Eagerly Anticipating the Academy Awards

Somewhere in the back of my brain I know the Oscars, and award ceremonies in general, are trivial things, judged by stuffed-shirts, and fueled by loose money. That doesn’t stop me from watching them. I don’t believe I’ve missed a single Academy Awards in the past 10 years. For me, tonight’s ceremony I think will be the most exciting yet.

Why? In past years, I’ve almost always disagreed with the choices, thinking many of the nominations were pretentious, overwritten, and often just plain dull. This past year though has been different. It’s been an amazing year for movies. In the past, 1 or 2 movies seemed to define the entire year, like how big popular films dwarfed everything else, such as Avatar, The Dark Knight, or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Last year, the only giant films were the last Harry Potter and the penultimate Twilight. As moviegoers, we’ve become so accustomed to the franchises that they didn’t overshadow the rest of the cinematic fare. In the absence of giant films, smaller pictures made it into the limelight.

screenshot from The Tree of Life

I found myself frequently changing my mind about what I thought the best picture of the year was. For instance, after seeing The Tree of Life, I impulsively said that was the best picture of the year, but looking back, that wasn’t the best choice. Don’t get me wrong, I did think that was a great picture, but it’s not one I can picture myself watching again.

Out of the 9 movies nominated for best picture, there were three that I loved and would like to watch over and over: Midnight in Paris, Hugo, and The Artist. It’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite out of the three, but, if pushed, I’ll have to go with The Artist. Why? I’ve been a fan of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese for years, and I generally like just about all of their films, but The Artist took me by surprise. By the sound of it, it took everyone by surprise. At first, it’s all too easy to overlook a movie where the best known actors in it are John Goodman and James Cromwell, especially when the other Oscar contenders feature big names like George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The interesting thing about The Artist was how fresh it was, despite how it was an unabashed homage to classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

screenshot from the trailer for Hugo

Midnight in Paris, Hugo, and The Artist are all films that will appeal to a niche audience–I can’t imagine a large portion of America renting them on DVD or watching them on cable. Moneyball and War Horse have a broader appeal, and I can easily imagine those movies having a long life on television. Since their continued success is certain, I hope the judges go ahead and give the award to one of the oddball masterpieces I mentioned earlier. Plus, with both Moneyball and War Horse, I believe they can be summed up as examples of how to take traditional filming techniques and then do them very well–that’s fine and all, and I applaud that (highly-stylized movies can be so tiresome!) but the best picture award should be given to a film that takes the art into a new direction.

The other interesting thing about the 84th Academy Awards is that a majority of the films nominated share something in common: nostalgia. Most of the films nominated are not set in the present day. The Help is set in the days of segregation, The Tree of Life is mainly in the 40s and 50s, Hugo takes place after the end of World War 1, The Artist deals with the silent film era and the advent of sound, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes us back to 9/11, War Horse is right in the thick of WW1, and Moneyball is set in the recent past. I haven’t seen The Descendants and don’t know when it’s set (it might be among the few to be set in present day).

Some movies I enjoyed barely received recognition at all. Drive, for example, I found fascinating and exciting, and yet the only award it’s up for is sound editing. I think the screenwriter Hossein Amini should’ve been nominated for the beguiling and hallucinatory screenplay. Albert Brooks, despite his small amount of screen time, should have been nominated for best supporting actor (although I sincerely hope Christopher Plummer wins for Beginners). Also, I was impressed a lot by Stephen Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, and yet that’s not nominated for anything. Another big upset: Cave of the Forgotten Dreams isn’t up for best documentary!?

So who will win? I’ll be happy if The Artist, Hugo or Midnight in Paris get best picture. I also think both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo should take home the best actor/ actress awards for their work in The Artist. I guess it doesn’t make sense to speculate now: the academy awards are on in three hours or so.

—-If you’re looking for a book to read, check out my novel A Rapturous Occasion, available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.

Who do you hope wins awards at the Oscars tonight?

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