Five Years of Oscar Videos

Around this time of year for each of the past five years, I’ve produced a multi-part series of video essays arguing for who should win the Academy Awards in the major categories. This year, for a number of reasons, I decided not to produce the series. But as part of my ongoing personal archive project, I’ve collected all 32 video essays that I produced into a Vimeo album.

If I had to pick one of these 32 video essays to represent this body of work (not necessarily the best video; I’ve put that one at the very bottom of this entry), it would be this one looking at the Best Lead Actress nominees of 2014. Producing this video essay led to publishing my first feature article in the New York Times, based on research conducted in relation to this video with regard to screen times of the nominees.

Presently I find myself surrounded by colleagues in Berlin who could care less about the Academy Awards (despite that Germany has a truly great film in contention for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film award), and who insist that I really should let go of this series and focus on more worthwhile projects in the limited time I have in this residency. (Or maybe I’m just putting words in their mouths to project one half of the debate I’m having in my own mind.) They may have a point, but it’s worth looking back at the initial proposition I was making with this video essay series, which I articulated in 2014:

This series brings the focus back to an essential but too often overlooked question: how do we decide what is truly the best?

Given that a large percentage of people click on Oscar coverage to figure out what they should put on their Oscar party or office pool ballot, it’s no surprise that many websites occupy themselves with offering opinions on who will win. But by doing so we risk losing focus on the very thing that should be given the most attention: what’s actually on screen, and how we judge it on its own merits.  Our subjective experience of movies and art isn’t something to shy away from, but something we should try to understand more deeply.

This series was thus an attempt to account as honestly and fully as possible for my own subjective responses to films and performances. But objective fact also played a part, as exemplified by my use of cinemetric data, like the amount of time an actor appears on screen, or the amount of time they are framed in close up or wide shot, as a way to quantify the effects of their performance. In this regard, I think these video essays were very much Farocki-type studies of cinema, because they were less interested in answer the question “who really should win?” than in uncovering the underlying ideologies at work in attempting to answer this question.

So yes, I do feel disappointed that I don’t have the capacity to take on this series this year. But it has become apparent that there are other projects before me, with even bigger questions to address. Still, I am satisfied with what I accomplished over the last five years in investigating what seemed like a banal question derived from an annual cinephile/pop culture ritual (one that was once a deeply rooted part of my childhood, but that I now feel less enamored with each year). From this project, I shouldn’t forget that even exploring the most banal questions can lead one to surprising approaches and discoveries: