Magazine article The Spectator

Prize Dupes

Magazine article The Spectator

Prize Dupes

Article excerpt

Britain now takes the Oscars seriously. That's a crying shame

There was a time when the British took a great deal of pleasure - and not a little bit of pride - in laughing at the self-adoring parade that is the Academy Awards ceremony. The Oscars were regarded as the film equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest: a fun event that brought out the British talent for mockery. It was nothing more than a chance to check out the fashions and watch Hollywood's A-list make fools of themselves with overlong and overwrought speeches. Ah, those were the days.

It has all changed now that Britain's The King's Speech is up for 12 Academy Awards, including Colin Firth for best actor. Last year the national mood was very different when Firth received a nomination for best actor for his role in the gay drama A Single Man . Hopes were high among film and Firth fans, but there was no sign of all this Andy Murray-like, will-he-won't-he win anxiety.

But then this time Firth is playing a British king - George VI - in a truly British film. Irony and irreverence have given way to an earnest interest in the outcome. Yesterday we poked fun. Today we fly the flag.

When the Oscar nominations were first announced in January, I thought: who really cares? Even Americans had grown weary of them, if the dip in viewing figures for the big event was anything to go by. Now I know the answer to my question: everyone. Even intelligent film critics have succumbed to Oscar mania. I overheard a bunch of them at a screening the other week discussing the nominations with such solemnity you'd think they were discussing the national deficit or the future of democracy in Egypt.

These were critics who usually dismiss any American blockbuster as 'Hollywood hype'. But what are the Oscars if not the great blockbuster of film awards - the ultimate triumph of hype over merit? As the director William Friedk in once said , the Oscars are 'the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever created for itself'.

I feel as if I'm being unpatriotic (and even a bit of a party pooper) for not taking part in this year's Oscar fever. If people want to treat the Oscar spectacle as a bit of fun - like the Grand National - then fine.

Enjoy. What bothers me is the way we have come to accept the great Hollywood myth that the Oscars aren't just about glitz, but really are the mark of cinematic excellence. …

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