So here’s the thing.
Every year, if at all possible, I watch all five Best Picture films in advance of the Oscars. Just because you kinda have to. (Although for some reason, I didn’t do it last year). And then Oscar day arrives, I try desperately to avoid discovering any results (although this year I accidentally saw an “Elizabeth wins Best Costume” headline on a workmate’s computer, which annoyed me because (a) it was a result, and I didn’t want to know it, and (b) I hadn’t picked the film for that category). Then, when I get home, I sit down holding my printed ballot sheet with my picks, and I watch. (There’s always a bit of guessing with some of the categories – the shorts, or this year with foreign-language and documentary, so I rely on the film descriptions on the official Oscars website to make my pick of what sounds like a likely winner.)
And every year, the same thing happens. I start out really well, getting 3 or 4 awards right before my first failure, then getting wrong result after wrong result in the middle, before a final few successes that push me to a slightly above halfway-mark, typically 13 or 14 correct out of 24 Oscars. I have never had a success rate of less than 50 percent.
Until this year. The first award was the previously mentioned win of Best Costume for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Curses. And throughout the ceremony, almost every choice I made was wrong, until I was left to incoherently curse as another jldkjds award goes to the askdmsl that I nearly chose before I changed my lxcjfzxpk mind and went with so-and-so the miserable zsjdasokjf. The end result being that, not only did I fail to make a 50 percent success rate this year, I didn’t even get into double digits. 9 out of 24 is not a good result, and the only thing I was happy about was that it wasn’t 8 out of 24. Or 7 out of 24. Really, I was just glad I got something right.
You’ve probably heard the news about the Oscars being the lowest-rated ceremony in the history of the Oscars. (Presumably this does not include those years before the ceremony was televised.) What I have found disappointing is the post-Oscars discussion that has been focused around how to get more people watching the Oscars. In particular, there has been the same “problem” identified over and over again – the fact that there were no popular films in the list. Of the Best Picture nominees, only Juno made more than $100 million in the US, and so the discussion frequently came back to the idea that people hadn’t seen any of the films, they therefore didn’t care about it as they have nothing to root for. And to a degree that’s true – some of the highest Oscar ceremonies in recent years have been when Titanic and The Lord of the Rings were big winners. But the problem is that there is a strong divide these days in the films that Hollywood makes. On the one hand, you have the big blockbuster summer releases, where obscene amounts are thrown to make the biggest spectacle film money can buy. These are the highest grossing films of the year, the films everyone goes to see. And they are by no means Oscar material. The people that suggest that Oscar needs to embrace the more popular films really need to consider what films they are talking about. Spider-Man 3? Shrek 3? Or that jkdlcoj xoidao doisdoa sddiosdda sdckasdkcoa csdioacjco asdicsaciok sxcokacpo Transformers djodmsfsm? Do any of these films actually deserve the words “Best Picture” anywhere near them?
Then there are the good films. But the way Hollywood is going, these tend to be smaller films, and even if they’re made by the big studios, they’re made by the smaller independent-style branches of the studios. They’re not the subject of huge promotional pushes, they tend to be eased into cinemas, getting a limited release first, then slowly building their audience, before finally going wide. But even at their widest release point, they’re never going to be huge. Give people a choice between watching cars turn into giant robots and bash each other, or a story about a turn-of-the-century oil tycoon falling into capitalism’s pitfalls, or a contemplative 1980s western with no conventional ending, people will always choose the robots. Because people are morons.
Looking at the box office receipts for the year, the only high-grossing films I can see that could even be considered for Best Picture are Bourne Ultimatum and Ratatouille. Ratatouille absolutely should have been nominated, but the only animated film to ever be nominated was Beauty and the Beast, and the recent inclusion of Best Animated Feature basically means no animated film will ever get the Best Picture nomination ever again. (Also worth noting – I haven’t seen Persepolis, but I’ve wanted to for months. I hear it was even better than Ratatouille, and should have won the Oscar, but didn’t because it was a small title noone had heard of, rather than this year’s main Pixar release. If Persepolis really is as good as I have heard, then it should also have the nomination, but in that case, not only is it animated, it’s also a foreign-language film, so it has no chance of even getting considered).
So Bourne is the only high-grossing film worth considering for Best Picture, and as brilliant and exceptional as it was, as much as I love all the Bourne films and am astonished at their quality and the way they’ve reinvented the action film, I honestly don’t think it was as good as my least favourite nominee (Atonement). And to give Bourne a nomination would be wrong. (If anything, the only change to the Best Picture nominations I would make would be to take Atonement out and replace it with the much superior Zodiac.)
Besides, people seem to forget that the Oscars are not actually for the audience. They’re actually for the film industry. Yes, there is a lot of entertainment put on for the audience, but it is ultimately about congratulating those in the film industry that did a good job. And they’ve made enough bad decisions in the past as it is without making more bad decisions simply to increase the viewing audience when the viewing audience is not the focus.
But really, if we allow ourselves to get caught up in some hype where we need audience favourites to win in order to restore ratings, we’ll find ourselves with another Titanic win, where the hype of an undeserving film getting a huge audience means that a truly great film like LA Confidential gets forgotten. And we don’t want that. What we do want is for people to see that No Country For Old Men won, have a look at it, and then hopefully branch out into the Coen Brothers other work. They’ll discover Raising Arizona, and Fargo, and Big Lebowski, and Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink. And then they move on to There Will Be Blood, and then explore Boogie Nights or Magnolia. Or see Juno, and then take a look at Thank You For Smoking. And if that happens, the Oscars will have done their job, because they will have actually enlightened people, and given people an opening to discover some great cinema, rather than the normal dreck people go to see.
Anyway, a few final comments about the Oscars ceremony itself:
- I thought Jon Stewart did a great job under really tough circumstances (only having 11 days to prepare is not long), and while he did slip into political humour a little too much, it was mostly at least vaguely relevant to movies (his line about how “we usually only see a female or black president when an asteroid is hitting the Statue of Liberty” was great).
- I haven’t seen Once (might go this weekend), so didn’t know the song Falling Slowly before the show, and it really surprised me. I knew there was a lot of buzz around the song, and I can see why. It is difficult to imagine a simpler song, but there was such heartache and honest emotion in the song that it didn’t need anything else.
- In an earlier draft of this post (written the day after the Oscar ceremony), I commented that I wanted to know who the photo of Roderick Jaynes is actually of (since Roderick Jaynes famously doesn’t exist – the Coen Brothers edit their own films under the pseudonym). I’ve since come across this page stating that the photo was of “A Dust Bowl-era farmer the wily Coens found in a book. The brothers are so committed to the ruse that if Jaynes had won this category, they would not have accepted on his behalf”.
- I finally tried to find out the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Apparently Sound Editing involves the creation of the sound plan for the movie, including directing the creation of the foley effects. Sound Mixing involves taking that sound plan and mixing it together, weaving all the sound elements together, adjusting the levels of the dialogue, score, and effects into an audio whole.
- One of the animated shorts, I Met The Walrus, sounds rather cool. In 1969 a 14-year-old kid sneaks into John Lennon’s hotel room,and manages to get an interview. They edited the recording down to 5 minutes, and then produced animation to accompany Lennon’s words. How cool is that? How much do you want that film to win? Sadly, it didn't.
- I found Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in There Will Be Blood to be a lot more subtle and nuanced than I expected, so I was disappointed that they chose one of the relatively big over-the-top moments (the church repentance scene) for his clip. I promise you, his performance wasn’t all at the “I drink your milkshake” level.
- Of the 80 Best Picture winners, I have seen 56. And, while the Academy has always had a history of giving the award to films that that don’t deserve it, watching them all together really highlights the bad decisions in recent years. Forrest Gump? The English Patient? Shakespeare In Love? American Beauty? Gladiator? Crash? And djffkddsls Titanic? I just hope the Oscar voters were watching that thinking “Wow, we really have made some stupid decisions, haven’t we”.