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Why I don’t care about the Oscars anymore

I used to be an Oscars fanatic. But now, all the magic has gone

Sophia Loren wins the Best Actress Oscar for La ciociara in 1962. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

There are those rare moments when something hits you. When something comes at you with such force that you realise that there has been some kind of sea change.

Something has shifted in your mind, maybe even in your heart. And you are different. This moment shapes the rest of your thinking for the day, maybe even the rest of your life.

That happened to me the other day when I realised that: I really don’t care about the Oscars anymore. I Do Not Care.

I don’t care who was nominated, what the choices were for Best Picture. I just don’t care.

I know this isn’t some sort of earth-shaking reveal. But it is one of those kinds of things that, when you realise it, you know that something has shifted in you. Something has occurred deep inside and bears investigation.

This is an incredible thing for me, because I used to be an Oscars fanatic. I went to Oscar night parties. I fretted over the nominees. My late mother loved the movies, especially the ones from the great studios like MGM.

I would stay up late at night when I was a kid to see the Oscars. They were live and came on way past bedtime, because they were being broadcast from the West Coast and we lived in the Midwest.

I used to think about it all day on Oscar day and harass mamma about who she thought was going to win. Like her, I loved the glamour of it, the kind of out-of-reachness of it.

I loved the mystical idea of movies. How you could go inside alone, and just sit in the movie house and come out, and the world would be different: the air above your head, the ground beneath your feet.

Now you know everything. You know the small festival circuit that films have to do; you know the prizes; the odds; the gossip. You know everything and nothing is a surprise anymore. The ceremony itself is another reality show thing where everyone looks alike and… who cares?

I just remember snapshot moments from movies, and also being around other people; close to them and hearing what they felt and saw.

Most of my “snapshot” moments happened in movie houses.

I can still remember how the audience screamed when that girl in The Exorcist, possessed by the Devil, sat up in bed with her head doing a 360-degree turn. I can still hear all of the guys in the theatre yelling as one when Al Pacino lied to Diane Keaton at the end of The Godfather. This was a “man thing”, something in the males that happened and that left me outside, and I remembered that.

Or that really young time when I sneaked in to see 2001 and how the cinema was wrapped in sound, sound seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Once I was on a movie set at the beginning of the ’90s, in County Cavan. The star was Albert Finney, and Sean Penn came to visit. Laid before me were all of the mechanics of filmmaking, the hard work, the sheer toil of it. The finished film was lovely, but being on a film set up close is sausage-making at its most intense. And not pretty.

I have a friend who was in what is called “Oscar contention”. There was a lot of hope. But it had no big “nods”, as the industry calls it. That means that the movie will fade away. Maybe it gets to live in the memory of someone who might be inspired by it. We never know.

I became a critic at the end of the ’90s, and started going to screenings. Back then you sat in a big chair next to other critics.

Sometimes this happened at the old 20th Century Fox headquarters in London, in Soho Square. I would often sit there doing my job, but thinking of the Fox films I watched with my mother, like The Razor’s Edge, starring her heartthrob, Tyrone Power.

The last time I went to a cinema as a critic was to see Black Panther. I noticed a guy filming it with his phone and talking over it. Maybe he was going to post it, with his explanation of the movie.

Then came the pandemic and the lockdown and streaming, and I did that for a little bit, too. But I just got sick of watching a movie on my laptop. Especially when I realised that movies were now being made, being shaped, for me to do just that. Be at home and be tiny.

I used to hate the category Best Actress. What did that mean? Could you be a better woman actor than a male actor? Why couldn’t everybody be just Best Actor? I thought like that even back when I was a kid.

But I’m thankful for it now, because would women even be in this thing if we didn’t have some kind of category?

To me, the picture belongs, in the end, to the director. Not alone, of course. But the director is the final vision. Women may have edited, shaped it, but guys literally called the shots. To be a woman director, even now, is hard and rare, especially on a big film.

There are no women nominated for Best Director this year and you wonder what signal this sends to young girls who, like me, lived for film. Or for women of colour for whom getting the job of director is as rare, as my mamma used to say, as “hen’s teeth”.

I can’t opine on any of the films or performances. I haven’t seen them. And there is always a moment in most films that make them memorable. I guess.

I intend to see all of the Best Picture nominations and the winner, because that’s what it’s about for me anyway – the movie/ film. The whole experience.

I don’t know why I looked at the ceremony last year. Maybe because of #oscarssowhite and the Academy responding by bringing in something like 800 new members.

I wanted to see what that looked like.

I only recall what most people recalled: the Will Smith and Chris Rock contretemps.

Clearly mine is a lament for a bygone era and probably should be filed where those kinds of things go.

But something magical is gone from it all; something beyond reach.

The Oscars are here on earth. With everything else.

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