Oscars: Sometimes Right, Never Wrong

Yes, Oscar nominations are here.

Yes, there are good nominations. Yes, there are snubs and overlooked performances, scripts bypassed, over-rated films appearing in multiple categories, and one Bad Grandpa.

But this is the golden crop, deemed “best of the best” by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

There was a time, when I was younger, that I looked up at AMPAS with wonder and amazement and thanked them for opening my eyes to the best movies ever made.

And then, in college I studied film history and noticed all the films the Academy had overlooked.

Alfred Hitchcock, arguably cinema’s greatest director, never won an Oscar until an honorary Thalberg award in 1968.

Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon lost the Best Picture Oscar in 1942 to How Green Was My Valley.

When Gone With the Wind grabbed the Best Picture award in 1939, left in the dust were classics Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz.

Marilyn Monroe, Edward G. Robinson, and Joseph Cotten were never even nominated — just like Harrison Ford(!). Heck, it wasn’t until 2012 that chameleon Gary Oldman was finally nominated, for his quiet performance in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy.

But we haven’t forgotten those actors, those filmmakers, thanks to their stellar work that was produced and in some cases still is produced year after year. The Oscars are not the end of everything creative in Hollywood. There are plenty of other award shows, sure, but also on-demand streaming and the good old-fashioned blu-ray discs to keep us watching forever more.

With any accolades — movies, pulitzers, Nobel — we’re never going to have a perfect year when we all agree “Yeah, that’s absolutely the best this year.” It just won’t happen. While LA Confidential was the best, Titanic took the prize, and when Goodfellas stormed into the nominee ring, Dances With Wolves waltzed off with the Oscar.

But what happened to general appreciation? We still love the majestic Dances with Wolves, we still watch in awe at Joe Pesci’s fists in Goodfellas.

About ten minutes after the nominations were announced this morning the majority of internet stories circled around who was snubbed/ignored/robbed by the Academy.

“Shame on Academy for not nominating Oprah!”

“Spike Jonze was robbed!”

“How could they ignore Tom Hanks?!”

“Emma Thompson was perfect!”

“Travesty that Inside Llewyn Davis was ignored in top categories!”

I have no argument against any of the above. I haven’t seen Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but heard many great things about Oprah’s performance. Spike Jonze did an amazing job with her, which was nominated for picture and screenplay (which he wrote), so where’s the Director love? And Tom Hanks was considered a shoe-in for Captain Phillips since its release date — what happened since? (ahem, Christian Bale.)

McConaughey has had a fantastic year (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, Wolf of Wall Street cameo), and his career has seen many lows and few highs. This might be the time he pulls ahead, or it might be the year DiCaprio finally earns his long-awaited statue. Bruce Dern could get the Best Actor award for Nebraska, and for his age and contribution to cinema, or Christian Bale could earn a second statue to insert into his bulging stomach for his sad-fat New Yorker performance. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries 12 Years a Slave quite a distance through time and emotion, and is the man to beat, in my opinion. All of these performances were great, none of them were failures. And all worthy of the accolades bestowed on them. It stinks that Oscar Isaac or Tom Hanks aren’t within this select group, but you know what? It’s still a fine group, and if Hanks were here instead of DiCaprio, we’d hear just as much jeering as cheering.

For the Supporting Actress category, Sally Hawkins is the surprise nominee from Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence was expected, but joins the record books for having three nominations for an actress by the age of 23 (and one win). Lupita N’Yongo is the very heart of 12 Years a Slave (where Ejiofor is the soul), June Squibb is foul-mouthed yet touching in Nebraska, and I hear (haven’t seen) Julia Roberts acts up a storm vs. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County. We’re missing out on Oprah, here, but again, it’s hard to find someone she would take the place of in this group.

We could go on and on about the snubs, what they mean, how angry we are, and why our opinions are better than the thousands of Academy voters. But at the end of the day, when you look at this year’s nominees, all of them are deserved. Even those we don’t necessarily agree with.

While I think all five of the Director nominees are excellent filmmakers (Steve McQueen, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell), I would rather have seen Spike Jonze in the mix. Also, it is noteworthy that David O. Russell is the first director to have directed TWO films wherein there’s an actor nominated in each of the top four categories (Silver Linings Playbook and now American Hustle).

But what’s the point of making a story about who was “snubbed”, aka “the losers/the reason the Academy is worthless”? I really don’t get the focus on that, I don’t understand. Why not spend the time to celebrate the films that have earned this achievement, at least today, and the fact that 2013 was such a jam-packed year that not even Tom Hanks could get one of FIVE slots?

Then, between today and March 2, let’s talk about all of the “overlooked” films and give them some press:

Short Term 12, Upstream Color, All is Lost, etc. “Hey, these films were snubbed, but you should still check them out because they’re actually good. Also, movies had a great year in 2013, Hollywood had a great year. Let’s keep going to the movies, cheers!”

After all, isn’t that the point of the Academy? To celebrate film from the good to the bad and the overlooked?

Let’s celebrate with them instead of chastising them.

I’ll have a more analytical breakdown of the nominees and my predictions later in February, but for now, get your butts to the theater and see some flicks!

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