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All this breathless Oscars campaigning is ruining the fun of the biggest awards show on earth

 (ES)
(ES)

God, Bradley Cooper must be knackered. Since before the release of his actually rather good film Maestro, about the prolific American conductor Leonard Bernstein, which he wrote, directed and starred in, it feels like he’s been absolutely everywhere.

Whether it’s telling us how he “spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music” for one scene, or why he won’t allow chairs on his sets (“I’ve always hated chairs on sets; your energy dips the minute you sit down in a chair”) and weeping over his connection with the conductor (who died in 1990, when Cooper was 15) and how much he misses him, while being interviewed with Bernstein’s children.

OK yes, that was a bit awks. Some people have been calling him a try-hard, with one particularly spiky writer asking, “Why is a guy who is so good at being likable in some movies so unbelievably bad at being likable in real life?”

I actually find his determination to get an Oscar (he’s had 12 nominations, but as yet hasn’t won one) oddly endearing. He’s an earnest theatrekid. An amusingly self-important thespian who talks endlessly about his “craft”. Just because one of his best roles is the raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s very pretty, and he speaks fluent French (shortcut to sexy, don’t deny it), doesn’t actually make him a cool Hollywood hearthrob.

As the Oscars loom, though, I’m getting sick of the very sight of him, and the rest of them. I don’t need to see Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things) larkily playing along with a ‘how well do you know each other’ game like they’re on their own hen do, or endless clips of Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer, in case you didn’t know) on 60 minutes, wanging on about how much he likes sleeping.

According to the New York Times, an awards season campaign can cost a studio or production company up to $25m (and the Netflix campaign for Roma in 2019 was reported to be north of $40m, more than double the film’s production budget, so hungry was the streamer for first blood at the Oscars).

And my God they’ve been milking every penny this year, the lot of them. Everyone is over-exposed and as a result, the biggest awards of the year increasingly feel more like the end (even though the Writers’ Guild Awards are four days later) of a long and desperate slog than the glittering apogee of a season of artistic celebration.

Bradley Cooper speaks on stage during Bradley Cooper In Conversation at BFI Southbank on January 24, 2024 in London (Getty Images)
Bradley Cooper speaks on stage during Bradley Cooper In Conversation at BFI Southbank on January 24, 2024 in London (Getty Images)

The problem I think is the sheer inane visibility of every aspect of everything to do with campaigning. Every ‘exclusive’ screening is breathlessly posted about by those wanting us to know they were there. Every heartfelt speech made in a room full of potential voters is captured and clipped and scattered online in the endless quest for content and clicks (even though, in fact, earnest film waffle doesn’t actually get loads of clicks. Zendaya coming to a premiere dressed like the robot Maria in Metropolis is far more likely to attract the attention of the public, just FYI).

And the campaigning itself has become part of the story in recent times. A backlash was sparked by last year’s unexpected nomination of Andrea Riseborough in the Best Actress category at the Oscars, for her role in the tiny film To Leslie, following gushing endorsements online from the likes of Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jane Fonda. Riseborough’s inclusion was perceived as evidence of a slight to two eminently worthy Black actresses, Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till).

Not Riseborough’s fault in the least, but unfortunate in the circumstances, following on from several years of controversy over a lack of diversity in nominations and, at the crux, something to do with a private screening held by the director’s wife, who happens not to be an Academy member, which made it allowed, but only just, and as a result the Academy made some very specific changes that are much, much too boring to explain.

Is this the reason for the decline in interest for the Oscars then? Last year’s ratings, at an average of 18.7 million viewers, were, admittedly, an improvement on 2022 (16.6 million), but that only took it up to the third worst ratings ever, so it’s not exactly partytime in the numbers department.

I wonder whether the more we know about this ridiculous, deeply flawed system the less we give a damn about its outcome. It’s mildly embarrassing watching them all pant for the puppy treat; I definitely preferred it when we were able to maintain just some of the mystique of the movies and enjoy the anticipation a bit.

Still, look at me, I’m talking about it. And I’ll be talking about it on Monday, even if that mostly consists of sitting with a coffee flicking through a gallery of frocks and passing judgement while wearing an old and bobbly cardigan. So bring it on, I guess, perhaps I do give a damn. Does anyone fancy going to the movies?

What the Culture Editor did this week

Angelica Kauffman, Royal Academy

Self-portrait of the artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting by Angelica Kauffman, 1794 (John Hammond)
Self-portrait of the artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting by Angelica Kauffman, 1794 (John Hammond)

Look, being a stratospherically successful woman artist in the 18th century, and only one of two (along with Mary Moser) female founding Royal Academicians, is massively worth of celebration. Angelica Kauffman succeeded against the odds, and in the face of some truly vile backlash. I just don’t actually like the paintings very much.

Shifters, Bush Theatre

I really liked Congolese-British writer Benedict Lombe’s debut play, Lava, also at the Bush, but I adored this, her second. It’s a hilarious, finely-wrought, cliché-free romance that will have you rooting fiercely for its damaged protagonists Des and Dre, played exquisitely by Heather Agyepong and Tosin Cole. Oh, my heart.