Note: If you’re not interested in a breakdown of why I don’t think the Oscars matter, scroll down to the end. You’ll know what I mean. I admit, it’s more like two stories in the same blog post, but there’s a reason I’m stringing them together.

I don’t watch the Oscars.

I really don’t care much about them at all. Usually anything that wins is something I’m not interested in anyway.

I remain convinced that this is the only reason that The Lord of the Rings won.

I remain convinced that this is the only reason that The Return of the King won.

The Academy is voted on by a relatively-secret elite, usually solidly upper-class, and who typically live in a Hollywood-shaped bubble that has a rather warped image of what the rest of the world is like. Becoming a member is basically about being popular among the membership committee, rather than having any knowledge about what movies are like as an art form. (Though I should point out that Mother Delores Hart, the semi-famous actress who kissed Elvis and then became a Catholic nun, scrupulously watches every film to cast an educated vote.)

That leads to an odd collection of what they consider worthy of a prize. Since the membership is so insular, it seems to me a good recipe for voting for a movie because you know someone who was involved with that movie; or because you don’t want to face someone at the metaphorical watercooler after voting for something that was merely a good film rather than the right film.

And no, I’m not bitter over The LEGO Movie not even getting nominated. I mean, I’m a huge fan of the film, but a) I don’t consider the Academy Awards to be worth much (if anything), and b) the nomination process is overseen by professionals who score animated films on their own merits, and they tend to only go for traditional animation. A film based around Lego bricks really only gets across as jaw-dropping art if you understand the real-life brick as well, and to be named the Best Animated Film, it has to be judged on technique pretty harshly. To be honest, while it’s one of the absolute best movies I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t necessarily deserve a general-audience award, at least not one supposedly voted on by film experts.

(*thud* Ah, yes. That’s the sound of my friends’ jaws hitting the floor as they read this. Don’t worry about them; they’ll come out of their catatonic state in a moment.)

Regardless, I was curious about something I’d heard on the radio, that the total box office returns of all Oscar winners were extremely low. Since Box Office Mojo includes an estimate of domestic US ticket sales, I went and looked up each winning movie or source movie. Here’s what I got:

  1. 38,506,900 American Sniper (Best Sound Editing)
  2. 26,533,100 Big Hero 6 (Best Animated Feature Film)
  3. 22,598,300 Interstellar (Best Visual Effects)
  4. 10,111,000 The Imitation Game (Best Adapted Screenplay)
  5. 7,184,600 The Grand Budapest Hotel (Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design)
  6. 5,975,700 Selma (Best Original Song)
  7. 4,546,100 Birdman (Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography)
  8. 4,113,900 The Theory of Everything (Best Actor)
  9. 3,122,400 Boyhood (Best Supporting Actress)
  10. 1,365,100 Whiplash (Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing)
  11. 959,400 Still Alice (Best Actress)
  12. 450,000 Ida (Best Foreign Language Film)
  13. 317,600 Citizenfour (Best Documentary – Feature)

(Note: there was no data for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (Best Documentary – Short Subject), The Phone Call (Best Live Action Short Film), or Feast (Best Animated Short Film), but I didn’t think there would be due to the categories.)

Now, judging the success of a movie by its ticket sales is not actually a great idea. These days, the true financial success of a film is in its after-theater sales (either outright purchases, temporary digital rentals, Netflix royalties, or other mediums), which means that a theater release winds up as almost advertisement for the after-theater market. Plus, the amount of copies something sells isn’t a great measurement of its success as art, as we can see with how popular such things as Twilight50 Shades, or the Super Bowl have been. (What? I picked three things I don’t think have cultural importance. Okay, okay. Twilight has at least been helpful in my lectures.)

(I’m so catching flack from my football-fan friends for that comment.)

Anyway, there’s one thing that this list does give us. We can see that the list bears little resemblance to the combined list of 2014 movie releases by estimated number of tickets sold. I won’t bother pasting the list in. Just click that link and see for yourself. I’ll wait.

That means that the majority of movies that won, or that are the source of wins, were seen by only a small fraction of the public. Popular doesn’t mean good (I think only two out of the top ten on that list deserved a nomination), but limited popularity doesn’t mean quality either.

Ultimately, I care pretty much nothing about the Oscars, because it’s just Hollywood insiders giving each other awards, wearing fancy clothes, and making speeches like their opinions on politics and culture really matter.

Except for one.

Yeah, there was one thing that made me really want to change my Monday blog post from a review to a post on the Oscars. And that was this:

Graham Moore

Here’s the video:

Last night, right before the Oscars, I met someone who was having a tough time. I don’t have permission to tell her story, but I thought of her the moment I saw this. We’ll call her Mary; that’s not her real name, but it’ll do. I found her crying, alone, feeling overwhelmed and not understanding how she can do what she’s expected to accomplish. I sat with her for almost forty minutes until her fiance arrived. We talked about a lot of stuff, and Mary shared some of the problems she was having. I gave her my email address, and invited her to contact me if she ever gets overwhelmed again.

Mary isn’t the only one who feels like this, and yet it’s never something that can really be called commonplace. The isolation of depression keeps you from feeling connected to the world, and no one will ever feel like they’ve experienced the same pain as someone else. But that doesn’t mean the uniqueness is an illusion, because everyone is different. Everyone has a different combination of problems, a different pile of difficulties burying them in a mound of hopelessness. I know. I’ve been there, and I’ve written about it elsewhere.

And each person needs a different cure, and yet the same cure all at once. We all need to know we matter, and unless you have depression yourself it’s impossible to understand how hard that can be for those who do.

That’s why I decided to write this blog post. I never watch the Oscars. I never care about the Oscars. But for once, I do. Because of this man. Because he summed up exactly what people like me, like Mary, like so many others, really need to hear. What I take paragraphs to describe, Graham Moore summed up in the equivalent of two Twitter posts.

I don’t care about the awards, I don’t care about the dresses, I don’t care about the categories. But for once, I care about something that happened at the Oscars. For once, one of the speeches was about a topic that the speaker knew something about and, what’s more, didn’t come off as sanctimonious preaching.

Graham Moore spoke from the heart about a topic he knew well, and didn’t try to score points with the crowd or make a lame joke or do some odd stunt for attention. He spoke to a much larger audience, an audience that included a large number of people who are searching for meaning and hope and understanding. He didn’t speak to the rich and connected, but rather the lonely and disconnected. With just a few words, he let them know he’s been there, and he succeeded. And so can they.

Mary, I hope you’re reading this. You matter too.