Unless you’re deaf, blind or just plain aren’t interested at all, it won’t have escaped your notice that awards season is upon us. This Sunday (26th Feb) evening, the best and brightest (supposedly) of Tinsel Town will be descending on the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood Blvd, to celebrate the greatest cinematic achievements of 2016. Will I be watching it? Sure. Do I have an opinion? Naturally.
There’s a reason why the whole thing is easy to satirise – if you want a dose of that right now, I’d suggest checking out the guys’ over at Screen Junkies latest offering. Yeah, I chuckled along at that too, but on reflection it makes me sad in a way. Yes, the Academy Awards ARE now very predictable. Trust me, were I a gamblin’ man, I might even go out and place a bet; I won’t though, because the odds will be terrible… unless I run an accumulator of course… later perhaps.
Specifically, the most striking segment of that video for me was their take on Moonlight. I’ve not yet seen it; I’m sure it’s a pretty great movie, otherwise it wouldn’t have had so much attention, would it? But it’s the checklist part I’m talking about. The checklist that seems to make this film Oscar-worthy… “Follow along as this YOUNG, BLACK, GAY man struggles to escape from POVERTY and DRUG ADDICTION, told across THREE DECADES, based on a PLAY, based on the LIFE STORY of its author…” This isn’t going to win Best Picture, that’s La La Land’s job, but when it’s spelled out like that, it’s easy to see why anyone took any notice of Moonlight at all. So, just for fun, why don’t we take some of those generalisations on the list up there and apply it to our other nominees this year:
Fences: An adaptation of a play, about a black family living in relative poverty told over a number of years throughout which all characters experience great hardship. SAD.
Hacksaw Ridge: A true story told over several years about a young conscientious objector with a difficult upbringing and alcoholic father who decides to enlist in the army and serves as an inspiration by saving the lives of many men, whilst the horrors of war play out around him. SAD FEELS.
Hell or High Water: In which two young brothers with an abusive father, live in debt since their mother’s death thus rob several banks in order to save the family ranch, pursued by Texas Rangers. Oh and Jeff Bridges really does essentially play the same character as in True Grit (2010). FEELS.
Lion: The true story of a young, Indian boy who is separated from his family, and lives in poverty, before being put up for adoption. Twenty years later, he attempts to find his hometown once again. SAD FEELS.
Hidden Figures: Based on a novelisation of a true story about African-American women working at NASA, working against racism, segregation and sexism. FEELS.
Manchester By The Sea: The story of a depressed man, with a history of alcohol abuse, who must care for his young nephew after his brother dies and names him as the guardian instead of the boy’s alcoholic mother. SAD.
[Saving the more original ones for last]
Arrival: A linguist, mourning the death of her daughter is called to action when aliens land across the Earth and she is asked to help communicate with them. Communicating with them reveals a deeper understanding of time and tolerance. FEELS.
La La Land: A musical about an unlucky young couple, both trying to achieve their dreams in LA, taking place over the course of 5 years. FEELS.
Setting them out like that kind of reveals a few patterns, doesn’t it? And the Junkies are also correct in that most of these movies are very SAD or designed to instigate a strong, empathetic emotional reaction. These films are specifically engineered to run for nominations, releasing at the same time and following what seem to be pretty similar themes for the most part.
I don’t think I’ll be very surprised when La La Land is named the winner of Best Picture this year. It is certainly one of the most ‘different’ and visually impressive films on this list, if not the year… but I still don’t think it really deserves to win. It’s a nice film. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, but that’s all. It’s utterly vanilla. It’s a love-letter to the musical pictures of old, but does it surpass them? The last time a musical won was in 2002 with Chicago – the only true, old fashioned musical released that year. Similarly, La La Land is alone this year – the others are animated features Moana and Sing. We are experiencing a true dearth of musicals in cinema over the last couple of decades so when one pops along, it’ll be in the running at least (as long as it doesn’t have Russell Crowe in it).. I suppose what sets this apart from other musicals is that it is an original screenplay, so kudos for that. But yeah, it’s totally going to win. Easily predictable (if it doesn’t, I’ll go out, buy a hat and eat it – I don’t wear hats).
It just frustrates me, looking down the list of past nominees and winners, not only of Best Picture, but in many categories, and seeing the same types of movie again and again ad nauseum. Serious dramas, true stories, epic sweeping dramas, biopics, war films with heart etc. etc. the list goes on. Obviously, none of them are bad films by any means. That’s not what this is about. I guess my problem is that I don’t actually enjoy watching many of these films. They are thought provoking, engaging, technically accomplished and artistically well produced… but not many of them are very entertaining or worth returning to. They’re mostly just depressing. Sure La La Land is a good time, but a Best Picture winner? For me, it’s just not. I feel the same way about films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008). It was… Fine I guess. But nothing more than that. It just had lousy competition that year. I don’t believe that someone can’t yet come up with something truly unique. These films certainly have a place on the list, but expanding the number of nominations for best picture from 5 to a potential 10 was supposed to give outsiders a better chance. It wouldn’t have won, but it would have perhaps been nice to have seen an animated feature like Kubo and the Two Strings up for contention. That was a magical film and something quite different. Why can’t an animated feature be the best?
And what’s the deal with Ryan Gosling’s Best Actor nomination? And Emma stone as Best Actress? They’re good actors, both, but neither blew me away in this movie. Amy Adams was robbed of a Best Actress nomination this year! Stone should probably be on the list, but not a winner; not for me. That will just be disappointing. And isn’t it funny how the Academy recognises Gosling here, but for The Nice Guys? Of course not. It was too different and funny of course. If a film is labelled as a comedy in any way, it’s a bloody death sentence… Just another round of circle jerking over Gosling and Stone reviving the classic cinema couple trope.
But will the AMPAS turn it around? Not any time soon, I guarantee. It’s the same small group of 7,000 people voting for the same things every year. For example, they had ample opportunity and a great contender to shake things up this year with Deadpool, but it didn’t get nominated at all. For anything. There’s no way it could have got a Best Picture or even Best Actor nomination, but it has a great screenplay, visual style and editing. Not even a lousy Best Costume Design – that suit is fantastic! Just like the comic books, but actually believably translated to live action! But La La Land got a Costume Design nod… where everyone just wears regular, slightly brighter, clothes. I mean, where’s my nomination for costume design, eh? Surely my average wardrobe qualifies for my collection of jumpers alone? What the Academy Awards has failed to realise this year (and has failed to realise with many other pictures in the past) is that there’s been nothing else quite like Deadpool. It stayed remarkably true to the source material and deserves the commercial success that it won for satirising and arguably re-defining the comic book genre. It was the kick up the ass that superhero films needed… but I guess it’s not edgy, highbrow, emotional or musical enough for the Oscars. Now THAT’S SAD. I’ll see you at the ceremony after I remake Slumdog Millionaire in modern Syria with alcoholic lesbians.
Thanks for taking the time to read! Are you happy with the nominations this year? What do you think everyone’s is going to win? As always, any constructive criticism or comments are very, very much appreciated. Follow me on Twitter @snakeintheplane for updates on whatever other Oscar-bait I might be writing about and I’ll see you guys when we take a look at the next Snake in the Plane!