If you thought the sports-ification of film watching was already a problem, gird your loins. The Fantasy Awards League is here.
Designed to emulate fantasy sports leagues, AwardsFantasy.com is platform that allows you to start and join private and public groups, select films and actors, track box office, figure in awards wins, and claim prizes for being the best predictor. Just as you guffawed when your buddies league was ruined by that quarterback snapping his ACL, now you can lord it over him when the particular political drama he chose gets wrapped up in a congressional investigation controversy! The design is super boilerplate, clip-art type stuff and the community does not yet appear to be very robust, but it’s early in the season yet!
2013 was the year I decided to give a shit about sports. It was a deliberate decision, and one that marked a change from the utter sports atheism of most of my life till now. And though I’m plunging in whole-heartedly to each sport as the year progresses (and it’s been a good year as an Atlanta baseball fan to do so), Fantasy Leagues are still the deep end of the sports pool in which I’m not sure about swimming. Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef with the storied history of fantasy sports, the modern explosion of of which has been a long, organic process rooted in the “Rotisserie Leagues” in the late 70s. Said explosion is undeniable, with the tens of millions of fantasy players representing several billion dollars worth of impact on the sports industry. It’s also easily argued that participating in Fantasy leagues promotes objectivity and enriches your sports fandom as you must become more educated about your sport to succeed.
But how does that work when applied to the fandom of a commercial art like movies? Even muddier- what merit is there in having the payoff of the leagues be the awards seasons results, when pieces of art are ground through a politically-drenched process in which they’re judged in a meaningless context to be lauded by esoteric groups of mostly old white guys that empower back-slapping ceremonies coated in television gossip and on and on the ouroboros goes…
The answer is, again, “gross.”
Film fans should and often do lament the sports-ification of film-watching, with the obsession over weekly box office results usually the focus. Filmmaking has never been an artform entirely divorced from technology and commerce, but the ever-tightening spiral of first-weekend returns fixation has heated the conversation, especially as we watch it trap the studios in a binary model of making only tentpoles and micro-budgets. Mainstream awards are another way in which these ostensibly singular pieces of art become competing commodities. Gladiators rather than poets. The season seems to get ever-bigger, with earlier and earlier prediction of “front-runners” and obsessive tracking of guild awards and “for your consideration” advertising, all culminating in gold statues given out by the aforementioned 6,000 voters that are 94% white, and 86% fifty-plus years old.
All of this to say, again, gross.
This is not to say, “you’re the problem” if you participate in such a league, especially when plenty of us have participated in an Oscar night pool based on awards predictions. Hell, in college I organized the school’s Oscar party, gathering a hundred-plus people to watch each year’s broadcast, submit predictions and win prizes. They were a blast! I felt good about having that many people enthusiastic about movies and, say, giving a presentation on the difference between the two sound awards.
However, there are fine lines between creating awareness, enriching an experience, and outright plunging into a world where a film’s place in our cultural dialogue isn’t much different than (topical!) the release of a new smartphone, its features coldly broken down and compared to those of another
movie model. It’s a tacit surrender to the same instinct that can classify a film only as a “fail” or “win,” that uses any sort of financial or critical aggregation tool as the last word on a film’s quality or meaning. It lends further credence to an award’s system that will, by its nature, typically default to the safe choice in the middle, prompting more cynical engineering even when a studio does spend money on something more substantial.
Obviously this particular small site (if it’s even still online by the Oscars) is a mere drop in the bucket, and unlikely to be the genesis of an explosive Fantasy Film League. The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a similarly crass take on film fandom that has endured, though I doubt many would claim it’s particularly relevant. And these are just symptoms after all, of the strange, sometimes ugly place the film world is in as the unprecedented technological and economic shifts make it a strange time to be making and/or watching movies.
It would be immensely hypocritical of me to suggest anyone should forever ignore box office returns, boycott the oscars, or otherwise return to some pre-Facebook utopian world of filmic dialogue. Shit ain’t gonna happen, and it’s much more useful to try and bring some care and thought to this new world then simply sit it out. Really, all any of us can do is try our best to bring a little perspective to our awards season arguments and box office debates. Movies are not sports franchises to be rooted for at the expense of other teams. There’s something profoundly incompatible with being “Team Zero Dark King’s Speech Network” or whatever, even if “your” movie is clearly superior in every way to whatever meet-everyone-in-the-middle compromise is the “front-runner.”
The dubious pageantry of the prestige season is entrenched, and people are going to like what they like. Box office results are going to continue to paint their warped, narrow pictures of what a film is and what impact it’s had. These are forces too great to change. As the Oscar buzz begins even now in early September though, we can check ourselves whenever the urge to fuel our preferred film’s hype engine by shoveling in some other movie into the furnace. Try as we might to force the stats, films are merely contributions to a great dialogue. No final scores, no stats at all. Maybe it’s just me, but words like “win” and “contender” get uglier the closer they are to a movie’s title in a sentence. Prize-fighting belongs in a ring, not in our theaters. That’s a good thing- it’s the unique beauty of cinema that –from my new perspective, at least– complements sports fandom quite well.
We’ve all got a competitive side to one degree or another, and sometimes our enthusiasm for movies is going to bleed into that. This isn’t a terrible thing, and it can lead to some amazing conversations and great insight. Sports-like “Movie Drafts” have resulted in some amazing cinema conversations with a competitive streak on the CHUD message boards for a decade and a half now. Ultimately I’m just preaching awareness and balance- the idea of checking yourself from time to time when these arguments light up. In the case of hypothetical Fantasy Film League, it’s certainly not worth wringing one’s hands over a site that has less than 200 likes on its FB page at present, but the idea represents one of many steps we are collective taking. It might be time to redraw the line, and for me the idea of outright structuring one’s interest in a movie and formalizing its competitions at the box office and on the awards show stage is it. I’m not telling you where to draw your own line, but I’d encourage you to at least think about it. Keep it in mind, because really these debates and competitions aren’t about the actual movies- they’re about us. We represent ourselves through our tastes and preferences, so when someone says my pick isn’t worth Best Picture, what I’m really hearing is that I’m an asshole and I don’t deserve Best Picture.
Like just about anything else, the more ego we can take out of movie-watching, the better off we’re likely to be.