The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Oscar blowback: Am I a bigger idiot than Bill Maher?

February 24, 2009 |  5:33 pm

The verdict is in. The readers have spoken. The Oscars were fabulous. If Bill Maher was a jerk for shamelessly spending more time blowing his own horn than touting the year's best documentaries (don't expect to see Bill in the running to host the show next year), then according to my mail and reader comments, I was totally, hopelessly, wildly wrong about the Oscars.

Oscarshowshot_5It's the great thing about the blogosphere--you get instant, unfiltered feedback. I have to admit it's wonderful to see people react with such passion about a subject, even if 90% of them would like to pelt me with Faberge eggs and douse me with leftovers from the Governors Ball. I knew things were bad when T.J. Simers, my son's favorite sports columnist (10-year-old boys seem to intuitively understand T.J.'s style of humor), bemoaned how negative my colleague Mary McNamara and I were about the Oscars, calling me a "nothing but a disturber, if you know what I mean, who writes only to get a rise out of people or sell more newspapers."

That just prompted another volley of e-mail, telling me that I must really be a nutcase if even mean old T.J. Simers couldn't stomach my Oscar bile. I suspect he was writing with his tongue firmly in cheek  since, after all, who likes getting a rise out of people more than T.J.? But for once, I think T.J.'s sly wit went over readers' heads. Still, I knew I was in trouble when my only support came from ardent conservative bloggers who were willing to praise me for bashing the Oscars, even if my politics are way over on the left wing of the spectrum.

Since you probably don't want to wade through all 300-plus comments, I've tried to helpfully choose--using what's left of my critical acumen--the best rip jobs:

7) You poor out of touch cynical fool. You should be given the sack!

6) I agree with everyone--you're out of your mind.

5) You are to a review what [right-wing columnist] Jonah Goldberg is to an opinion piece.

4) You're high!

3) You're all bound up, mate. You need to take some prune juice.

2) You're as bitter and hateful as the Christian nuts outside the Kodak.

1) I have a suspicion that you are gay and afraid that you will be found out if you admitted liking Hugh Jackman as Oscar host. Fess up and do not be scared to admit your true feelings.

Ah, didn't that feel good? So what is to be learned from this avalanche of enraged reader response?

Simple: The critic and the audience don't always agree. If we did, the Oscars would've gone to "Quantum of Solace," "Hancock" and "Four Christmases," which delighted audiences all around the world--making huge gobs of money in the process--but were slagged by the critics. The critic isn't paid to agree with the majority opinion. Our job is to provide context and perspective, maybe even a little illumination. Sometimes the critic is right and sometimes he's wrong--and sometimes he's wrong at the time, but turns out to be right 30 years later (which goes out to all the critics who back in 1990 lambasted the academy for the blunder of giving the best picture Oscar to "Dances With Wolves" instead of "GoodFellas").    

I'm happy to hear from readers about my missteps. If I can dish it out, I can take it. If you're a critic, your job isn't always about being completely in sync with the popular taste of the moment. I remember once running into Bob Hilburn, The Times' longtime pop music critic, after he'd written a pan of a Bon Jovi concert. "How did it feel, being surrounded by thousands of people, all wildly applauding, knowing you were going to say the show stunk?" I asked. Bob replied: "I wasn't listening to the applause. I was listening to the music."

Photo of Oscar producer Laurence Mark watching from the wings as the "Slumdog Millionaire" cast charges the stage at the Kodak Theatre by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times