Frame rating: ‘The French Dispatch’ Oscars snub doesn’t detract from its artistry

“The French Dispatch” follows three loosely connected stories about an American-based magazine located in France. (Courtesy: Searchlight Pictures)

I’m going to go ahead and say it: I love “The French Dispatch.”

The movie was released in theaters last October, making this a pretty belated review, but it’s Oscars season. What better time than now to look back at the films of last year and talk about our favorite movies getting the nominations we hoped they would? Right?

Wrong. My favorite film of 2021 didn’t get a single nomination, so I’ve taken it upon myself to personally dismantle the Academy Awards. That’s right, Academy. I’m coming for you. (In a journalistic way. This is not a threat.)

But, before I do any dismantling, I suppose I should actually dive into “The French Dispatch.” Why do I love this movie so much, and why is it such a shame that it didn’t get a nomination?

“The French Dispatch” is the 10th feature film from director Wes Anderson. It consists of an anthology of very loosely connected short stories, each one an article in the final issue of “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun,” an American-based magazine headquartered in the charmingly seedy French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé. 

The film consists of three featured articles, along with a brief introduction to the film’s setting through a jaunty cycling column and an obituary for the magazine’s expatriated founder, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). 

Containing the stories of a (literally) tortured master painter in prison for double homicide, an odd romance between a meddling journalist and a young revolutionary and a writer who finds himself wrapped up in a caper involving a kidnapping and a master chef, “The French Dispatch” manages to fit a lot into its one hour and 48 minute runtime.

Through its creative, journalistic framing, “The French Dispatch” focuses less of its energy on telling a large overarching story and more on exploring the setting and denizens of its impossibly charming world. Only in Anderson’s France are city-wide revolutions decided by chess games and annual snowfalls measured in the total number of snowflakes.

Each of these three stories are filled to the brim with whimsically intricate visuals and gorgeous set pieces. Sometimes the film is in journalistic, inky black and white. Sometimes it’s in rich, storybook color. Sometimes it’s a vibrant, cartoon chase sequence. In typical Anderson style, every single frame of this film is a meticulous work of art.

Perhaps even more entrancing than the film’s visual panache is its large and eccentric cast of characters, from Owen Wilson’s sprightly cyclist, Herbsaint Sazerac, to Timothée Chalamet’s wild-haired, manifesto-writing teenage rebel. The film is absolutely packed with fantastic performances. 

The humor is delightfully deadpan. The pacing is quick and fluid. None of the vignettes overstay their welcome, and though they’re certainly distinct from one another, the film’s consistent tone and unique framework makes the film flow remarkably well, like reading a magazine cover to cover.

“‘Dune’ got nominated 10 different times, and Timothée Chalamet has way cooler hair in this movie than he did in that one.”

Gerrit Punt PO '24

I understand that this film isn’t everyone’s thing. It’s unorthodox. It’s dense. It does not concern itself with realism or strong overarching cohesion. As much as I adore it, I can somewhat understand why it wouldn’t be everyone’s number one choice for a best picture award. 

But to not get nominated in any category? That’s a crime. “Dune” got nominated 10 different times, and Timothée Chalamet has way cooler hair in this movie than he did in that one.

I know that the members of the academy are only human, and some mistakes are bound to be made, but the fact that “Don’t Look Up” got nominated for best picture and “The French Dispatch” didn’t even get nominated for production design is, without any exaggeration, a travesty.

Except, in all honesty, getting snubbed by the academy doesn’t mean that “The French Dispatch” wasn’t one of the best films of last year.

Winning an Oscar is a big deal. I won’t pretend like it isn’t, but is the academy truly the authority on quality? Does an Oscar nomination really mean that a film is the best in its category?

Not really. As much as the academy passes its members as the arbiters of cinematic quality, it doesn’t consist of infallible film appreciators with tastes surpassing those of the ordinary filmgoing plebeian. Each year, the Oscars ceremony is filled with multimillion dollar influencing campaigns and people who voted for “12 Years a Slave” even though they didn’t actually watch it.

These are the folks who gave “The Green Book” a best picture award. You can’t give them too much credit.

The Oscars ceremony is an exciting annual event, but it’s not qualified to decide anything except which movies old people in the film industry like the most. Your favorite movie of the year isn’t bad because it didn’t get an Oscar nod, and you are not a bad person for thinking “The Power of the Dog” (with its 12 nominations) was just okay.

No matter what does or doesn’t get nominated by the academy, nobody is the authority on your taste except for you. You are not obligated to like or dislike any given film. 

Except “The French Dispatch.” You have to like that one.

Gerrit Punt PO ’24 is actually the objective authority on good taste. He didn’t like “Dune” very much but was scared to say that in the body of this article, and he eagerly awaits the day Wes Anderson decides to make a movie about TSL.

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