The Pleasures of Oscar Predictions

Well, the Oscars are almost all white again this year, but at least they're generally kind to women this year.

While the nomination process remains baffling, predicting the winners remains fun. Richard Brody locates this pleasure in the contrast between one's predictions and the actual outcome of the awards. Predictions are very personal, while awards are very impersonal. One can arrive at a prediction in any number of ways: I think this film will win best picture because it has the most artistic merit. Or I enjoyed watching this particular film more than the other nominees. Or this is the only nominated film I saw this year. The pleasure in correctly predicting an award (and there's a pleasure in seeing one's prediction not come true) isn't simply seeing one's artistic judgments validated (or not). Awards point to something fundamental about how we relate to Hollywood films. The cinema is a mass technology that digs deep into our fantasies, making films ours. We shape our desires through a complex economic technology. The Oscars' invocation of personal preference and institutional judgment encapsulates our relations to movies.

The other pleasurable aspect of the Oscars is that they're not really about popular taste. Popularity–or really, expectations for popularity–is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an award. (Just ask the producers of Steve Jobs, an early favorite for a best picture nomination before it did poorly at the box office.) People often complain that the nominated films are not popular–none of the Star Wars films has even been nominated for a best picture–and therefore not truly reflective of popular taste. But that's the whole point of the Oscars, for they legitimize art as a topic in our conversations about films. The question "What is a good film?" can be separated from "Did I like this film?" At least for a few weeks.

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