I recently heard from a movie-world friend who wondered why he’s “perpetually excited” by the Oscar nominations whether or not he’s impressed by the films themselves: “I’ve never been much of a sports fan, so I don’t think it’s the rooting part.” There is something particular about the Oscars: in a sporting event, the outcome depends on the competitors themselves, but the Oscars depend on votes, and, since the voters are the people who work in Hollywood, the awards are a snapshot of how the industry views itself—or, rather, how it would like to be viewed, less a collective self-portrait than a self-advertisement. And, unlike a sporting event, it also has a crucial prophetic value. The Giants, who are in the Super Bowl, and the Jets, who aren’t, are equally assured of playing their full schedule next season, whereas the Oscars are one way of deciding who’s in and who’s out—whose movies are likely to be green-lighted and whose won’t get financed. (The box office, of course, is another, which is the enthusiast’s sole reason for caring about it.) Rooting for Oscar nominees can take on added passion, not for the vain pleasure of seeing one’s own tastes ratified but for a vision of the cinematic future—the hope that artists one admires will benefit from smoother paths, brighter fortunes, and increased opportunities.

The New Yorker, Richard Brody >

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