a history of not awarding movies that are controversial. A great example of this was in 1941, when "Citizen Kane," considered by many to be the greatest American movie ever made, Best Picture to "How Green was My Valley," a movie about Irish farmers. Never heard of that one? Exactly. The main reason "Citizen Kane" lost was because the movie was allegedly based on the life of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of this time. He owned many of the major newspapers in America at the time, and he started a smear campaign against the film’s writer/director/star, Orson Welles, calling him a Communist, among other things. Knowing that giving "Citizen Kane" the Oscar would start a political firestorm, the Academy ignored it. Many believe this is the same reason "Brokeback Mountain," a movie about a gay romance between two ranchers, didn’t win Best Picture even though it was the overwhelming favorite that year.
But it is hard to get too fired up if a movie wins Best Picture or a certain actor or actress wins in their respective categories or not, because the number of Oscars a movie wins doesn’t have any impact on its quality. "The Dark Knight" is an amazing movie, but the fact that it didn’t even get nominated for Best Picture does not change that. Christopher Nolan not getting nominated for Best Director for "Inception" this year doesn’t change the fact that he is a great filmmaker and "Inception" is a great movie. The number of awards a movie wins or doesn’t win shouldn’t keep us from enjoying the movies we love.
But it does change the marketing. It is always good when talented people are recognized for their work, but the Oscars are just hardware. Everything actors and directors are remembered for is on the movie screen, not the trophy case.
Then there is the actual Oscar broadcast itself, which is usually long and drawn out, with the hosts delivering corny one-liners and musical numbers that make you want to claw your eyes out. That is the trade-off for liking the awards. So even though the Academy Awards have a lot of flaws and do not change the quality of the movies themselves, they are still fascinating to discuss and argue about. If anything, the Oscars are a guide that people can use to discover movies that they would not have seen otherwise, which is the most important aspect of the whole process.