Oscars and the Pressure to Watch Award Films


Oscars and the Pressure to Watch Award Films

Illustration: Akshita Monga

My fellow cinephiles, it’s the eve of the Oscars and I am as thrilled as you are, but my only problem is that, this year, I recognise the Best Picture nominees only as well as I recognise those relatives who ask me, “Teri shaadi nahi hui?” at a cousin’s wedding. I know that for some reason these movies (not relatives) are important, but for the life of me, I haven’t bothered to find out anything about them.

Of course, advertising this opinion would be a good way to rip apart the aura of the cultured, informed genius I spend the whole year trying to craft. So I can’t admit that last month was the first time I ever heard about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Nope.

Thankfully, a listicle on Vulture informed me that it was one of the first films in 2017 to generate the Oscar buzz, so I can tell my friends I’ve been recommending it to them for months, and they just wouldn’t listen to me. This is how I’m going to get through the next few days of Oscar hype — with a mix of inception and deception, all to avoid becoming a social outcast who doesn’t watch “good cinema”.

I’m not sure where this peer pressure to suddenly watch award-bait films comes from. I remember being lectured last year on why Moonlight would change my life by the same guy who wanted to catch a midnight screening of Suicide Squad on a weeknight. For eleven months of the year, it seems like most of the movie-going audience is happy to watch formulaic superhero films, brainless action movies, and cheesy romcoms. Come awards season, it’s like the ghost of Roger Ebert starts possessing people in bulk.

Is it worth having a job, a love life, hobbies, and friends, if all they’ve done is kept me too busy to watch Call Me By Your Name?

Now, good cinema is good cinema, and I don’t want to seem like the guy making fun of the movies that get nominated for the Golden Globes and the Oscars. But the pressure to watch them all before the actual ceremonies is immense! Show up to an awards-viewing party without having seen the films on the list, and be prepared for the other guests to treat you like you went and spat in the jalapeno dip.

You will be ostracised, ridiculed, and maybe even asked to leave. On your way out of the door, you will wonder, “Is it worth having a job, a love life, hobbies, and friends, if all they’ve done is kept me too busy to watch Call Me By Your Name?

This is why I’ve come up with a number of ways to seem like you’re wise to the offerings at the Oscars. One good trick is to learn the names of other movies the nominated actors and directors have been associated with, so as to seem like the kind of person who tracks artistic oeuvre. Another is to keep your responses terse and limited to a single word, for better or worse. “Drivel!” and “Masterpiece” work equally well to describe a movie you’ve never seen. Finally, if you’re lucky there will be a marquee controversy along the lines of #OscarsSoWhite that allows you to appear woke about social issues without having to watch all the movies.

This year, my bet is on the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I’ve already begun rehearsing my hisses and boos for when I see Ben Affleck on screen. I suggest you do it too.