So...remember that article I promised last time? The one where I finally put down my $0.02 on a particular element of film and nerddom that's been getting reevaluated all around?
Well, technically, I'm a liar. I say technically for two reasons
1) I do still plan to deliver on that, but frankly, this piece called to me to get finished first.
2) This technically also meets that description, just not as the subject I had in mind.
So what was the topic that pre-empted this entry that is mutating into a two-article topic on its own? Why none other than that wonderful mess of industry politics, questionable decisions, and the occasional good call that is the Academy Awards.
Now, before I begin, I want to say something I've been noticing over the last few months that, honestly, I find pretty encouraging in a weird way.
In light of the recent controversies over copyright and control of the web that have been raging over the internet over the past few months (and I imagine many of you are sick to death of hearing about), I did note one thing that hadn't fully sunk in before that, the more I think about it, is actually rather exciting. The fact is, while the entertainment industry at large seems to be solely opposed to the fact this technology can be used to distribute their goods without them getting payment, there is another area where one can't shake the feeling they're also feeling threatened - in this new age of distribution and greater access to technology, the floodgates for distribution of film have widened.
We're on the verge of an age where being able to make and distribute a film without having to rely on major studio backing is becoming less dream and more reality again.
A prospect that some have speculated leaves the current industry another step closer to being rendered obsolete by the times, a problem they've been wrestling with as it is through their stubborn attempts to block rather than embrace new technology.
'What the Hell does any of this have to do with the Oscars?' some of you are probably asking right about now. Directly, nothing. Indirectly though, it addresses the same question of 'are you relevant anymore?' that has been slowly growing over the industry these last few months.
It's hard to deny that, in light of this year's nominee announcements, reactions were altogether mixed. Almost immediately, lists of numerous films that people thought were snubbed, if not outright shut out, began cropping up on the web. Now, some response of "* was robbed" is to be expected to a degree with nominees in general cause...hey, it's an awards show, not everyone's going to have the same opinions. This year's response, however, seemed much more pronounced than usual, with the absence of several features (some of which I will go into later) called into question and, in turn, people questioning the appearance on the lists of others (most notably, Stephen Daldry's 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close', one of the only Best Picture nominees in general, and of this year's crop, the only one, to actually garner a 'rotten' score on metacritic site RottenTomatoes.)
In light of all of this, more and more people now seem to be asking that inevitable, uncomfortable question - why do we even care about this show? Sure, it's got some nice surprises at times, and some people may enjoy seeing the hardworking members of the industry (and I want to stress that, when I take issue with the industry at large, it's more with studio heads than it is the people actually making the films) all gathered together and decked to the nines for one night that will, inevitably, exceed its given time slot on the networks with almost as much certainty as a Superbowl game.
But as a former benchmark of film quality, is it really relevant anymore?
I mean, how many people here now look and go "This won best picture? That's gotta be good then!" Or how many people feel the need to go to a film on the basis of "Oscar-winning actor *" being in it?
I don't know about you guys, but from the people I've talked to, it just doesn't matter that much anymore. Hell, to some degree, one has to wonder how much it even mattered to begin with, if the numerous lists of bad calls made by the Oscars over the years that crop up like clockwork with each awards season are any indication (fun fact - one of the most acclaimed films of American cinema was beaten in its year for Best Picture. I'm sure some of you already know which one.)
On some level, it seems like the Academy is also aware of its diminishing relevance (how can they not be? It's been acknowledged ratings have been low the past few years, and this year's article revealing the majority of the Academy voter base to be white men over 50 (*) have made it hard for them to ignore it.) To their credit, they have also tried to fix this problem, either by increasing the openings for Best Picture nominee a few years ago from 5 to 9, and actually, for the first time in years, making an effort to try and broaden their horizons, albeit in one of the 'safer' categories. Don't get me wrong guys, I love that you're finally opening 'Best Animated' up to foreign entries besides Studio Ghibli again (and I want to make this clear, this is NOT a knock on Ghibli. Just saying, in the past, this seemed to be as far out of their comfort zone as the Academy was willing to go, which lead to some other greats being sadly shafted) but the fact it took this long to do so disappoints me.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts feel like they're coming too little, too late. Plus the sheer number of things people pointed out as having been ignored by the Academy this year, arguably more so than most other years, seems to suggest the awards are now, without dispute, falling out of faith with the general movie going public.
Now, this isn't to say all of their choices this year are bad. In fact, they have selected several good films this year. The problem is, the number of other equally, or in some cases better movies that got little to no acknowledgment doesn't reflect well on their criteria in general.
...and since I've discussed it several times now, I suppose it's only fitting to round out this article by throwing my $0.02 in on several of the titles that were ignored this year.
Now, given the somewhat long nature of this list, and the fact you guys have already been subjected to enough ramblings, we're gonna try and keep this one moving at a brisk pace (cause as a general rule, we'll all be wondering "How much longer do they plan to go?" tomorrow night.)
Don't be surprised if some, or all of these, you've seen on other lists so far...cause they really do deserve better than they're currently getting:
-Director (oh come on, say what you will about his comments, and let's face it, those are why he's not on here, von Trier IS a good director)
-Actress (take your pick, they both stepped up for this one.)
In short - were it not for the fact that von Trier's made himself a fair number of enemies with his off-the-cuff comments, this would have been a contender to beat this year. Of course, even if it weren't for von Trier's penchant for PR magic, I can't shake the feeling some of the subject matter of this film also probably cost it some Academy brownie points. I don't just mean the ending (which I can't rightly say I'm spoiling since you know the Earth is doomed within the first five minutes), but the film's rather frank look at depression. This is also where I'd say the acting nominations would pay off. Just as the film doesn't try to sugarcoat Dunst's character's depression, the performances by both her as well as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland trying to help support her, alongside coping with the entire 'Earth is doomed' plotline. But the latter is still a secondary story to that depression element, which the film depicts in showing as sympathetic but not saintly. There are times where we can relate to Gainsbourg and Sutherland's frustration, but at the same time, we know it's not really something that Dunst is consciously doing. In short, it's an honest look at a mental illness.
In short - Alongside Melancholia, oh WOW did this film get the proverbial short end of the stick. Again, I wonder how much of this was exposure and how much was the fact that the subject matter wasn't necessarily voter friendly (I mean, mental illness isn't new ground for the Academy in films, but as it's depicted here...well...there's a reason the 'Never go full retard' scene in the movie Tropic Thunder exists. In this film it's not retardation, but the principle remains the same.) Between the film's rather straightforward look at a tricky subject, as well as how it plays in ambiguity to the very end as far as whether Michael Shannon's character's visions are real or not, it's already walking a tenuous road. Despite this, the film carries itself quite well, and in particular leads Shannon and Jessica Chastain both deliver some phenomenal work with roles that could have easily been overdone. It took an interesting approach at a subject that, for some, is still rather uncomfortable...and I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of what cost it recognition.
...of course, again, it could just be the exposure issue.
-Martha Marcy May Marlene
In short - OK, the fact this got NOTHING is still mind-boggling. Especially in light of some of the other entries that got in this year. This is what people are talking about when they say you guys are losing touch, Academy. Again, maybe this was an exposure issue. Maybe it's the fact this movie came before the big awards season (and yes, the fact is when over the year a movie comes out DOES effect its odds with the Academy.) Or maybe, and I apologize for the fact I'm coming back to this, maybe this is another case where the concept wasn't exactly warming up to voters. I mean, like the previous two, we're looking at a film which addresses mental disorders with a rather straight face. The victims aren't lionized, nor are they shunned. We simply see what this condition does to them and those around them (in this case thanks in a large part to a sadly overlooked performance by Elisabeth Olsen.) Knowing what Martha has been through during her time in a commune-like cult, we do feel bad for her, but at the same time, we can see why her sister and her fiance are frustrated with her at points throughout the movie. Alongside that, the film's avoiding trying to completely side with either part of the issue, tied with an ambiguity in the script (to such a degree that the viewer is left wondering what is real and what is paranoid delusion) may have also cost this any chances at the big win. I do want to believe I'm just seeing the worst in these situations, but the more I look at the spread that got in next to the stuff that didn't...it DOES raise suspicions.
-We Need to Talk About Kevin
In short - I'm sensing a pattern here now. It seems like the more 'downer' films from the year are getting pretty roundly shut out here. Now, this could just be coincidence. I could be reading this wrong. But when, as several people have noticed, the films that deal with more uncomfortable subject matters are getting shut out, while a film like EL&IC, amid a LOT of mixed reception, made it all the way up to best picture, it DOES raise suspicions that maybe these films aren't being left out on matters of quality, but simply because the voters aren't liking what they have to say.
In short - Of all of these nomination suggestions, if I had to bat for anyone, I'd join the voices in saying Albert Brooks got shafted from a best supporting actor nomination. Of course, this isn't to say he was alone here. For his own role, Bryan Cranston's turn in this was also worth some acknowledgment. Especially in a year where the Academy has shown they're willing to offer up two nominees from the same film in the same category. Granted, if forced to pick between the two (begrudgingly so,) I'd side with Brooks. In either case, the fact this film only got a nomination for Sound Editing leaves one feeling like this movie, like the others above, should have gotten some more acknowledgment than it did.
-The Adventures of Tintin
In short - OK, I'm still really disappointed this one didn't get a shot. I mean, again, on the one hand, I love the fact we're getting more foreign feature coverage this year in the animated category. On the other, I do still find the fact this lost a slot to the three entries from the US we did get seems rather underwhelming. I've heard some speculation that it was loopholed out due to the fact a lot of it was motion capture. If that's true, I'm going to have to express my disappointment, since that feels like taking an easy out to keep this one from a nomination. As animated features went this year, it was definitely one of the fresher entries this year and, coming from someone who had misgivings about this, more than did the source material justice while still being generally entertaining.
In short - I'm not sure if this was just the fact it came out too early with little fanfare and exposure or if voters just weren't that crazy about it's approach. I stress the part on lack of exposure...this was one of those full on 'find the nearest arthouse theater, cause if you think this is going to appear in your usual theater, you've either been very lucky or drinking.' It's a damned shame in either case. In an industry that takes a lot of flak these days for reheating old stories and general unoriginality, this film took what, in other hands, could have been a very cliched story and managed to put it in a new spin that actually leaves one remembering the execution almost more than the plot itself. Further to this end, given the film's 'in media res'/'slice of life' approach to its story, it makes the acting (in particular, lead Michelle Williams) even more of a challenge as they don't have the ability to make the full traditional story arc.
In short - OK, this one I won't say too much on compared to the others. But the work The Chemical Brothers did for the soundtrack, as a nice change from the traditional soundtrack, would have been nice to see make the list (one thing I will give the Academy on this note - giving last year's Original Score to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was one of their better calls.)
...so yeah, there's been a lot of questions about this year. I won't say I'm entirely displeased with what we did get, as there have been some good picks in the running as well. Unfortunately, it does make it hard to lend credence to the award as a mark of quality when you see this many good entries getting left at the wayside simply because they either came out at the wrong time, or weren't backed by the right people.
In any event, will be interesting to see how it all pools out tomorrow.
...and yes, next week I WILL make good on that other post was talking about.