Oscar nominees

Snub-eness – Part 2

Be sure to check out Part 1 of “Snub-eness” written by Jonathan Reyes.

Today I’ll be talking about my own thoughts on the Oscar nominations, movies and performances that go completely overlooked, and why I might not actually watch them this year.

I’ve been watching the Oscars for a few years now, since I really knew what they were about. I have to give them some credit – the early years of my movie learning career were inspired a lot by movies that had won Academy Awards, simply because that marketing – “WINNER OF 5 ACADEMY AWARDS” – caught my eye. I didn’t know much about anything at that point, but I do have to say, the Oscars led me to a lot of movies, and for that I am grateful.

But last year when Scarlett Johansson did not get any recognition for her voice work in HER, I almost gave up on them entirely. It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, nor was it the first. I’d been dissatisfied with them for a while, being the snobby hipster that I can be. They are fun, after all.

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Not Pictured: An Oscar Nominee

 

And the only reason I watched DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, which ended up on my top 10 for the year, was because it got nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing, so there’s that.

As Jonathan pointed out, superhero movies, science fiction, motion capture, fantasy and for that matter even comedies rarely get any recognition by the Academy. A lot of the time I get it. There’s not a lot of truly funny movies that really stay with me the same way a big prestigious movie might. I love some good sci-fi but I do find the budget usually overshadows the craft. Horror movies are too often just cheap knock-offs, and fantasy is a mess most of the time. But superhero movies? There’s an interesting category.

IRON MAN 3, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, and THE DARK KNIGHT are barely “superhero movies.” Rather they’re movies. With superheroes. What more can you want?

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Show us some LOVE!

 

My point however, is that despite genre conventions, there is a lot of work that just doesn’t get any recognition… anywhere. Andy Serkis continues to be snubbed for acting better as a monkey than most people act as a… whatever they’re acting as. Nobody ever wins anything for convincingly talking into a microphone and bringing life to an otherwise inanimate object. Melissa McCarthy got a nomination for being sidesplittingly funny but that is rare.

The Oscars, of course, are designed to celebrate a particular type of movies. “Oscar-bait” only came after people started cuing in on this. So would it really be fair for the Academy to include movies that fall outside of their style?

Well yes, if it’s good enough. Obviously the Academy should have a standard, but that standard should be one of craft and skill, not one of feeling-like-a-certain-thing. Oscar-bait movies are intuitively and intangibly similar, and they don’t actually hold a metric up to determine what a “good” movie is.

Not to mention how political they are. Harvey Weinstein anyone?

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Bad Harvey

 

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Another Bad Harvey

 

The Academy always makes a half-hearted attempt to seem relevant. The Little Indie Movie That Could? Yeah, that’s a thing (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE SIDEWAYS, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, now WHIPLASH). The Giant Blockbuster That Gets Nominated For Visual Effects Even Though They Were Definitely Not The Best Visual Effects? Check. The Socially Conscious Movie That Is Kind Of *Coff Coff* Actually Just A Way For White People To Reassure Themselves That They Are Awesome? Getting arbitrary at this point.

Oh sure, there’s some great surprises. THE ACT OF KILLING, for example, never felt Oscar-y at all. I was sure the score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK would go overlooked but it didn’t. Charlie Kaufman won an Oscar. So did SKYFALL. All recent examples though, but all good ones of the Academy branching out slightly into very different territory.

This year?

This year, there’s a few problems.

Besides the obvious completely backwards whitewashing of the nominees and the rampant and unfair sexism – obviously a woman shouldn’t be nominated just because she’s a woman, that would also be sexist, but there are a lot of extraordinarily talented female directors working right now, and none of them got a nomination? What about female writers? Editors? Cinematographers??? – the biggest problem I have with this year’s nomination list is that I can pretty much tell you who’s going to win right now. I won’t, because *spoilers* and also because I don’t actually know yet, but that’s how predictable they’ve become.

 

Last year I guessed 21 of them, I think. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just saying that’s how easy they are to figure out. The Academy is so obvious. Too obvious.

This year I don’t even know why I’m bothering. Force of habit, I guess. Maybe I’m just obsessed with the idea of winning one myself someday, or some crazy dream like that. It’s a fantasy. I’m not sure if I would even want to win one if they keep going down this trend. It would feel more like an insult. “Oh, you won an Oscar? Errrrrr… that’s… good?”

We should be able to recognize good work when we see it. That doesn’t mean we should be completely subjective, there are experts in this after all, but it does mean we should stop with arbitrary selections that box in the nominations to a few pre-picked styles and overlook the rest. Try out the little substitution trick of swapping “Best” for “Most” and you’ll see what I mean.

And the Academy Award for Most Movieness goes to…

See? Easy.

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Overrated, Underrated, and Awards Season

“The Lord of the Rings is soooo overrated.”

I don’t know how to respond to this sentence anymore. I’ve gotten really good at resisting the urge to roll my eyes.

Overrate: have a higher opinion of (someone or something) than is deserved.
Underrate: underestimate the extent, value, or importance of (someone or something).

Now that we’ve got useless definitions, let’s get down to business. (cue Disney sing-a-long). It’s awards season now. The Golden Globes have come and gone, the Oscar nominees have been announced. Other awards are happening or have happened and nobody noticed. Short Term 12 is still one of the best movies of the year and has gone criminally overlooked but that’s neither here nor now. Oh, and the internet is alive with the sounds of people complaining. Everywhere you look somebody is unhappy because something was or wasn’t nominated, and somebody else is mad at the first person for being unhappy and now they’re both unhappy at a third person who is unhappy with something else. It’s a mess. I’d recommend staying off the internet for a month but we all know you’re not going to do that. But why is everyone so upset? I mean really, why? I get the award craziness. Admittedly I don’t understand anything about sports or sports love, but awards season is pretty close, right? That’s what I’ve heard anyways.

Overrated, underrated. In my experience there’s usually two reasons to call a movie either of these.
1.) You like the movie but nobody else does (or you don’t like it but everyone else does) and since you are right and everybody else is wrong, the movie was either over or under appreciated.
2.) The movie is famous for being good or bad.

In the first case, obviously since you’re right, you’re right. So I guess I understand that one. We all know Undisputed III: Redemption is a masterpiece right? Right?
In the second case… I don’t know. Can you really say Casablanca is overrated just because it’s popular? It’s a great movie. Great movies are great movies are great movies. What about Citizen Kane? Often thought the greatest movie ever made, but ask any film school student these days and they’ll sigh and tell you just how overrated it is. Okay, so it’s not your favorite, it’s not my favorite either, but is that really a fair indicator of its merit? What about Vertigo which just lately made Sight and Sound’s #1 movie of all time?
Okay, let’s go in the opposite direction. How about a movie like… A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III? You know, Roman Coppola’s film? Is it an underrated masterpiece? Nobody seems to be taking that stance.

It seems a lot easier to argue for the validity of a movie that others ignored. In your opinion, it truly is underrated by the public, by everyone else. And perhaps you are right. It seems more difficult to argue that a movie everyone loved is actually not very good at all. A case could be made, and justifiably so, for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook. The “feel good comedy of the year.” A case could also be made about Argo.
So let’s compare the two.
I really liked Argo. I own Silver Linings Playbook on blu-ray. I think that Argo is a really good movie. I think that Silver Linings Playbook is not very good. I just happen to like it, you know, personally. I get the impression that a lot of people dislike Argo simply because it won Best Picture over… I’m not really sure what it won over that was “supposed” to win. I think the whole notion of what movie is supposed to win being more important than what actually does win is quite silly, but I understand it. In the case of this year’s nominees, it seems quite likely that American Hustle could take home the prize. I have not seen it yet but from what I hear it is very good. Perhaps not Best Picture good, but very good. And yet, I get the sense that nobody wants it to win. If we were to jump ahead in time by ten years and look back, I think that it will become one of those overrated movies that stole the prize from the more deserving film. You know what I’m talking about: Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private RyanCrash vs. Brokeback Mountain, and so on. It’s weird, because somehow I think that if Brokeback Mountain had won, I don’t think we would be saying that Crash was underrated… but it does seem like in some way, Crash winning was the best thing that could have happened for Brokeback Mountain. Of course, hypothetical situations like these probably aren’t very helpful.

The argument persists, however, about what movies are good, bad, better than people say, worse than people say, and so on. The internet is at war with itself right now over the Oscar nominees. Movies were snubbed, others stole nominations they didn’t deserve. It all seems so silly, and so much fun. Look, we all love feeling smart, so naturally it makes sense that we would find a way to assert our so-called expertise over a medium that at its heart is very, very subjective. What was the best movie of 2013?

What I’d like to see is a bit of a shift in our conversation. Can we stop using such silly terms as overrated and underrated all the time? Can a movie just be exactly as good as it is? Or do we just need an underdog to root for as it competes against the giant movies that are good, but not that good. Not Best Picture good. Not as good as everyone says.

But it’s still so much damn fun. Everyone’s a winner, except the winners, because they are losers. Or is it the other way around? No, wait, I’m confused. But I’m also right, so there.