February 6, 2012

The Black Hole Presents: Thoughts on Oscar 2012

So, when the Oscar nominations came out, I was embroiled in Robert Redford's ode to all things independent. But now that Sundance is no more than a beautiful memory, it's time to offer my, albeit very late, two cents on this year's Oscar race.

I will first say that I read the nominations right before a movie started, and, even though I kept in inward and didn't discomfort my fellow festers, I was raging when I read the Best Picture nominees.

First off, I'm gonna do my best to avoid saying what should have been nominated instead. I could spend an entire week writing posts of why Drive, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, 50/50, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are more deserving nominees than most of the films that were nominated, but what's done is done. There's nothing to say that I have to be nice to the films that were nominated. Hell no!

So, the Best Picture noms include solid locks The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo, not so certain but still fairly reliable choices (Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse), and then the other two. The Help and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Now, I have not seen The Help, but I hear mixed things. Some people say it's incredible. Others, not so much. I have also not seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but I have heard... that it's not very good at all.

For all I know, these two movies could be the best things that have ever come out out of any filmmakers mind ever! But I rather doubt it. The Help looks like a run of the mill, literary adaptation that deals with race issues in that time that race issues were finally getting addressed. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close looks like a shameless attempt to tug at your heartstrings by dealing with an event that many still think about. And from what I can tell, based on the reactions of my peers, I'm pretty spot on with that.

So, why are these nominated?

Well, The Help is nominated because it brings out that beautiful thing that the Academy just can't seem to shake, white guilt! This is the same reason that The Blind Side got all the buzz it did two years ago. It doesn't seem to matter if the film in question is any good. If the content deals with disenfranchised african americans finally getting what they, as human beings, deserve, than it's automatically in contention. Funny how this only seems to apply when a film plays the race card. I mean, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (both versions) deals with the mistreatment and abuse of women, a much heavier topic, if you ask me. And yet, it's nowhere to be found, because the way it approaches that topic is too cold, too unforgiving, too... realistic. Huh.

Anyway, that's my gripe with The Help. 

Moving on to the other one. It's immediately clear that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nominated because it played the 9/11 hand, and only because of that. This has nothing to do with the quality of the film or anything like that. The Academy wanted to nominate something that spoke to the greater American public, so they ignored all other films in favor of this one. Is that a problem? Yeah, especially when said film hasn't gotten a nomination in ANYTHING else! No Golden Globes. No SAGs. No DGAs. No WGAs. No PGAs. This was something that people had all but forgotten, and now the Academy pulls it back into the spotlight because, well, it speaks to the tragedy of that day.

And it just might; I'm not disputing that. But if the Academy wanted to acknowledge a film that dealt with the heroism or the loss of that day, where was the Best Picture nomination for United 93? Why did World Trade Center get completely shut out? And don't even try to pull out that bullshit argument of, "It's too soon." It was not too soon for United 93, a film that paid undying respect to everyone who died on that day. It was not too soon for World Trade Center, a film that honestly portrayed the plight of firefighters caught in the destruction. If Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film that takes 9/11 and uses it as a springboard for a child to go on a quest to find something his dad left him, had come out when those movies came out, it would be too soon!

I confess, I'm getting tired of the Academy doing this. A film doesn't need to be good anymore. It just needs to speak to something difficult and moving. The King's Speech is a great movie, but in no way is it as much of daring, technical marvel as Inception, as atmospheric and engrossing as Black Swan, or as sharp and witty as The Social Network. And yet, because it deals with a disadvantaged man overcoming the obstacles and rising to greatness, it takes the big prize.

And this has been a big theme with these guys as of late. Crash won because it dealt with race relations, and because the Academy was too chicken to award "the gay cowboy movie". A Beautiful Mind won for the same reason that Speech won, beating out the lavish, wondrous flash of Moulin Rouge. Shakespeare in Love, a completely forgettable film, beat out one of the most realistic and respectful war films ever made. And so it goes.

I want the Academy that seriously considers daring and new things to come back. I want the Academy that nominated Star Wars for Best Picture, that gave the whole pie to The Godfather or The Silence of the Lambs. I want the Academy that awards films based on their quality, not by how much they remind us of a trying time.

Oh, whatever. The Artist is gonna win anyway, so we might as well just pack it in and call it a day. See ya later!

1 comment:

  1. Oh *so* much to chew on here! Apologies in advance, as I don't mean to wail on you...but that might be how this reads...

    First and foremost regarding potter and Drive: Told ya. 50/50 also unfortunately never had a good chance, though admittedly the omission of TATTOO did catch me off-guard.

    What gets me though young sir is your double whammy of "I haven't seen it, but...". If I had a nickle for everytime I've heard those five words in the last two weeks, I'd be a very rich man. If you don't see the film, then you are speculating, and every word you say thereafter can only carry so much weight.

    Having seen both films, allow me to retort.

    EI&IC is messy, and certainly not what I'd call one of the top nine films of the year. However, it is more than just "The 9/11 Movie". Oskar's journey is sparked by his father's passing, and no matter how his father passed, the journey would be equally touching. It's a call for us to never stop looking for answers more than it is "playing the 9/11 hand".

    It's not really fair to compare it to U93 or WTC because the three movies are so very different. Remind yourself too, that U93 scored a nomination for Best Director - and likely would have made the Best Picture category had that year been one where ten films were nominated.

    As for THE HELP, a film I liked more than EL&IC, there's even more to like about it. Again, not one I'd call Top Nine, but *far* from a bad film. It's handsome, it's smartly written, and most importantly, it is an acting clinic. That there is enough to carry it into the conversation as you need to remember that actors make up the biggest voting block of the academy (Think it's a co-incidence that it just won SAG Ensemble?).

    To boil down THE HELP to "racism is bad" is a bit of a disservice, since the film executes much better than previous examples like CRASH and THE BLIND SIDE. It's a film that features a lot of amazing parts for women in a time where we are continually seeing very few amazing parts for women. Likewise, as previously mentioned, it executes technically as well. My only knock on it is that it could have done with a slightly tighter edit - but I have no qualms with this film being part of the conversation.

    What you need to remember is that Oscar gets things wrong far more often than they get things right - the trick is not minding. While they'll occasionally nail it by awarding vanguard films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION, AMERICAN BEAUTY, or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, they usually play it safe. Why? Easy - they're primarily old and white.

    Again, sorry to rail on you. Think of Oscar more as a trade show than an actual award of merit. Films that get recognized and actors that get named find themselves elevated and start getting more attention (think it's a co-incidence dozens of musicals started getting made after MOULIN ROUGE?).

    'Sides - we're in a year where a silent, black & white French film is poised to take Best Picture. That's something special that won't happen again anytime soon!