Monday, February 21, 2011

Countdown To The 2011 Academy Awards: The Best Picture Dilemma

Award shows have no bearing on the quality of my life. The actual award will only impact the very small circle of people who actively surround the winner. The yearly award circuit is simply a chance for the entire industry to get dressed up, pat each other on the back for a job well done, and pretend the night's events are as important as Guiliana Rancic tells us they are. Yet despite my (hugely) cynical take on the matter, I spend an awful lot of time trying to pick the winners and view the actual festivities as they unfold on TV. Why do I put so much thought and care into something that will not affect me in the slightest? The answer is quite simple, I like seeing things that I enjoy get recognized. I assume (though to a much lesser degree) it's similar to the excitement fans get when their favorite team wins the championship at season's end. As a fan, we feel connected to each other and so when we see our thing (whether it be a movie, musical artist, or football team) recognized as the current "best", we have the urge to celebrate alongside the people who actually did the hard work to earn the award (or pay for it). Yet this connection can go both ways, and so when the thing/person/team that we are rooting for loses to something we consider inferior, it causes an irrational collective misery as we feel our side was cheated out of victory.

It seems every year there is at least one race where I fear I will experience such irrational hatred towards a winner. This year, nothing sums that anxiety up more than the possibility of The King's Speech winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Did I hate The King's Speech? Not at all! I thought it was a well made film but not much else. It is a safely made film and while it may have caused me to applaud it (metaphorically) in my head as I left the theater, it also failed to leave me with much else to chew on past that. To me, The King's Speech is the child that gets raised very strictly by parents who will expect nothing short of perfection. So the child grows up to be immensely successful and exactly what it was supposed to be, yet is severely lacking in both uniqueness and any aspect of fun. I'm not saying The King's Speech as a movie lacked charisma because it had many entertaining scenes, it was just that the idea even behind those scenes had no spark or cool sense of danger. The King's Speech feels like a film bred for awards and thus it seems far too blandly predictable to hear it's name called as the final prize of the night.

This year's Academy Awards will feature the 83rd movie to be awarded as the year's best. For a film to be considered a part of such a small set, it should have to achieve a lot more than simply being a well made film. I understand the Best Picture award does not have the best track record (Citizen Kane, Suspicion, and The Maltese Falcon all lost in 1941 to How Green Was My Valley) but I am arguing for the future instead of a justification to go back to the "good old days" or some other type of false nostalgia. I want the award to go to a film that dared to accomplish something new in cinema and pushed the boundaries of entertainment. I want the award to go to a film that can balance being a snapshot of our current culture yet also be timeless enough for all generations (both past and present) to enjoy and relate to. I want the award to go to The Social Network.

This year's nominees are an exceptional bunch. (Make note, I have no problem with The King's Speech actual nomination.) But perhaps the fact that there are ten nominees will hinder the ability for a more "daring" film to actually take the prize. Let's say there are two types of Academy Award voters, those that go for something traditional and those that go for something more exciting and new. The traditional voters will go for The King's Speech as it is far and away the film in this category that best exemplifies that type of voting strategy. On the other hand, someone looking to honor a less traditional film has far too many options. While it's great that smaller films like Winter's Bone and 127 Hours get nominated now that the field has expanded from 5 to 10 nominees*, I feel it also lessens the chances of the more high profile underdog film to actually achieve an upset. It's the Raph Nadar effect. Add some fringe nominees and the people who would normally go for something like The Social Network will throw their weight behind Winter's Bone to support it, knowing full well it has no chance of winning.

Let's say my instincts are correct and The King's Speech wins. Shouldn't I simply be happy that the film I thought deserved to win was at least nominated? Logically the answer would be yes but my frustration stems more from The King's Speech's potential win than The Social Network's potential loss. In fact, if a film like The Fighter or True Grit squeezed out a surprise upset, I'd be just as happy than if The Social Network took the prize. To me, it all comes down to allowing a film to be recognized for trying something new and succeeding over a film that may have been exceptionally made, didn't do much for the legacy of film. It won't cause quite as much damage as when Crash won in 2005, but having The King's Speech take home the top prize this Sunday night will only further prove how meaningless the award really is. Either way, I'm just glad none of it matters to me.

You're Welcome, 

*I'm fully aware Best Picture used to be 10 nominees at the beginning, but it hasn't been that way since 1943. I am not sure as to the reason behind the change in 1944, but I support it and would gladly consider these past two years a failed experiment.

1 comment:

  1. In other words, the film(s) you wanted to win aren't going to, and you're mad.

    Waaah. (c)Artie Lang

    You're mad at the award itself, not the nominees you perceive to be undeserving. Films like King's Speech are tailor-made Best Picture winners. Be mad at the award, not the movie. (Don't hate the player, hate the game.)

    The problem is that you improperly define "Best Picture" as "most daring picture" or "most innovative picture". The Academy voters, going back many decades, (with few exceptions) have defined it as "most generally well-made picture in a traditional sense". Direct your criticism there.

    Ultimately, though, your complaining is pointless because Best Picture awards have little bearing on how a film will be remembered historically. Raging Bull lost to Ordinary People, yet people still talk about Raging Bull to this day as a masterpiece of American cinema. If a film is a good enough, it stands the test of time, Oscar or no Oscar.

    (Also, you exposed your agenda when you said you'd rather see 'The Fighter' or 'True Grit' win best picture. Neither of those films "dared to accomplish something new in cinema and pushed the boundaries of entertainment." You just liked them better than King's Speech. The Fighter was a been-there-done-that underdog sports movie Rocky remake, and True Grit a gorgeously photographed, straight-forward, Coen-tinged Western. You should have used 127 Hours.)