Cover image provided by Arnab Mondal
So here's the thing. The Oscars are a bunch of snooty golden statuettes awarded by old directors and producers who like watching grand dramas, populated by Acting (with a capital A, of course) and subplots about how the medium of films is amazing.
Of course, this ends up with a system celebrating the same kinds of movies, year after year. And the frontrunner for this year's Best Picture, La La Land, certainly ticks a lot of the checkboxes to help it work its way to an easy win.
Which is where the moviegoing public finds itself with the responsibility to help weed out movies that get massively hyped up without reason, right? There are plenty of awards that have been given to undeserving candidates already - we need to balance the playing field, so to speak, don't we?
See, I'm not too sure about that.
Watching movies these days is an activity that has somehow evolved to include watching the watchers, so to speak. Modern film criticism often involves an examination of the audience that are being appealed to. This has helped quite a lot in identifying niches in the audience, something that moviemakers can exploit - the existence of Stranger Things wouldn't have been possible if the producers hadn't figured out that a market for 80s nostalgia still exists. In other ways, it has also ended up hobbling the moviegoing experience - people pay much more attention to the reception of a product than the product itself.
To pare it all down to a snooty statement, we've all started to base our opinions around the hype created by the general public. And the general public is really, really stupid. Which ends up explaining our own stupidity, of course.
I have to take a time-out from the subject at hand now - I assure you, this article isn't aimed at insulting any of you.
My point is this - the filmgoing public loves nothing more than to pick teams and play fantasy football with movies, and eventually, they become aggressive against any movie they spy outside their treehouse.
And with the advent of the internet, it's even easier to see when something is adored by the masses, which makes delineating camps easier - all you have to do is state an opinion that goes against the mainstream, and suddenly you're the underdog advocating for the poor misunderstood devil. And because the existence of this position of yours hinges on your opinion on the movie being decided even before you enter the cinema hall, you're going to have to make a tough choice.
Do you watch the movie, or do you try to defeat it all the way through?
And there's around 80% of amateur film criticism right there - expressed through highlighting all the worst parts, expressing irritation at the reception of the movie, and capping it all off with a dramatic exclamation of your exaggerated opinion.
We've seen it this year with La La Land. Already a contender for Best Picture, it's been subject to some massive backlash (for some examples, check this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this one's literally titled Let The La La Land Backlash Begin.). Some of it is understandable - it's not a perfect movie, and for a bunch of struggling artists, the protagonists still seem to have it too easy, it's a movie with a focus on jazz and it only focuses on white people, etc, etc.
Here's the thing, though - none of them are deal-breakers. It chooses to tell one kind of story, and it mostly does it pretty well. You may have your reasons for disliking or outright hating it, of course. Movies can't be truly objectively evaluated, and your opinion of one needn't fall with the majority. And that's alright.
But over the past few months, I've seen a trend in discussions related to the movie, and how most of it isn't centred at the movie as much as its reception. Hell, even if you disregard any published article, carrying an actual conversation with anyone who dislikes the movie can be frustrating. Here's a sample from some of the many conversations I've had.
"So, what did you think of La La Land?"
"It doesn't really deserve an Oscar nomination."
"But what did you think of La La Land?"
"I think it's quite overrated."
"But what did you think of La La Land?"
"I think it's a movie that was designed for winning an Oscar, don't you?"
"BUT WHAT DID YOU THINK OF LA LA LAND?"
"Oh. It was fine, I guess. But have you even seen Lion? It's much much much much better than-"
This is usually around the time I get frustrated and die.
I'm sure not everyone's had this conversation, of course - the movie is a worldwide hit, after all. However, I am willing to bet my life on the fact that this particular conversation happens everywhere, in every circle, a number of times every year - especially with any movie that gains a good amount of hype and adoration. With the changing nature of film discussion, we end up discussing people more than the movies they've watch.
And let's not mince words here - people fucking suck.
So let's make sure our opinion is based on the movie itself, and not on the people who watch it, yeah? Given the current state of film discussion, it wouldn't hurt to discuss the film on its own terms, free of any preconceived notions of its quality. You're not a critic if all you're walking into a theatre to do is criticize every single aspect of whatever you're watching, unable to recognise any strengths.
Because, at the end of the day, aren't we lucky to experience yet another piece of cinema and be able to have great discussions about it?