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oscars 2014

The Oscars Will Piss You Off, But You’ll Keep Watching

This Sunday, nearly everyone who cares about pop culture will be watching the Oscars, and this Monday, almost every one of those people will be complaining about them. “Ellen DeGeneres was so boring,” they’ll moan. Expect multiple friends of yours to say, “Really, she won Best Supporting Actress?” no matter whether the victor is Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o. And like clockwork, as though we’re dealing with people who have never seen the Oscars before, nearly everyone will bitch about the elongated running time. It’s enough to make you think that people don’t actually like the Academy Awards. So why are those same naysayers virtually guaranteed to tune in next year?

Could it be because underneath it all, the Oscars really aren’t that bad? Yes, we’ve had our fair share of Oscar-hosting fiascoes — the Hathaway-Franco ceremony will forever live in infamy, and Seth MacFarlane’s juvenile stint last year provoked no end of aggrieved think pieces — but even the truly misbegotten ceremonies carry with them an inherent collective camp value, giving everyone the delicious opportunity to turn to their couchmate or Twitter friend and exclaim, “Is this really happening?” (The famously awful Rob Lowe–Snow White escapade we lived through 25 years ago at least proved more memorable than most anodyne awards show monologues we get these days.) When someone truly nails their acceptance speech at the Oscars and speaks from the heart, there’s nothing like it, and even in the blooper moments when someone goes dangerously off-book — swearing at the podium like Melissa Leo or tripping on her way up like Jennifer Lawrence — the dissonance between the carefully staged glamour of the ceremony and the whoops-fuck-shit wobbliness of the performer can often produce an instant classic moment, the kind that wouldn’t be nearly as iconic if it happened at the Emmys or the Grammys.

That’s not to say that the rare, smoothly run Oscar show can’t satisfy, too — Steve Martin can always be counted on to deliver a good ceremony, and Hugh Jackman proved a charming host five years ago — but just as people are most inclined to comment on an online article if they're upset by it, the Oscarcast only truly dominates the cultural discourse when the results are arguable rather than agreeable. No matter who the host is, people will complain: If DeGeneres delivers a generally good show on Monday, plenty of pundits will dismiss her as too “safe,” and they’ll be many of the same critics who carped about MacFarlane’s lowbrow emceeing last year. (The Academy may be its own worst enemy here, since they’ve been flip-flopping between “out-of-the-box host” and “course-correcting safe host” nearly ever year; with no steady medium, you can keep arguing that the opposite pick would have been better.) It’s impossible for the Oscars to be good in a way that satisfies everybody, but it’s incredibly easy for the Oscars to be ungainly in a way that allows the masses to pick them apart.

And hey: Oftentimes, they’ll have a point! Yes, a lot of these same actors have already won at other awards shows, robbing the Oscars of their punch. We agree that a whole lot of those minor awards should be trimmed or condensed, especially the two sound categories and the superfluous-in-the-age-of-YouTube contest for Live Action Short Film. And yes, the Oscarcast is going to waste too much time on dumb montages — including one this Sunday themed around “heroes,” because Oscar broadcaster ABC and Marvel Studios are owned by the same parent company – that could be better spent elsewhere or trimmed entirely. We concede all these points! They are all good ones. And they are made every single year.

So can we all agree that we’ll never truly love the Oscars, make our peace with that reality, and instead try to simply enjoy the ceremony? Because really, there’s a lot to like: Though the Academy is often derided as middlebrow, there are some exceptional, unusual movies like Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Her in the Best Picture race this year, and when you’ve got a telecast that will feature sui generis stars like Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, and Lupita Nyong’o, there’s bound to be plenty to talk about afterwards. It’s okay to kinda like the Oscars! Secretly, that’s why you keep coming back every year. So when one of your friends boasts on Twitter this Sunday that of course he’s not watching the Academy Awards — “Busy watching True Detective, is something else on?” — can we all agree to roll our eyes, or to reply to him, “What do you want, a medal? Or better yet, a heavy gold statuette?”

Photo: Maya Robinson