There is a big brouhaha all over the Internet, most recently over at David Poland's blog, www.mcnblogs.com/thehotblog, about Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight in the wake of Poland seeing the film and posting a non-spoiler review. (For the record, he liked a great deal, but says it's not quite the masterwork some are insisting it is.) But unfortunately it's largely about one thing: is Ledger's performance destined to be nominated come this winter for an Academy Award, or is all of the buzz for the last several months been "goofy," as Poland says. There are some commenters there--a couple of whom seem so Batman-obsessed that they know every single thing there is to know about the character Ledger embodies in The Dark Knight, cool for them, I guess--who are discussing the intricacies of Ledger's performance (though sadly most of them, like the rest of us out here in the world, have yet to see it).
What troubles me about films and/or performances that receive significant hype is that I fear many a person, professional critic and otherwise, look at these films and performances through the lens of Oscah, Oscah, Oscah--who'll be nominated? who will win? what politics are involved? (in this case, how much of a factor is Ledger's death back in January?)--and though I'm sure there are plenty of folks who can separate the actual film and/or performance from the hype while viewing it, I do fear that sometimes it works the opposite way.
One particular example? Well, I would say Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this "preordained" business. It was as if her bellowing and singing, which I thought was okay, was made out to be something tremendously iconic (stemming from the Broadway production from decades ago, evidently), before it was even screened for critics on November 14, 2006. Once she became the Frontrunner, it always stayed that way despite what I thought were significant weaknesses (which, in my opinion, were mostly present whenever she wasn't singing, and sometimes even when she was).
Sometimes I think the Oscars are just great and dandy, in that they do often reward people for a solid body of work, or, for legitimately sentimental reasons, ought to just be given the darned thing to make everyone feel good. Occasionally a steamroller of a film comes along and makes everything plainly apparent (say, a Schindler's List) but often it's almost a roll of the dice, about which films you were up against (The Departed's victory isn't tarnished by the fact that none of the other four films really "fit," but it was certainly a contributing factor to its eventual coronation).
I like the Oscars, even if I rarely agree with them about what really are the best films, and at least regularly differ in my appraisal of acting performances and other categories. Yet I do think overanalysis in July is a scary thing--let's at least wait for Ledger's performance, which I'm sure is amazing on its own terms no matter what (see, I'm biased, too, but we all are and we'll never be completely able to escape that), to percolate, and cool, and dispassionately assess it. I do not write these words to contemn Oscar. I just want him kept in his place.