This inevitable end-of-the-year Hollywood ritual has begun. From now until the end of February, ads in the trade magazines, on TV and in-theater previews will barrage viewers and Academy members alike. But they will ask for nothing more than your consideration.
Filmmakers like Christopher Guest know that all too well. Under Guest's watch, no one is free from potential lampooning.
In Guest's latest film, "For Your Consideration," viewers are asked to consider "Home for Purim," a film about a dying matriarch, played by Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), who is celebrating her last Purim against the backdrop of her son's homecoming from WWII and her estranged relationship with her daughter (Parker Posey), who is now dating a woman.
The film is a small art house project, and the actors are happy to be there and working. They approach their dramatic roles with great verve, mocking Hollywood's preference for performances that drip with dramatic speeches, histrionics, and death. Historically in America, these scene-stealing performances do win awards over more subtle acting.
It's true that Hollywood is show business, and not show art. The great number of people working on any given film means that artistic visions are more collaborative. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. But the disparate ideas often take apart genuine, unorthodox ideas, preferring more socially conservative mores, signaling Hollywood's obsessiveness with the bottom line.
These qualities are fairly standard, and have been true since the industry began. But once the word "Oscar" is whispered on the set of "Home for Purim," its intensity increases tenfold. Actors become jealous and nervous in equal measure as hierarchies emerge between gossiped and non-gossiped actors.
None of this benefits the actors' performances, serving to only to distract and complicate. Hack wants to remain focused on her performance, but is forced into TV interviews, which she hates, flustering her both on and off the set. The circus of "Entertainment Tonight" (with hilarious hosts Fred Willard and Jane Lynch), the gossip-made-gospel, and lack of attention to the film's actual content become commonplace.
Also commonplace are fundamental changes to the film. Gone is Purim?instead, we have Thanksgiving. Gone is Hack's nervous, kind sensitivity?here is a botoxed, scantily clad desperate groveler. She turns into her namesake, a hack without legitimacy or integrity.
In theory, awards shows should have to do with merit. If this were the case, then no one would be more deserving here than Catherine O'Hara. She has turned in dependable work in Guest's films for years, as well as more mainstream fare like the "Home Alone" films. She carries the most challenging part on her shoulders and is the most worthy of accolades for her incisive comedy that has a growing inner core of sadness.
But in truth, merit doesn't cut it. Year-end award shows prefer to operate using gossip trains rather than incisive critical analysis; that's the only way I can explain films like "Million Dollar Baby" sweeping through to Oscar glory, while much more challenging, original fare like "I Heart Huckabees" falls through the cracks. Hollywood's preference for self-congratulatory loving during Oscar season attempts to mask the majority of their mainstream product during the year, meant to be consumed and disposed of in rapid succession.
In the end, with so much out of the artist's control, one has to wonder what the point is. Filmmakers like Guest, thankfully, aren't in the business to win awards, but directors like Ron Howard, actors like Renee Zellweger, and notorious producers like Harvey Weinstein sure are. Does it get them happiness? A greater feeling of self-worth? No one can know with certainty, but this hollow charade won't bring anything lasting. After all, there's always the next awards show to win.
As for "Consideration," it remains to be seen whether Oscar voters are willing to see the comedy in a joke that hits so close to home.