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Sarah Tomlinson

Awards Season Ennui

The Golden Globes are on Sunday. Yawn. And I can’t say that I’m all that much more excited for The Academy Awards in March.

Even before the current tragedy in Haiti made the whole proceedings seem a little vulgar, I found myself unable to get excited about tuning in this year.

I have plenty of good reason to be keyed up:

I’ve actually seen (and liked) more of the nominated films and television shows than in past years.

I’ve formed some truly erudite theories about the cultural significance of Up in the Air, which I’d love to expound upon at length over canapés during the broadcast’s commercial breaks.

I have several good friends who are nominated, or who worked on nominated films and television shows. And, of course, I want their talent to be celebrated.

But, as none of my pals are in line to actually pick up a statuette, I honestly feel like I could just as well read the winners and recaps after the fact. That is, unless I get an invitation to watch while quaffing some free bubbly (preferably pink) someplace posh.

I used to adore the whole awards season hoopla. While most girls were planning their weddings, I was imagining my trip to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, and the witty banter I would throw down while there: (“Sean, don’t you feel like the key to writing characters like John Booth is finding the grace that is the gateway to his humanity? Want to go make out in the bathroom?”) And I can give you my own acceptance speech, right now, complete with where they’ll cue the music.

So why am I feeling so blasé this year? And why do I get the sense that I’m not alone?
The truth is I don’t really care who wins. And I never have. I like the movies and performances I like, no matter what. When I try to remember the most riveting award show moments of my lifetime, I have very little recall of who won, unless it was accompanied by a really great acceptance. Like when Ben Affleck and Matt Damon grabbed their best original screenplay award for Good Will Hunting in 1997 and Ben’s voice cracked while saying: “I just said to Matt, losing would suck and winning would be really scary, and it’s really, really scary.” Or when Brad Pitt thanked Kaopectate while accepting his best supporting actor award for 12 Monkeys in 1996.

These chinks in the usually perfect Hollywood veneer allowed me behind the curtain. Even at home, in my flannel pajamas, or at a party in an ensemble I bought at Ross Dress for Less, I was able to connect to the people behind the legends. The people who were inspired, often at a great personal cost, to struggle until they gained access to the most powerful machinery imaginable for telling stories. Stories that moved me deeply, sustained me, and sometimes actually changed my life.

That was then, this is now. Having been so deluged with images of these stars pushing their shopping carts across the parking lots of Whole Foods, opening their mouths wide to eat sandwiches like real people do, and picking their wedgies while walking down the street, there is no humanity left to reveal. No matter how verklempt they may get in their moments of triumph. (Yes, I write celebrity tell-alls for a living, so if you want to say I’m part of the problem, go ahead. But I’d argue that helping anyone to tell their story is a good thing. And, yes, I can sleep at night).

For the most part, the (quote) serious (end quote) actors and actresses who generally get nominated for awards aren’t the same celebrities slurring and leering drunkenly into TMZ’s cameras outside of Hyde. But there is so much widespread oversaturation in our pop-culture-obsessed times that I’m sort of bored by the whole lot of them. Even when, God love her, Mariah Carey got up and gave her very drunken acceptance speech in Palm Springs last week — just the kind of lifting of the veil that I would have once been thrilled and fascinated by — it didn’t pique my interest in the slightest. I didn’t even look up the YouTube footage until I was writing this piece. A full eight days after it happened. Now if that’s not an example of inquiring minds not wanting to know, than I don’t know what is.

So it’s pretty hard for me to imagine anything happening on the red carpet or at the podium on Sunday evening that will really surprise me. Or titillate me. Or make me feel like I’ve forged a genuine connection with the person on the other side of the statuette. No matter how irreverent and salt of the earth Jeff Bridges may be if he wins for his gorgeous, heart wrenching performance in Crazy Heart. Or how raw and lovely Gabourey Sidibe may be if she wins for her heartbreakingly wise turn in Precious. I can’t imagine being touched in the same way that I was when I watched Halle Berry’s emotional acceptance speech for her best actress win for Monster’s Ball, back in the more innocent days of 2002. That loss of control, then, was a revelation of the part of her that was like us, which we didn’t usually see. No matter how famous she had gotten, or how much money she had made, or how many fantasies she had played out onscreen, she was undone by the same very human needs and wants as we were. Now, knowing too much about everything Hollywood, we can’t know anything that really matters about the entertainers we love to love the most.

And there’s no respite in simply tuning out and looking at the pretty dresses anymore, either. The awards season fashions don’t seem to offer any greater thrill these days than the awards themselves do. Not when every star’s every purchase, and its price tag, is gleefully detailed on the pages of dozens of magazines each month that sit next to magazines containing images of great poverty and suffering around the world. Not when the woman in front of me in line at the post office has a Louis Vuitton bag. Not when anyone who dares to express an original fashion thought will be set upon by the red carpet commentators like hyenas on raw meat.

I don’t know what the answer is. Short of having all of the stars go into hiding for a month before awards season, much like couples who cohabitate but spend the night before their weddings apart, in order to imbue their union with the anticipation that once gave wedding nights such a zing. Or, maybe, just maybe, if we burn out on Hollywood’s stars, we’ll return our focus to the movies themselves, and the stories they tell, which Terry Gilliam reminded us in one of my favorite films of the year, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, just might have the power to save us yet.