The value of awarding excellence

Whether Oscar night means sitting with a bowl of popcorn and pompoms cheering for who the gold should go to, or the “awards season” merely conjures a slight turning of the stomach as it seems that the self-congratulatory culture of Hollywood never knows when to stop — for the last 79 years the madness is recycled in to what has become a very impressive collection of films.

When the hype fades, the residue is actually something to consider: an amazing canon of excellence in a medium that has followers all over the world, of every age and background. The Academy Awards represent the superlatives of an industry that often caters to the mediocre — for this reason, looking at who has won, rather than who might win this year, is particularly inspiring.

Fittingly, Turner Classic Movies, a cable channel dedicated to preserving movie excellence of the past, presents “31 Days of Oscar” for the duration of February’s awards mania. Film lovers can feast on what the Academy has highlighted as the best technical and talented contributions to the art. Twenty-four hours a day, uncut and commercial free, it is a fantastic way to watch the evolution of make-up, special effects, costume and art direction; to grow nostalgic over star performances that defined an icon, an era, a career; or to revisit the classic films that link us to a heritage of excellence in popular culture.

This week TCM presents a tribute to Hollywood’s best supporting and best actress nominees and winners. From 1961’s “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” where Audrey Hepburn immortalizes Holly Golightly, to Sissy Spacek’s dead-on portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the ladies shine Oscar’s gold. Watching legend Bette Davis in 1938 extend her infamous intensity over silver celluloid is as entertaining as singing along with best score winners “South Pacific” (1958) and “Singin’ In The Rain” (1952) scheduled to air this weekend.

It’s difficult to always agree with the Academy, but looking at the films that have been nominated or won awards in the past highlights how many great films exist in the sea of straight-to-DVD movies. The insider politics of Hollywood’s power structure has controlled and continues to control the business of awards. Millions of dollars and hours of manpower go to spinning the favor of the voters towards certain films earmarked to win. An Oscar translates into sales and status for the studios who financed the film, and the underbelly of the red carpet is as compromised as any twisted political thriller released this year.

Looking over the long list of celebrated Oscar-winners on TCM’s schedule, the cynicism dissipates. What remains is an absolute testament to the power of film and wonder of its evolution as an art. To top it off, a three-day Best Picture Marathon includes classics such as “Ben-Hur,” “On The Waterfront,” “Annie Hall,” “Out Of Africa” and many more.

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