Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blah-scar Nominations

When I was younger, the Academy Awards were the living end: the pinnacle of glamour, the acme of accomplishment, the very height of American can-do attitude with a healthy dose of beaded gowns. The red carpet, the shots of an audience in stitches - when I first started watching, the show was hosted by Billy Crystal, who was irascibly, harmlessly funny - the tearful speeches, the interminable running time: it felt so big, like everyone who mattered was in that room that night, and they were all dressed to impress.

Seen through the eyes of a child - a child slightly obsessed with old Hollywood, who, in the sixth grade, wrote a report on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal - the Oscars represented the untouchable loveliness of Hollywood. 1994 was the first year I watched, and the show was both a tease (those clips! Of Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption!) and a barge (it lasted for hours: it was literally the longest show I had ever watched). In more recent years, the Academy has done away with some of the stateliness, and the clips are a little less enticing, but it's still basically celebrating the best of cinemasphere.

Or is it?

Yesterday, the nominees for 2012 were announced, and, like every year, there's backlash. "Where's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? What's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close doing in there? Do I spy Transformers 3: Dark Side of the Moon on that list?" Lists like this are always contentious, because film, like all other art forms, is subjective. The Academy has always revelled in a certain filmic elitism: comedies never get nominated, animated features have been ghettoized, and the movies that actually get seen by regular civilians are nowhere to be found.

Example: Tin-Tin was a marvellous movie, full of action and comedy and excellent performances. The Academy, though, is slow to adapt to changing technologies like motion- and performance capture, so movies like Tin-Tin, that use emerging techniques in order to make some truly stellar movie moments, get ignored. Don't believe me? Do you honestly believe that Puss in Boots, a Shrek spin-off that was pretty much greeted with "Did we really need this?" deserves an Oscar more than the beautifully choreographed chase through Morocco?

Or the question of motion capture, period: Andy Serkis, who has made his living playing characters that aren't quite human (Gollum, Cesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the animated Captain Haddock in Tin-Tin). He does beautiful, subtle work. But he often does it in a motion-capture suit, and the character's is filled in around him in post-production. Serkis doesn't look like George Clooney or Brad Pitt, but his characters are creations that straddle the line between "human" and "other," and after this summer's Rise, there was a motion from fans to recognize good work.

The Academy ignored that work completely.

As I get older, I realize that the Oscars aren't really about celebrating what's truly great, even though that does sometimes happen: The Artist is nominated this year, and it should win. The other nominees were divisive: Tree of Life, The Help and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close split the critics, and flicks like War Horse are such transparent Oscar-bait that I avoid them out of a sense of duty. But mostly, the Best Picture nods always take themselves so seriously: so many dramas and period pieces, so many dying kids and dying moms and failing husbands and injured animals - it's all too much.

Part of it is growing up, and becoming less enamoured with Hollywood - the old-time glamour is gone. The machinery of the industry is much more in-your-face. Box office get discussed around water coolers. Comedies get ignored at awards shows. I've aged out of the demographic that will take in every last thing Hollywood says as gospel: the cacophony of awards and critics isn't silenced by the Oscars, only frothed up further. I wonder if my kids will crouch by the TV on the night of the Oscars, breathlessly watching the Hollywood elite celebrate each other's work. I somehow doubt it. Part of me doubts that I'll be there, either.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Your Mommyblog Doesn't Wear Combat Boots

Last year, mommyblogs were all the rage, and Mormon mommyblogs were especially au courant. Slate published a shamefaced essay, written by a self-proclaimed feminist who couldn't tear herself away from all the shiny, happy young women who were photoblogging and writing love notes to their impossibly handsome husbands. Emily Matchar, the author of the Slate article, wrote about her cringe-y, self-judging relationship with these blogs: as a young feminist,she wasn't really looking to become a young stay-at-home wife and mother, making pom-pom garlands and jellies. But Matchar talked about craving the other side of the post-feminist discourse, the one that doesn't focus on BPA in the baby bottles, episiotomies, and work-life-balance fraught terror of screwing up your kids while your kid, in turn, ruins your own professional and personal life.

When these sprightly blogs cross my path,I fall on them like wolves on sheep. I want to read every entry of each blog, but as I go through and look at wedding pictures (the dresses are all sacks, the bride and groom are undergrads), I feel a creeping queasiness. I'm jealous...and also angry...and then glad they're not me...and then jealous again.

The Mormon mommyblogs seem so simple: gratitude flows from each entry. They're the polar opposite of most young people's personal blog. I've always had more glass-half-empty stuff to say, and online, it become very easy for a blog to become a litany of moody song lyrics, YouTube videos that will somehow express how I feel, links to bummer news stories, and Instagram posts of half-done crosswords, half-eaten meals, and half-drank pints. We're kind of a downer, at least on the internet. Compared to the mommyblogs, which feature sweeping images of the Utah mountainscape (so gorgeous I would consider converting just to live there [Not really. --Ed.]), my life is blah, boring. Their sun shines constantly.

One of my high school teachers once asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated. I shrugged and said, "I dunno, what are the qualifications for becoming a mom?" I've never actually had huge biological clock urges - even now I feel worried about things like baby weight and whether or not it's okay to let your infant just sleep on the floor (on a mat! I suspect the answer is still no, though). But there's something very primal and instinctual about becoming a parent. These young women have become more than parents, though. I would say that they're super-moms, but I don't mean that their parenting skills are any better than mine would be. They just seem to have their shit together, in a way that I am very far away from.

Part of the appeal of blogging, as Matchar points out, is that not everything you do, say, or think needs to make an appearance. My own blog, through sprawling in its scope, doesn't touch on everything, and the Mormon mommybloggers keep it even tinier. There are lovely photos of their young children and of large family parties. There are posts about pregnancy, and dinners with friends. There are video montages about Christmas. But their professional lives don't get mentioned - it's easy to imagine that these women spend all their time grooming their toddlers and choosing the perfect red lipstick, and that jobs are something for husbands and fathers, not for them. Larger social issues almost never get raised - these girls will never post about Mitt Romney or fiscal responsibility, not when their kids are doing something adorable.

The effect of these willful blind spots is that these writers seem to be transmitting from inside a snow globe - their lives are so beautiful, so magically perfect, that it's impossible to see if they work at the magic, and if they do, how hard. None of the seams show, but that also means there's no crack for me to sneak through. It's life, in a vacuum, with the perfect shade of red lipstick.