Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar!


The older I get, the more indifferent to the Academy Awards I become. I don't mean that out of any underlying superiority. It's just that as the years go by, I'm finding it necessary to be selective about what to get worked up about in life, and getting riled at what has been since its inception a transparently political contest is like shaking a fist at inclement weather. No sense getting your knickers in a twist over what's out of your control. Best to hunker down, pop in a good movie instead and let the show blow over.

This is not to say I'm completely uncaring. I'd be thrilled if my favorite movie of the year took Best Picture, or even my second fave. That each was actually nominated indicates some taste out in La-La Land, though likely only one would have made it had the final cut remained at five. When it was announced last year that the category would expand the nominees to ten, I was one of a few who didn't scoff immediately. I initially speculated that more movies might make the race more unpredictable and interesting. Sorry, my bad. While I'm not completely certain which film will win (I'll go with The Hurt Locker...barely), it's fairly obvious that the top quintet of candidates would have still been the same handful regardless.

(If you're looking for an easy-pickings Oscar pool, incidentally, come to my northeast Ohio town where, according to the weekly paper, an overwhelming majority believe The Blind Side will take Best Picture.)

On the other hand, we have been spared the "I've never heard of that movie!" gripe that's been seeping into the public conversation in recent years. (The implication being if you haven't heard of a movie, it couldn't possibly be any good.) Most people have heard of -- and possibly even seen -- Avatar, Up, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and/or The Blind Side, all box-office hits. And the tenuous frontrunner, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, has become a topic for political debate on the basis of its accuracy or lack thereof pertaining to the war in Iraq.

I have deeply conflicted feelings about Bigelow's film. I saw it for the second time a few weeks ago on DVD, and once again I marveled at the filmmaking and Jeremy Renner's performance yet was troubled as before by the lack of context for everything that happens. The you-are-there style is compelling to a point. Yet late in the movie, when James sees a kite floating overhead, and screenwriter Mark Boal explains on the commentary that Iraqi insurgents use kites as a signaling system, I thought, "Gee, it'd have been helpful had you put that explanation in the movie." As the scene stands, it's just another puzzling detail, and altogether they lend credence to accusations of inauthenticity.

Whether or not The Hurt Locker takes the big prize is irrelevant to how it holds up over time. I'm reasonably confident that Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man -- neither of which escaped some harsh criticism -- shall look even stronger than they are now, whereas Avatar, with all its millions, will be a limp biscuit. I've also a hunch Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox (nominated for Animated Film but destined to lose to Pixar's latest blah-fest) will get past its disappointing returns and become a discovered classic on DVD. (Nina Paley's copyright-entangled Sita Sings the Blues is already halfway there.) That's the fun of history, a quality that the Oscars increasingly lack: surprise.

7 comments:

Steven Santos said...

I fully plan on skipping the Oscars for the second year in a row. Maybe it has something to do with personal distaste watching rich celebrities kiss each other's asses after a year of such poor quality in movies. It also just has to do with the show itself being an interminable bore. I'm probably just going to watch movies as I did last year.

I would have no problems with Bigelow's film winning. For me, it's a toss up between "The Hurt Locker" and "A Serious Man" out of what was nominated. I've seen 8 of the 10 Best Picture nominees (haven't seen "An Education" or "Blind Side") and 5 of those were just flat out underwhelming.

Regarding "Hurt Locker", I generally have issues with arguments over lack of authenticity in movies, as there is no real way to know what the reality of the situation is. There were as many soldiers who claimed Bigelow's film captured exactly how it was over there, so who is right? Is it more important for Bigelow to serve the characters and themes of the film? Is it her responsibility to accommodate everyone's perception of reality when even the news media does not portray what really goes on there truthfully? If we discount Bigelow's film for lack of authenticity, then there's a whole lot of great films that can be discounted for the same reasons.

Craig said...

My first attempt to comment got deleted. Let's try again.

Is it more important for Bigelow to serve the characters and themes of the film? Is it her responsibility to accommodate everyone's perception of reality when even the news media does not portray what really goes on there truthfully?

Excellent point. I think what I meant was Bigelow would have better served her characters and themes by offering a little more context. I know you're not the biggest fan of Inglourious Basterds, but I like how all the little details in that film pull me into its reality: I have no idea if the German gesture for "three" is different than the Anglo-American "three," for instance, but it seems plausible within the moment, and for me it lent the movie conviction. Whereas watching The Hurt Locker, I'm frequently pulled out of its reality by wondering why James is allowed to run wild and do whatever he pleases. Even if that's how things really are over there, I don't see enough evidence in the movie to explain or even suggest why this is the case. (In fact, the scene with David Morse's character would appear to suggest the opposite -- that there is a chain of command.)

That said, I'm also pulling for Bigelow. She's a helluva filmmaker. The thought of her beating Cameron is also too good to resist, so I guess I'm guilty of playing politics too.

FilmDr said...

Craig,

Nice choices for best film. I share your increasing indifference to the Oscars. Without access to regular TV at present, so I will likely be watching On the Waterfront with a film class tomorrow evening.

That said, I too hope that Bigelow will win best director.

Craig said...

Film Doc - On the Waterfront sounds like a savvy bit of counterprogramming. An Oscar-winner that was actually deserving.

jeremythecritic said...

I hear you on the indifference, especially when really deserving films seem to be excluded from awards conversation every year. Had a similar reaction you did to The Hurt Locker. Liked it a lot and felt it worked as a compelling procedural (or series of them) but also agree on the lack of context. The fudging of facts doesn't bother me so much. It fully succeeds as tension-filled drama but Inglorious Basterds succeeds as that and goes many steps further as pure entertainment.

I also think Hurt Locker's massive praise stems more from its topic and the irrelevant fact it was directed (extremely well) by a woman. And that's really a disservice to Bigelow, who's talented enough to win in her own right. That said, I still think Tarantino deserves it more. But as you said, the whole Oscar thing becomes kind of silly after a while. Popping in a favorite movie does sound like a nice alternative.

Craig said...

Jeremy,

I also think Hurt Locker's massive praise stems more from its topic and the irrelevant fact it was directed (extremely well) by a woman.

I think you're right. It's in sort of The Deer Hunter's position back in '78 where, following a few tentative, mediocre forays into Vietnam, that film looked like a revelation by comparison. (For different reasons, of course: Cimino's style was blue-collar lyrical whereas Bigelow goes for stark docudrama). I like movies that explain how things work. And there's enough in The Hurt Locker, effective though it is, that I wished had been explained a little more.

I plan to watch a movie tonight, but I confess I'll probably flip back and forth now and then to see how it's going. I'd like Christophe Waltz to win for Basterds -- the performance of the year in any category, far as I'm concerned. And maybe to see Jeff Bridges win retroactively for Fearless (arguably his greatest performance, for which he wasn't even nominated). I'm sure we'll see Sandra Bullock and Mo'Nique sputter like teapots, utterly taken aback by their utterly predictable wins.

Stephen said...

I too am disillusioned with the Oscars, the apparent bias towards 'safe' and bland films (politically and artistically), the bias against foreign film-making and the idea doing the rounds that voters may give so-and-so an award because it's about time or some other nonsense reason.

Is there any chance for a film like Antichrist to ever be considered?

"Pixar's latest blah fest"

Haha! I agree with you on that.