Goodness, talk about a safe year for the Academy Awards. Anyone who looked at the Oscar nominees prior to the ceremony could easily pick practically all the winners, making the telecast so utterly predictable that I did not even bother to tune in. As a matter of fact, I haven’t tuned in for four years, as there’s no longer any appeal. And I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment.
They say there’s an elusive “formula” for Oscar gold, and the 2014 Academy Awards only served to support this. Best Picture went to a socially relevant movie about American history. Best Actor went to Matthew McConaughey, because he lost weight and played an AIDS patient. Best Director went to Alfonso Cuarón, because his movie Gravity was technically revolutionary. I predicted all of these choices.
It’s critical to note at this point that I do not belittle all of the winners this year, but there’s a difference between the recipients that should win and those that will win. As I said, there’s a formula in place, so most recipients won out of sheer obligation due to reputation rather than being actually deserved.
For instance, anyone could smell 12 Years a Slave’s win a mile off. Not because it was the year’s best movie – it was not – but because it deals with slavery, is a true story, is a period piece, and has an esteemed reputation among critics. That’s ticking every Academy box imaginable. It’s the “safe” choice, because it winning the award won’t offend anyone. Sure, its content is graphic and conservatives won’t be able to deal with it, but it’s hard to deny the movie’s impact.
This is reflected in the fact that a story recently broke, explaining that a number of Academy voters went with 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture despite the fact they never watched it. They felt obligated to vote for it because of what it is. They were afraid to be more adventurous in fear of controversy. As I said, the Academy has grown soft and safe.
Let’s look at a few of the other Best Picture nominees, and theorise the consensus if these movies actually won the top prize:
Gravity – People would liken the movie to Avatar, saying there’s plenty of special effects and no substance, and there’d be instant online controversy. Gravity does not offer a great deal beyond the experience, sure, which is by design, but in the eyes of some, this means it would be an insult to call it 2013’s Best Film.
The Wolf of Wall Street – The year’s most polarising movie. It’s full of drugs, nudity, sex, non-stop profanity, and so on. Awarding the movie Best Picture would horrify the conservatives and offend those who found the movie offensive.
Captain Phillips – I personally wasn’t an overall fan of this outing, as it did whitewash several aspects of the historical record to fashion a pretty straight-ahead hostage drama. Many would decry “It’s a dumb American action movie!” if it won Best Picture.
Other nominees – like Her, Nebraska, Philomena and The Dallas Buyers Club – will simply be seen as too slight for the top prize. Most would scratch their head if any of them won, even if they did like these movies. The Oscars want to keep people happy, otherwise they wouldn’t tune in for the telecast year after year.
Admittedly, American Hustle is another “safe” choice and theoretically had just as much chance as 12 Years a Slave, but the latter movie had an advantage: it’s about Big Important Issues. Hustle was about a scam back in the ’70s, and would have won in any normal year, but 12 Years a Slave being about slavery and blacks automatically gives it the edge.
What would my pick be for Best Picture? The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s my favourite movie of the year, sure, but it’s also the best movie of the year for several reasons, and I would have liked to see it win big. This may lead many to call me out for being biased, or immature for liking the orgy of excess, but that would prove my point. See, movies are not meant to be inoffensive. A film which shocks, offends and makes a genuine stir in the cinematic marketplace is the very definition of a keeper. Movies should prompt us to feel things, and should prompt passionate responses, whether positive or negative. People will be discussing the movie for years to come, and it has its hardcore fan base, whereas 12 Years a Slave will remain more of a niche curiosity.
12 Years a Slave fading into obscurity might be mere speculation at this point, but let’s look at a movie like The Artist, which won Best Picture a couple of years ago due to it being a love letter to cinema. Now? Nobody remembers the fucking thing. I’m a very avid reader of entertainment news and forums, and I haven’t seen it mentioned or discussed for years. It did not make an impact. In fact, I have never even watched the fucking movie myself, because I didn’t care. A “pleasant” throwback to old timey cinema is not Best Picture material, period.
Ironically, bold choices might actually draw in more viewers. They might lose a few conservative viewers, but chatter about controversial choices would carry over into the next year, prompting others to tune in merely to see what the Academy does this time.
Oftentimes, people describe Oscar fodder as boring and turgid, and the Academy as a society of stuffy old folks who don’t know how to have fun. This year’s Oscar telecast reminds us exactly why this stereotype is in place. It’s been happening for years, and I see no merit in spending many hours of my evening watching the telecast when I can read the results the next day in a 10-second scan.
For the record, I was not too enthusiastic about McConaughey’s win, but there’s no point going too far into that. Terminally ill character + weight loss = Oscar. It’s very cut and dried, and very annoying.