Like most cinephiles, I spend 11 months out of the year drolly discrediting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and their yearly awards show, only to become transfixed when the newest crop of nominees are announced. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the narrative. Each year, the Academy Awards present the supposed best films of the year and spend something like 3 or 4 hours congratulating Hollywood and the year it’s had. It’s equal parts sickening and mesmerizing and altogether impossible to ignore—but not like a car crash. More like a charlatan dressed in Givenchy, who’s as strong a rhetorician as he is an entertainer. The awards, of course, ultimately mean nothing. But the way the Academy is able to construct an air of importance around something as trivial as an awards show is fascinating—and, in a way, cinematic.
As usual, the crop of nominees reads like a laundry list of populist consensus, but there are a few surprises and intrigues:
- Give credit to the Academy for taking a risk and nominating Melissa McCarthy for her supporting turn in Bridesmaids, in which she stands out amid an otherwise drab ensemble cast. Comedy is, without question, the genre most overlooked by Oscars voters, so to see the academy recognize a distinctly comedic role (a la Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder), particularly one as intrinsic and well-conceived as McCarthy’s, is refreshing.
- There are only 9 Best Picture nominees as compared to the last two ceremonies, where the category saw its full allotment of 10 films. Things have changed in the way Best Picture nominations are selected, but something tells me films like Drive, My Week with Marilyn, Bridesmaids, The Ides of March, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Tinkor Tailor Soldier Spy all split too many votes, leaving the 10th spot vacant.
- The ever-controversial documentary category is, yet again, comprised of largely undeserving films. Considering this issue is the deadest of horses, I’ll move on.
- Seeing A Separation nominated not only for Best Foreign film but also for Best Original Screenplay is fantastic. Not only is it a great film, but its growing success is shedding light on the state of Iran’s cinematic culture—one of the world’s richest and, in turn, most compromised. Considering the award for Best Foreign Film is meant to recognize a country as a whole as opposed to the merit of a single filmmaker, selecting A Separation as the winner of either the awards it’s nominated for could be construed as a bold statement of behalf of the Academy.
If the Best Picture nominees are indicative of moviegoers tastes this year, it seems nostalgia has been on the minds of many. The Artist and Hugo quite literally make nostalgia their key subject by romanticizing the era of silent cinema; Midnight in Paris does this as well, but in a different way: try as it might to decry the dangers of nostalgia, much like Hugo, it mythologizes individuals who likely wouldn’t have appreciated being mythologized, thusly categorizing them as figments of a director’s imagination as opposed to the living, breathing human beings they actually were.
The Artist, meanwhile, has turned silent cinema into kitsch, which is of course the sad outcome of nostalgia. As celluloid rapidly becomes a thing of the past (therefor making film, as a concept, something of a misnomer) I suppose it makes sense. Judged by its own merits, The Artist is a perfectly likable film that’ll likely walk away as Best Picture. When judged against cinema as a whole (the film invariably forces those with apt enough knowledge to do so), it perpetuates the notion that all silent pictures were funny and adventurous and had cute dogs in them. At the Oscars, the actual, literal history of cinema isn’t nearly as important the Academy’s version of it…
Not to be outdone, the rest of the noms seek to paint a rosy picture of their own assorted topics: The Help with its positive outlook on race relations in 1960s; War Horse and its assertion that war is hardest on animals; and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and it’s attempt to paint 9/11 in a nostalgic light, which…actually, I’ll just leave it at that.
Then there’s the odd 3 out: Moneyball, The Descendants, and The Tree of Life. I’ve got no beef with these flicks. In fact, one of them I outright venerate.
But do they stand a chance at winning? Does it even matter?