Here’s Looking At You, Old Sport: An Examination of This Year’s Oscars

Like many entertainment critics, I have a love-hate
relationship with awards shows. 

For every worthy recipient of a prestigious title,
there is at least one questionable offering as well. Certain institutions are
more corrupt than others but, sadly, not one is
foolproof. It has long been understood, for instance, that as relatively fair
as the Grammys are, they’ve never exactly been connected to the pulse of hip-hop and
rap. And any sort of
public-sourced award is automatically suspect for obvious reasons.

As for the
Oscars, well, they have their own issues. For now,
let’s take a look at the nine nominees for the most coveted award: Best Picture.

First off, we have the single-character narratives, or movies that are centered solely
around the experiences of one character. This was a particularly popular
approach last year, and its appeal is reflected in nearly every
category, including Best Picture, where one-third of the nominees can arguably fit
this description: Her, 12 Years a Slave, and Gravity. The power of this narrative style is
quite telling, and I am interested in seeing whether the trend continues.

Next are
the “social issue” films: Captain Philips
and Dallas Buyers Club. Cynics will
often say that the Oscars loves to nominate films that make the institution
appear socially conscious. While there is some quite persuasive evidence to back this claim up, I would argue that these two films have certainly earned their place
in the Best Picture category in their own right. Both movies feature great
performances from their leads—Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi in Captain Philips, and Matthew McConaughey and
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.
Both movies also have a gritty aesthetic that complements the seriousness of
their subjects quite well.

Personally, I preferred Captain Philips for its more inspired take on the social issue
drama—what starts out as a realist, action flick evolves into an exploration
of desperation and poverty in Africa—but I also found Dallas Buyers Club to be quite moving.

However, I do
not expect to see either of these nominees winning the Best Picture award. Were
the Oscar to go to a “social issue” film, 12 Years a Slave is far and beyond the obvious choice, not only due
to the greater poignancy of its message but because, damn it, it swamps these
already impressive movies in nearly every aspect.

We then
come to Nebraska, which gets its own
category. This is another film that I can’t say I oppose the nomination of: as
a Midwesterner, I found myself deeply moved by this most recent movie from
Alexander Payne. The story follows a son (Will Forte) and his
Alzheimer’s disease-afflicted father (Bruce Dern) as they become sidetracked in the
father’s old hometown while driving to Nebraska. 

This movie is perhaps the
greatest depiction I have ever seen of the Midwest: flat, rural, impoverished,
obese—the kind of place you travel through on your way to somewhere else. It
features career-best performances from both Forte and Bob Odenkirk, who fit seamlessly into the bleak, darkly comedic world of Payne.
Even better is June Squibb as the mother, who, in my opinion, represents the only
legitimate competition for Lupita Nyong’o, who performed in 12
Years a Slave
, in the category of Best Supporting Actress. Having both grown up in the Midwest and experienced the slow deterioration of a loved one from Alzheimer’s, this was an
intensely personal movie for me, and, again, while I can’t see it winning Best
Picture, I’m
extremely happy to see Nebraska get
some recognition.

Here is
where we hit the much more questionable nominees in my mind for Best Picture.
These choices represent some of the flaws at the heart of the Academy Awards, and really the awards ceremonies in general.
First off, we have the “old guard” nominees, or the films chosen due in large
part to the iconic stature of those involved in their production. Into this
category I place the films Philomena and
The Wolf of Wall Street

Look at Martin Scorsese’s Hugo
for instance: a great film, but one that seriously didn’t deserve a
Best Picture nomination. The same issue certainly applies to Philomena, which is a very sweet film, but likely never would have received an Academy Award nomination were it not for the fact that it stars Judi Dench. And, unfortunately, I must still cast doubt upon the worthiness of The Wolf of Wall Street’s selection because I’m afraid that had it not been any good, it still would have been

more odious than the “old guard” nomination, though, is the “crowd-pleaser,” represented this year by David O. Russell’s American
. Though an extremely entertaining film that pushes all the right
buttons—recognizable actors in eccentric dress and makeup, lots of great humor, a
happy ending—the movie is undeniably thin as
cardboard. And yet, people have been taking it very seriously; American Hustle is actually tied with Gravity for most nominations, including
the extremely coveted categories of Best Director and Best Screenplay. I
honestly can’t understand it: American
is overflowing with unnecessary
characters and incomprehensible plot developments.

These issues would be perfectly forgivable if American
 were simply treated as a
comedy. But when it receives more nominations than movies
like Her, 12 Years, and Inside Llewyn
, something is very wrong. 

I have quite a lot more to say on the subject of this
year’s Oscar nominations (especially regarding the not-so-subtle stiffing of
what may be Joel and Ethan Coen’s finest work in Inside Llewyn Davis) and not nearly enough space, so instead, let me end by saying this: In spite of all the
bullshit and all the politics, awards ceremonies serve a vital purpose in
drawing attention to media that deserve greater recognition by the public. 

this sense, what is nominated for a certain category is perhaps far more
important than what ends up winning. For this reason, I actually
appreciate the Academy Awards expanding their Best Picture category from five nominees; it allows more films to receive some well-deserved attention. I
only wish that more deserving films, like Inside
Llewyn Davis
, Short Term 12, or The Wind Rises, had taken the place of Philomena and American Hustle here.

If you want to hear me rant more about the Oscars, then make sure you stop by the public screening at Rose Hills Theatre this
Sunday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. 

Dan Brown PO ’16 is a media studies major. You can check out his show, Out of Breath, on the Claremont Colleges Television channel on YouTube. 

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply