The Academy Awards
An indictment of Hollywood
THIS was the year of the share-and-share-alike Oscars. It wasn’t like last year, when “The Artist” swept the board. Instead, six of the best picture nominees divvied up the big prizes between them. “Argo” got best picture and best adapted screenplay. “Django Unchained” took best screenplay and best supporting actor (Christoph Waltz). “Life Of Pi” got best director (Ang Lee). Jennifer Lawrence won best actress for “Silver Linings Playbook”. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, was named best actor for “Lincoln”. And Anne Hathaway, of course, was named best supporting actress for “Les Misérables”.
It’s an appropriate result. We may have our favourites (mine being “Django Unchained”), but if Sunday’s Oscars are remembered for anything, it won’t be for the towering quality of “Argo”, but for the wonderful variety and strangeness of the nine films in the best picture line-up.
This was the year when the awards body that once honoured “Driving Miss Daisy” as its best film gave room to “Amour”, a French-language chamber piece examining infirmity and death; “Beasts Of The Southern Wild”, a well-nigh unclassifiable magic-realist fable showcasing non-professional actors and an unknown director; “Django Unchained”, a blood-and-controversy-spattered spaghetti western homage; “Les Misérables”, a three-hour sung-through musical set in 19th-century France; “Life Of Pi”, a largely computer-generated reverie about a boy sharing a lifeboat with a tiger; “Lincoln”, a history lesson in which men with extravagant beards have long political debates in shadowy offices; "Zero Dark Thirty", a cerebral CIA thriller about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden; and “Silver Linings Playbook”, a romantic comedy in which both leads have mental health issues
Trying to pick a winner out of that lot isn’t just a case of apples and oranges, but kumquats, guavas and bowling balls.
One possible reason for the unprecedented diversity of the nominees is the new voting system. This year, the Academy moved from paper ballots to online polling, so it’s possible that older and conservative members might have been flummoxed, allowing a younger and more tech-savvy demographic to hold sway.
But another reason why there are so many oddities and outliers on the list could be the absence of well-crafted, intelligent, crowd-pleasing movies coming from the Hollywood mainstream. Two years ago, in contrast, the best picture line-up included “Inception”, “The Social Network”, “Toy Story 3”, “The King’s Speech”, “127 Hours”, “The Fighter”, “Winter’s Bone” and more, all of which offered a cracking Friday night at the cinema without dumbing down. The weird-and-wonderful 2013 line-up is short of such uncontroversially satisfying fare, even from the most bankable of Hollywood directors. What’s missing is the sort of film you can recommend to anyone, whether they want a mind-expanding challenge or two hours’ diversion.
The two nominees which get closest to good old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment are “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Argo”, but in both cases there seems to be an element of wishful thinking to the acclaim that’s been heaped upon them. “Silver Linings Playbook” has been praised (on this blog and elsewhere) for its sympathetic portrayal of mental illness: its writer-director, David O. Russell, and its star, Bradley Cooper, were even summoned to brief Joe Biden, America's vice president, on the subject. But for all its pleasures the film revolves around two phenomenally attractive single adults with supportive, solvent families. There’s so little standing in the way of their future happiness that the script has to trump up a dancing contest to supply it with an iota of dramatic tension. I’d be amazed if many people with mental illness have lives like those on screen. As for the all-conquering “Argo”, it seems to have benefited from the truism that Hollywood loves films about Hollywood, a preference which helped “The Artist” this time last year. Ben Affleck has done a respectable job, but the documentary-like realism he is so proud of (note the final montage comparing historical events to his recreation of them) jars badly with its obviously fictional scenes of wisecracking comedy and knife-edge jeopardy. Maybe that is why Mr Affleck was not nominated in the best director category, despite his film’s awards-sweeping season.
So where are the terrific Hollywood movies which should have come out in 2012? Crowded out, it seems, by all the remakes, sequels and superhero blockbusters. As for the coming 12 months, we can look forward to “Thor 2”, “Captain America 2”, “Wolverine 2”, “GI Joe 2”, “Despicable Me 2”, “Monsters Inc 2”, “The Smurfs 2”, “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2”, “RED 2”, “300 2”, “Grown Ups 2”, “Percy Jackson 2”, “The Hunger Games 2”, “The Hobbit 2”, “Anchorman 2”, “Iron Man 3”, “The Hangover 3”, “Scary Movie 5”, “Paranormal Activity 5”, “Fast & Furious 6”, “Superman 6” and “Star Trek 12”.
When the Academy is looking around for best picture nominees for next year’s Oscars, it may well have to cast its net wider than ever.