You guys. It’s my favorite weekend of the year. Oscar Weekend is my new Christmas. It’s no longer enough just to crash in front of a television in time for the Red Carpet (and oh the painfully awkward interviews upon it). It’s really an entire season. It begins with the “Oscar buzz” talk that starts before Christmas. It builds momentum once the People’s Choice voting begins. It gets really good around the Golden Globes and SAG and Critic’s Choice. I’ve been cramming for weeks now. My friend Nikki and I took in a doubleheader in another town (The Imitation Game, Selma). I took my entire family to American Sniper. Nikki came over for a really long, practically 12-year, viewing of Boyhood (that’s a joke about how it actually took 12 years to film that movie, and also, it’s really long – especially if it’s really late when you watch it.) I had my own private doubleheader with Birdman and The Theory of Everything this week. And I still feel so behind. I have two more Best Picture nominees to watch, and I won’t even manage things like Still Alice, Into the Woods, Wild, and The Judge, which also rank in the big categories and are recommended for people like me who like to be in the know about film-making’s best.
Some years I’m not even this prepared. And a couple times this year, like during that scene in Birdman that would appall my mother and had me covering my eyes a bit, too, I’ve wondered if preparation is really the way to go here. Maybe I like the Oscars better when I don’t know my own opinion about the movies being honored. But I’m coming around – the beauty of the art is sinking in, and the gritty bits are fading. Plus, I’m quite sure Neil Patrick Harris can host his way around the worst movies of the year, and I would still enjoy the show.
What I’ve realized while cramming for this show is that I have sort of lofty and super subjective criteria for the pictures I consider best. I think we all do. Here are the main three for me:
1. It makes me feel.
People who teach the art of storytelling will say you have to make the audience care. I haven’t watched any of this year’s films in order to check out. I actually don’t watch any film for the first time in order to escape from life. I watch them to engage. I sort of hand my heart and mind to the film and say, “What will you do with this?” I’m prepared to cry at sad parts, laugh out loud at the funny, and totally take in the gentle lessons (God forbid they be too blatant, that’s no fun, and it’s not very good art). When I measure the top nominees against each other, the winner would be one that made me feel, and in a way I believe enriched my life rather than taking from it.
2. It lifts me higher.
I basically want to walk out of a film a better person than I went in. I get something better; I care about something I hadn’t noticed before. I stop caring so much about stupid things, like how far my parking space is from the door. I come from the school of art that believes the point is more to raise a question or two than to provide the answers. As Maya Angelou has put it:
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
When a film returns my heart and mind, I hope it’s a mind with more questions than I had before. This is the higher place, I think. Not certainty so much as the belief that there is so much more to learn.
3. It does both of these through story.
I would like to think I can deeply, deeply appreciate the hard work of film-making and therefore the value in rewarding someone who has put the pieces together well. All the movies on the list have this – the seamless transitions in Birdman, for instance, (the movie feels like it was done in one take), or Boyhood’s acting feat in which the players became their character three days a year for twelve actual years, or the variety of different time periods we found ourselves in without disbelief even once. But the films I’ve seen so far that I will return to again are more than their technicalities: they made me feel, they lifted me higher, and they told me a story I will never, ever forget.
This year, when movies win that I would not have chosen, I won’t wonder if that means I’m not as movie-smart as the voters. It just means my life was different than theirs. Art may shape us, but life shapes our response to art. It’s a beautiful give and take from the storyteller to the story to every person who receives it. It can’t be predicted or measured, but in the end, that is the magic of film.