I haven’t seen The Shape of Water, but I expect many think pieces to come about how it didn’t deserve Best Picture. People tread more carefully around Moonlight, for several possible reasons, but I don’t think I’ve seen a Best Picture winner yet that isn’t surrounded by articles about how it didn’t really deserve to win. Many of them seem to believe it’s an idea that no one has had before, and talking about the failings in Forrest Gump makes them edgy, but even serious film critics seem to find the siren song irresistible.
Don’t get me wrong; some Best Picture winners didn’t deserve to win. (I’m looking at you, The Greatest Show on Earth.) And even beyond that, you’re allowed to dislike Best Picture winners. (I’m looking at you, The Apartment.) Heck, you can have an opinion that there’s a different movie that deserves to have hit a specific milestone. (I’m looking at you, The Thin Man versus It Happened One Night.) All of these things are perfectly legitimate and not what I’m talking about.
What I mean is that we’ve already hit the point where the narrative seems to be that The Shape of Water was undeserved. Not just for Best Picture but for anything. For being nominated. I’ll admit I haven’t heard it, but that’s pretty surprising, because it’s the Wednesday after the Oscars already. Even when I don’t like Oscar winners, I seldom think, “That movie shouldn’t even have been nominated!” (Okay, I’m still looking at you, The Greatest Show on Earth.) There are some movies with uncomfortable levels of racism, sexism, and homophobia, I grant you, but even there, I can usually think, “Product of its time.”
I’d be less annoyed about this if it weren’t so inevitable. And it’s not just the Best Picture winners. If you haven’t seen someone write that Citizen Kane is all that important, you don’t read much film criticism. It’s this inevitable cycle that goes way, way beyond “I don’t like this thing.” Because if you don’t like the thing? That’s fine. You’re allowed. And you may even get so sick of the thing in one way or another that you write articles about it. You may have read a few of my pieces about not liking the thing.
But I don’t shame my kid for liking freaking Paw Patrol and Daniel Tiger. He likes them, and that’s fine, and not just because he’s four. That’s fine because he’s allowed to like things. These articles seem to imply that there’s literally something wrong with you if you still like the thing. (Okay, in those cases, “he’s four” has a lot to do with why he likes the thing, but I do know adults who like Daniel Tiger, though I’m not sure I know any who like Paw Patrol.) At best, at absolute best, you have childish tastes and aren’t really thinking about what you like.
Which is not just patronizing, though goodness knows it is. To me, these backlash articles are working harder to establish an anti-canon than anyone ever has worked to establish a canon. It’s building a clique of “more enlightened” people who know that Vertigo is just overrated. (It’s a little bit rapey and a lot stalkerish, but the filming and acting are amazing!) These aren’t just not liking the thing, they’re telling you why you shouldn’t like the thing. And about the only thing I’ll tell you that you shouldn’t like is Tom Cruise.
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