George Graham

The Glaring Oscars Cop-out



Come on now, do you really believe “Birdman” was the best and most significant cinematic event of the past year?

You haven’t seen the film? I am not surprised. I haven’t and I don’t know anyone who has. Besides, the reviews don’t make it sound  all that great. Here’s what The Guardian newspaper critic has to say:

In its attempt to create a satire reaching for wit and originality, Birdman touches on but mostly skirts around several different themes: The inability of an aging actor to adjust to a changing environment, the nature of our true identity beyond the roles we play in life, the art versus entertainment conundrum, and the inordinate worship of celebrities in contemporary culture.

Unfortunately, despite an Oscar-worthy performance by Michael Keaton in a welcome return to the screen and the film’s engaging moments of true energy, Birdman does not pause long enough between the drumbeat of a jazzy score by Antonio Sanchez, the lugubrious strings of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a pseudo-profound spirituality and its juvenile humor, to say anything meaningful about any of these subjects.

No, Michael Keaton (at left with Ed Norton in the scene above) didn’t win Best Actor. But, oddly, “Birdman” – with its “pseudo-profound spirituality and juvenile humor” got the “Best Picture” Oscar last night. Why?

The reason seems obvious to me.

I think the Academy didn’t want to choose between the civil rights movement and the shoot-to-kill conservatives, so they chose something safe instead.

Why “Birdman”? Why not “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? They flipped a coin, I suppose.

If they had any guts, the voters would have let the world know where they stand. They would’ve gone with the right-wing’s blood lust and crowned “American Sniper,” or sided with the “liberals” and given “Selma” the Oscar.

But guts are becoming less and less evident in American society. And it’s no wonder. Stand up to be counted today, and you’re likely to get hammered.

The stakes are too high for “civil disagreement” these days. It’s a winner-take-all world. Academy Awards aren’t just trophies. The show isn’t just spectacle, glitz and glamor. It’s a political event.

It’s no wonder writer Steve Almond thinks it’s time to ditch awards shows. Here’s his view of shows like the Oscars and Grammy Awards:

“Boyhood” or “Birdman”? Beck or Beyoncé? Who cares? We must stop turning creativity into another dumb competition

Almond thinks it’s absurd to pick one piece of creative work over another, anyway. He writes:

How in God’s name does it make even the tiniest bit of sense to compare … works of art, let alone to judge one superior to a set of others? Is “The Brothers Karamazov” better than “Anna Karenina”? Is “The White Album” better than “Exile on Main Street”? Is “Boyhood” better than “Twelve Years a Slave”?

He describes the Academy Awards, which attract a global TV audience of millions, as “gross.” He concedes that:

It’s a celebration of our most popular cultural art form, a chance to recognize the thousands of mostly unsung artists who make the Hollywood dream machine hum. It’s also cracking good entertainment, an ego pageant of the highest order.

But he adds:

The Oscars are also, by any objective measure, a decadent and stupid ritual, an orgy of luxury branding and self-congratulation for an industry already bloated by both. But the reason I find the Academy Awards especially gross has to do with the way the ceremony turns artistic endeavor into a zero-sum game.

Yes Steve, everything you say is true. But the show must go on. There’s too much money involved to quit now.

Click for the article.

Click for the Academy Awards.

Click for the Grammy Awards.

Click for the Telegraph’s review.

Click for other opinions.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for