I'm often asked, "How does one get into film criticism as a profession?" And I always give the answer I once heard Roger Ebert say, "You've got to write for whoever will publish you."
If you've made it that far, consider yourself lucky, because the next step will prove more difficult. How do you get people to listen? It's much easier in today's social media world for people to express themselves, for better or for worse. Any average person can write reviews and post them online appearing to sound like some legitimate journalist, without any kind of education or credentials to back it up. With the over abundance of information, how exactly does one stand out from the rest? How does one gain respect and go from "Average Joe" to becoming Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael?
The simple answer is, you've got to have your own voice. Though that may sound like a cliché, it's only one because it's true. Just like an up and coming singer who can belt out beautiful Whitney Houston covers, eventually you have to come up with original material to distinguish yourself.
Historically in my field, creating your own voice involves championing films that others don't, and hoping eventually others will follow suit. In other words, you've got to have your own opinion. If you just regurgitate what every other critic in the land is saying, then there's not really any need for you.
I was going to give predictions on who will get nominated for Oscars this year, but I figured, why waste my time and yours? Why not just tell you who was going to win? The Academy sure could save us a lot of time and just tell us right now that Les Miserables will be voted their Best Picture followed by Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor, Naomi Watts for Best Actress and Leonardo DiCaprio and Anne Hathaway in the Supporting Categories. I could also go on record to add that the media will promote this year's awards (like so many past years) as a battle between two pictures. It will pit Zero Dark Thirty against Les Miserables in a "Sweeping Historical Epic versus Contemporary Edgy Picture". Why pretend that Life of Pi or Silver Linings Playbook has a shot in hell? They don't at winning, but will get nominated.
I feel I must choose my words carefully because I don't want to sound like yet another self righteous film snob who likes to complain and whine about who should have won this year and that year. It's all become too cliché to me. I don't take the Academy's choices personally. I see them for what they are: a selection of films that best represents the tastes of a group of roughly 6000 people who work in the film industry, are predominately male, predominately white, and predominately over the age of 50. But let's face it, movies like Lincoln or Les Miserables will get nominated not necessarily because of their quality, but more because they're films Academy members like to represent them. Like The Artist and The King's Speech (the previous two Best Pictures), fine films, for sure, albeit safe choices.
You may think I'm arrogant to believe I can predict the winners of the Oscars before the nominations are even announced but that is the unfortunate truth behind the Oscars. Their predictability is rendering them irrelevant. Hollywood has been worrying about why people are caring less and less about the Oscars. They think it's because there's not enough commercial nominees, which is not entirely true. Les Miserables is currently raking in buckets of cash as the number one film in North America and is posed to be the second biggest film of the holiday season behind The Hobbit. If Les Miserables wins Best Picture it will probably be the highest grossing Best Picture in a decade, ironically, since LOTR: Return of The King (2003) On the other hand, if Les Miserables wins, following The King's Speech and The Artist, the Academy will reward yet another well made, very polished film that could have easily been made anytime in the last five decades while ignoring films that are about how we live right now: Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook, The Impossible, etc.
The fact is, I hope I'm wrong. Despite my indifference about the winners and losers, I still love the Oscars for what they aspire to be: a celebration of film. I've learned a lot about film history just by watching the Academy Awards telecast. I'm especially fond of the long winded Lifetime Achievement Award Speeches, and endless montages of old film clips. The kinds of things people took bathroom break during were the things that enhanced my film education.
If I am wrong, that would mean The Academy did something daring this year. And my "original voice" would be the first one to point out just how wrong I was! But I guess we both have to wait to find that out. Despite my predictions, this is the beginning of the Oscar race, not the end. And mark this the beginning of 2012's Walkey Talk Oscar Analysis.
I used to love trying to predict who will win the awards. From organizing an underground Oscar Pool in high school to hosting my own Oscar Parties – predicting Academy Award winners are self fulfilling prophecies for Film Geeks everywhere. Nothing more can feed our egos than boasting to our friends and family how much we know about the art of film, when in fact we're really just illustrating how socially inept we are. Does anyone really care that I correctly predicted Legends of The Fall would win Best Cinematography in 1994?