A bit of luster rubs off old Oscar
It’s a bit early to write about the Oscars. The nominations don’t come out until Feb. 2, and the ceremony doesn’t happen until early March. Part of the problem is that the Academy Awards date got shifted forward a few years ago to separate the Oscars from the scores of award ceremonies that come before it.
By this point, we’ve either seen (on TV) or read about (on the Internet) a dozen movie awards since Jan. 1. Since the Oscar nomination ballots didn’t get handed in until this past Saturday (Jan. 23), it is possible for voting members to be affected by the acceptance speech of say, Sandra Bullock as Best Actress in The Blind Side — which she did at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors’ Guild and Critics Choice award programs.
When the nominations come out early next Tuesday, there will be a broader field in the category of Best Picture, with 10 nominees compared to the historical five. Much has been made about this in the media, for all of the possibilities it opens up.
It’s this reaching out to a broader spectrum of filmgoers and more base pop culture offerings that are being bandied about. Forget the fact that the Academy pretty much started out this way; the first awards in 1928 only had three nominees, while a few years later it jumped to 10 or 12 until 1945 when the number settled to five.
Of course, back in 1938, there were only 54 theatrical films released. In 2009, there were 267 films — not including many foreign films and straight-to-DVD releases. Of that number, I counted at least 43 of them that are hoping for some sort of Oscar night-nod. A solid ten have expectations of being on the guest list for Best Picture. If you do the math, that’s a lot of slop that went out last year.
The major reason for the move to ten movie nominations was to include bigger blockbuster, but perhaps lower-brow films. An actor may play a mentally ill man who is an amazing violinist, and a film may be about the Holocaust or apartheid with the hopes of getting recognized. But ever since the Oscars transitioned from being a private, gin-soaked party into a formal, televised event (on par with the Super Bowl) — the ratings have slipped and the luster on the little gold statue has tarnished.
Just like Roger Thornhill pleading to the villain in North by Northwest to help him as he clings onto a cliff by his fingers, American viewers have stepped on the fingers of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In the end, here’s what you’ll wake up to Tuesday morning when they read the Best Picture nominees: Avatar, Up in the Air, Precious, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Up, Invictus, An Education, A Single Man, and Nine. I know that if there was any real justice and the awards were based on overall excellence and popularity, Nine would be replaced with Star Trek, District 9 or The Hangover. That would feel like a balanced plate.
There are plenty of other good movies that will get a mention (see: Where the Wild Things Are, (500) Days of Summer) or will be singled out for performances (Woody Harrelson in The Messenger and Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart), but they will not get the biggest nomination for Best Picture.
If there was any justice in the world, the director of The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) would beat out the director of Avatar (James Cameron) in multiple categories. Not only will Cameron’s ex-wife (one of four) become the first woman to win the Best Director award, but it will reduce Avatar to the only awards credit it deserves — technical ones.
While I enjoyed the experience of seeing a new fantasy world in the theater, Avatar was kind of bereft of smart dialogue, original plotline (see: Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves) and basic imagery. Almost every image was borrowed from other fantasy and science-fiction paintings, books and movies. Bigelow’s story about bomb-defusing soldiers in Iraq, on the other hand, felt original and raw.
Finally, there should be a “Worst Movie of the Year” award. Yes, there are The Razzies. But the choices made by that cynical group are usually based on picking on the weakest in the herd. They will likely excoriate Did You Hear About the Morgans? and 2012. What I want to see put down is a film like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Although it made $835 million worldwide, you can’t hide obnoxious filmmaking with a lot of explosions, a hot babe and robot bathroom humor — no matter what Michael Bay tells you works.