Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why I Still Care about the Oscars


       The Hollywood awards season coming to a close for the year. After months of campaigning, press tours and precursors ladled out by everyone from the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (otherwise known as those weirdos responsible for the Golden Globes) to the Screen Actors’/Directors’/Writers’/[insert other random film industry profession here] Guilds and the recent BAFTAs, we’re finally approaching the queen bee of awards ceremonies: the Oscars. The star-studded, at least three-hour-long event will be held tonight at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles at 7:00 PM EST. For those who follow or are involved in these sorts of things, the arrival of the Academy Awards will probably come as something as a relief, the end of an exhausting and seemingly endless process that began in October with the announcement of the Gotham Independent Film Award nominees and that, by the end, will have spanned roughly five months; if you really want to get into it, awards season arguably starts in January of each year with the Sundance Film Festival.

        There was a time when I followed the movie awards season with an obsessiveness that I now mostly devote to baseball, spending hours on end scouring the Internet for even the most trivial bit of news and memorizing useless facts (can you name every Best Picture winner since 1988? ‘Cause I still can). I paid attention to the film festival circuit, watching eagerly to see which movies garnered the praise and buzz needed to propel them into the front of the Oscar race and which ones would be worth catching in theaters whenever they eventually arrived. I kept up with the latest “expert” prognostications from Variety, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and all those other entertainment magazines and websites, and I read about the controversies and industry politics. I even used to come up with my own awards predictions, sometimes months in advance, and to argue about all these things on Internet message boards. Long story short, I was a total nerd.
        I’ve gotten beyond that phase now, though it’s not because I have any more of a life (trust me, I really, really don’t); I just channel all that pointless geekiness in different directions. Let’s face it: the Oscars are a glorified celebrity ass-kissing party masquerading as an important, prestigious celebration of film. The amount of time, money, hype and effort that so many people put into this self-indulgent event, and the fact that an entire industry still essentially revolves around it, is rather incredible. Besides, the awards season often seems to contain as much political maneuvering as actual political campaigns, complete with studio-paid For Your Consideration ads, special screenings and luncheons for Academy voters and press tours filled with magazine covers, interviews and talk show appearances. It’s a media circus that renders the whole affair a cynical publicity stunt and undercuts the idea that the Oscars are supposed to be about artistic merit and achievement.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Life of Pi is a beautiful but fleeting mirage


        Life of Pi feels, in many ways, like a movie that came out a year too late. With its fantastical imagery and a dreamlike tone that resembles the whimsicality of fairy tales, the film would seem more at home among the cinematic offerings of 2011, feel-good movies like The Artist, Hugo and Midnight in Paris that celebrated the power of storytelling and the human imagination, than the more stripped-down grittiness of 2012, which was dominated by such grounded movies as Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and even arguably Silver Linings Playbook. Just to be clear, this isn’t an inherently negative thing; the idea that cynical or more “realistic” movies are automatically better or more worthy of attention than ones that seek to be more optimistic and romantic has always made me roll my eyes. Like some of those earlier films, Life of Pi passes like a heady vision or daydream on a lazy Saturday afternoon. It’s pleasant enough, even jaw-dropping at times, but I couldn’t help but feel that, on a deeper level, it was a little bit empty, that it was lacking an extra something that would’ve made it truly satisfying.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Shoulda-Been Contenders


                On February 24, at 7:00 pm EST, ABC will air the 85th Academy Awards in a lavish, star-studded and sure-to-be underwhelming ceremony that will be watched by many but not enough. This is Election Day for awards prognosticators – the culmination of twelve long, exhausting months of predicting, theorizing, arguing and overanalyzing. Could Argo possibly be the first film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990? Will the talented and gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence defeat the equally talented and gorgeous Jessica Chastain for Best Lead Actress? Which widely respected Caucasian veteran will bring home Best Supporting Actor? What are the odds that Daniel Day-Lewis will leave empty-handed? These are a few of the burning questions that will finally be put to rest on Sunday (spoiler alert: the answer for the last question is zero).

Behold, a god among men.

                But I’m sure you don’t want to read another speculative essay about how the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty destroyed its chances at Best Picture. Or about how there’s no conceivable way that Seth MacFarlane can surpass Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who co-hosted a witty, heartfelt and all-around enjoyable Golden Globe ceremony earlier this year. As tempting as the latter proposition is, I would rather take a moment to recognize the shoulda-been contenders: the films and people that were, for whatever reason, overlooked this awards season. While I don’t necessarily think all of them should have been Oscar nominees (though some are certainly worthy), they deserved to be in the conversation, if not as serious awards contenders then at least as quality movies and performances.

                (FYI: I’m not including highly buzzed-about snubs like Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow since, as admirable as they were, it’s hard to argue that they were genuinely ignored rather than just pushed out due to the limited number of slots. I am also not including performances and movies that I haven’t been able to see yet, so chances are, there are tons of worthy contenders missing from my list.)

                So, without further ado: