"No, let's not..."
I fall for the trap every year and this year is no different. It's not that I particularly enjoy the Oscar ceremony itself. I hate the glitz and the glammer, the self-aggrandizing aspect, the "let's hug ourselves because we're rich and 'important'" type feeling. I could do without the red carpet bullshit and Joan Rivers and... all of that.
There are some things that I do enjoy about the Oscars and now it seems they're taking one of them away. First of all, I think it's a joke that they stopped airing the Honorary Oscar. I always felt that was the second most important Oscar of the night. When the Academy honors someone legendary that hadn't gotten the respect they received during their amazing career. People like Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini... true legends of cinema being honored at the Oscars... that's great tv. But they took that away now! This year they are apparently giving the honorary oscar to French auteur Jean-Luc Godard... but in a ceremony that's being held in November. What an insult. Jean-Luc Godard has done more for cinema in the last 50 years then most other filmmakers and to not give him a proper honor is insulting. Of course, he's never the type of person who was about awards, especially the Academy Awards. But, the first films that Godard made, in a way, were homages to the classic-era of Hollywood just done in his own way. So it's a shame that he won't get the proper recognition that he deserves even if someone else would be accepting the award for him.
Most of my friends couldn't care less about the Oscars and I don't blame them. And the thing is, I don't really care about the Oscars themselves either. But, in a weird way, I love the politics of it. I love predicting the Oscars. You see, the Academy has their own way of doing things. They don't listen to us. They don't care what our favorite film of the year is. So, as an Oscar predictor, you have to detach yourself and try to get into the mind of the Academy. It used to be the Academy would fall for "Oscar" movies. Films that played directly toward their sensibilities. There's at least one of those films nominated every year, but the strange thing is that lately the Academy hasn't been going for those types of films, not anymore. The Academy has chosen darker, smaller, more indie films over the recent years. The funny thing is that people still disagree with their choices.
But you know, you guys gotta lighten up. Instead of getting behind one film, you have to get behind 3 or 4. Of course, that is if 3 or 4 of those films actually wind up being nominated for best picture. In a field of ten best picture nominees, though, anything can happen. At first I wasn't too warm to the idea of ten BP nominees, but now I think it makes Oscar season a lot more interesting. More movies have a chance to get nominated and things are different now. Last year, it wound up that there were really only five movies that mattered from the ten nominees: Avatar, Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds. Those were the films that were getting the most attention and the most nominations overall. So you knew that it'd be one of those films that'd wind up winning.
One thing to note about the propsect of a Best Picture winning film is where the film would get nominated elsewhere. Is it an acting/writing heavy pic? A movie more focused on the technical aspects (directing, cinematography, editing)? Or does it have a bit of everything? The last question is where you usually have your winner. Let me show you...
The Hurt Locker wound up winning for best director, best original screenplay, best sound editing/mixing, and best editing... those are all pretty solid categories. Then you factor in that it was nominated for best cinematography and best actor and it's hard to deny a film like that.
Avatar had all the technical categories, but it lacked in the acting and writing categories. Inglourious Basterds had the technical and writing categories, but only had one nomination for acting and it was in the supporting category.
The reason why Precious was such a threat was because while it was weak on some of the tech categories, it was strong on the writing and acting categories. The acting branch is the largest branch in the academy so if you have a film filled with amazing performances and at least two acting nominees, then you have a pretty high chance. Although, Up in the Air had three actors nominated and it won diddly squat. Overall, it's all a matter of what film does the Academy like the most? Inglourious Basterds, unfortunately, wound up playing second and third fiddle in most of the categories even though Tarantino probably deserved best original screenplay. If the Academy loves the film enough, it will win.
One thing to consider though is that it doesn't really matter who wins best picture. Even if your favorite film won, you have to remember the upcoming backlash that will occur no matter what the film is. It's rare for a film to win without any controversy. Schindler's List was one of the few films where you had to go "ok, i'm just gonna keep my mouth shut." Every other film that wins, wins controversially unless it's hugely important and too large to ignore.
People need to stop hating the films that win best picture though, especially the ones that have won in the last few years. The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, and the Departed are all great films. They made my list of top 100 films of the 2000s. Compare that to Crash, Million Dollar Baby, LOTR:ROTK, Chicago, A Beautiful Mind, and Gladiator. I think only one of those films made my list. Now, that's just my own personal taste, but you know, the films that won in the last few years weren't my favorite of the year. 2009 - my favorite was Basterds, 2008 - my favorite was the Wrestler, 2007 - There Will Be Blood, and 2006 - Children of Men.
Two of those four films weren't even nominated for best picture. With TWBB, I rightly figured that it would be too dark for the Academy to pick so I tried to keep my heart out of the race. With Basterds, I knew that the film would be too niche-y for the Academy so I pulled my support out of Basterds and put it towards The Hurt Locker. I loved the Hurt Locker, I still think it's a fantastic film. And you know what? None of the last four BP winners are typical Oscar fare. Sure, you can argue for Slumdog Millionaire but, really, a kid from Mumbai, India goes on a gameshow to win the heart of a girl that's been forced into sex slavery... yeah, that's typical Oscar stuff there. Get your head out of your ass. It does have a happy, cheesy ending, but the first half of the film is fantastic and overall it's a great film. Not my favorite film of the year, it barely makes my top 5, but I had no problems with it winning.
And that's the attitude you have to take if you're following the Oscars. It's easy to just throw your hands up and say "fuck it" after your favorite film loses the race. But come on, the Oscar race is so fun to watch unfold...
first you have Sundance and SXSW festivals where all the smaller, "little engine that could" type films are released. Depending on how well-received they are, they get picked up, enter a few more festivals, get limited releases and then slowly ride the wave to critical acclaim for the rest of the year. The film that's done that so far this year is The Kids Are All Right. Last year, it was Precious. Few years ago, it was Little Miss Sunshine. It remains to be seen if The Kids Are All Right will hang onto its critical acclaim. You also have to watch out for Winter's Bone which won the jury prize at Sundance and is a much more serious film. But both movies have their legit reasons for staying in the Oscar race.
Then you have Cannes... Cannes is like the mother of all film festivals. All the best filmmakers go there and show their films. Some screen them in competition, some don't. Usually, a film that wins the highest prize at Cannes doesn't win the BP Oscar. But, lots of films have managed to get huge buzz from Cannes such as No Country For Old Men in 2007. This year, Mike Leigh's Another Year and Alejandro Innaritu's Biutiful are the films to look out for come Oscar time. Another Year is packed with great performances and the Academy has nominated some of Leigh's films before. Secrets & Lies was nominated for Best Picture in 1996. Innaritu has also had a film nominated for best picture, Babel, back in 2006. Although the buzz about Biutiful is largely directed at Javier Bardem's performance.
Then, of course, it's the summer movie season that lasts from May to August. You usually have your summer tentpoles that are just made to gross $300 million and make the studios money. But lately, there's been some films that have managed to get a large amount of critical acclaim... such as, The Dark Knight, Star Trek, District 9 (had a lower budget than most summer films, but still), and pretty much every Pixar film. This year, it's all about Inception. Inception should have no problems getting a best picture nominee this upcoming Oscar season. It has that rare mix of critical acclaim, high box office numbers, and favorable audience reaction. Whether or not it will be loved by the Academy... that remains to be seen. The Academy has awarded blockbuster-type films before. Gladiator back in 2000 came out that previous summer and Lord of the Rings... while not a summer blockbuster... was definitely a blockbuster and the third film of that trilogy basically swept the Academy. Also, there's Titanic. In order for a blockbuster to win best picture, it has to resonate with the Academy in ways other blockbuster films don't. Whether it's a film with groundbreaking special effects and high critical acclaim or it's a film with a highly ambitious screenplay packed with tons of great performances.
Once we cool down from the summer, there's the Toronto International Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride, and the New York Film Festival. Generally, this is where you'll see some future best picture nominees and winners come from. Whether it's the Hurt Locker (which came out at TIFF in 2008), Slumdog Millionaire (Telluride), Up in the Air & Juno & Sideways (Toronto), or Lost in Translation (Telluride/Venice). Already, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Somewhere, Social Network, and the King's Speech have had their premieres at these festivals and they're all pretty much guaranteed to garner heat once the awards season picks up.
After those festivals is just the Fall/Winter season of the year. Generally, most of the non-family pictures that are released in November and December are films that are geared toward an Oscar campaign. This year, in December, you have films like The Fighter and True Grit that are guaranteed to get some Oscar heat before the year ends.
Once all of that's over, you have the critics' awards, the golden globes, the baftas, the guilds... and it all leads up to the Oscars. Once the critics start giving out their awards for best film of the year, that's when we know for sure which films are gonna get Oscar attention and which films won't. But there is a considerable divide between what the critics think and what the Academy thinks. So even if the New York critics are all in love with the Social Network and the Los Angeles critics are all about Black Swan or Inception, the Academy could be all about the King's Speech.
You just never know. You never know. But that's why it's fun to predict these things, or at least, to see how everything plays out. Obviously, I care more about the films themselves than the awards they get. Obviously, my opinion on these films are what matters to me. But it's cool to see how these films measure up to each other and how they are seen by critics and the Academy. It's also a difficult challenge to try to keep yourself from getting too attached to one film, but every year, it happens. Every year, there's that one film that got to you emotionally and you feel it deserves every award that it gets. And when it loses at the Oscars, you hate the Academy forever... until the next year.
It's really no different from following a sport. You just have to learn to separate the movies from the people voting for the movies. And hey, maybe one time, the Academy will actually get it right and award the right film the best picture Oscar.