By: Eric Thomas
Oscar buzz has crescendoed to a hum and now all await the annual brightly colored bacchanal of flesh and sparkly patterns. The Academy Awards has become that thing that most Americans say they won’t watch, but then every one of us watches it anyway. There isn’t ever anything on other channels at the same time. It’s like every other channel offers some kind of armistice. The only exception this year is “The Walking Dead,” because Rick Grimes doesn’t negotiate.
Since 2010, the Academy started nominating 10 movies a year for Best Picture, a laughable standard because Hollywood hardly ever releases ten good movies a year. This year is an anomaly, with a field of exceptional quality. The only one your blogger hasn’t seen is Amour, a French Film about retired music teachers dealing with the after effects of a stroke.
“Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty” are instant classics. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is strangely affecting and “Les Misérables” pins you to your seat for its duration. Lincoln is an outstanding achievement, everyone involved in the film is at the absolute top of his or her game and it even manages a sense of humor in parts. All indications point to “Argo,” starring and directed by Ben Affleck, about the Iranian hostage crisis of in the 70s.
Leave it to Hollywood. Argo is a fine film, but it’s the only one in the category without teeth. It’s a simple, two hour rah-rah affair where the CIA are the under-appreciated good guys who must deal with deadly situations and bureaucracy. There is some manufactured tension where the filmmakers start bare faced lying, sending the Iranian army to the tarmac moments before the flight lifts off. Again, not a bad film. It’s worth watching. When compared to the others in the category, Argo wilts in comparison.
“Django Unchained” is a Tarantino tour de force, a three hour barrel ride that keeps your rapt attention. There are moments of pure joy, horror and excitement. It lays bare the reality of slavery through the lens of the spaghetti western; the villains behave like villains but remain bound by historical accuracy. The Academy already deserves to be under indictment for snubbing Samuel L Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio, both actors turning in their best performance of their respective careers. Django should be a favorite and Tarantino deserves to at least be nominated for best director. Shame that a film as powerful as Django is ineligible because it’s so raw.
“Zero Dark Thirty” should win Best Picture. A three hour assault to the senses that sticks its fingers in fresh wounds, the movie has suffered from the swirl of controversy around it. Many voters boorishly bragged that they won’t support the film for its fact based depiction of torture. It’s a tough movie to watch because it tells the truth regardless of the political spin. It was probably doomed because the right doesn’t want to accept the policies were carried out and the left doesn’t want to admit that they may have worked. The truth ambiguous, as always, and because “Zero Dark Thirty” is honest Ms Bigelow must stand in the corner. Clap for the winner whose film fit the archetype. We go to the movies to be hypnotized, not awoken to the realities of the world. Kathryn Bigelow, was also not nominated for Best Director because she said something in her film that the Academy disagreed with. Pathetic. Yet Ang Lee gets a nod for the syrupy and boring Life of Pi?
“Lincoln” is of course sensational, the only historical drama in memory that can make viewers feel as though they are inside history. Daniel Day Lewis‘ portrayal of the sixteenth President is so incredible that his award is inevitable. The same thing can be said about Anne Hathaway, for her volcanic performance in “Les Misérables.” That film’s only stumble is that her early exit leaves a cavernous hole the movie never recovers. At least you walk from that film feeling as though you’ve been through something, unlike the safe and saccharine movie directed by Ben Affleck.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is also better than “Argo,” a low budget southern fairy tale so creative it hits you like a blast of pure inspiration. Affleck’s movie is, however, better than “Silver Linings Playbook.” That movie is remarkable for the performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, but it felt uneven at times and seems over hyped when they start the credits.
Oscar is no stranger to the snub and the names of overlooked films fall out like dry bricks, “Citizen Kane,” “Taxi Driver,” “Fargo,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Goodfellas,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Social Network,” “Saving Private Ryan” …” Zero Dark Thirty” will sit on the shelf with those classics. Somehow this snub seems more egregious, because this snub has a message. Hollywood seems to be slapping the hand of artists who challenge the psyche.
The Academy seems to be waving a didactic finger, warning all who trespass what they will not condone. Challenging the audience is a no-no. Airbrush those scars; make sure the bitter pills are coated with sugar. Filmmakers are rewarded for releasing movies that pull punches, and behave in predictable ways. It’s no surprise that Hollywood has trouble scraping together ten award worthy movies every year, when they heap their praise on those who perform the best retread.