Monday, February 27, 2012

'The Artist:' Yet Another Reason The Oscars Can't Be Taken Seriously

By Manifesto Joe

Over the past year, I've actually seen five of the nine films that were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In the 1980s I was a devoted film buff and even aspired to be a critic, but in recent years I've lost interest, in large part because the Hollywood product has become such recycled pablum.

But again, over the past year, I've gotten out to the local cinemas a bit more. There are no "art houses" close to where I live, so for economic reasons I've mostly had to settle for the commercial Hollywood product with the discounts that area theaters provide.

I thought The Artist was a fun and entertaining novelty film, and Uggie the Dog's performance made me want to adopt a Jack Russell terrier.

But, Best Picture? Come off it. This is A Star Is Born with a happy ending tacked on. I regarded The Help and The Descendants as better films, and considered Midnight in Paris and Hugo to be at least as good, perhaps better.

What one tends to see on Oscar night is essentially a popularity contest held among the Academy's voters. Trendiness counts, and if a film such as The Artist offers something that people haven't seen in a while (black-and-white cinematography, a silent movie with titles), it has a leg up on its rivals.

Let's consider, briefly, a history of how much "Oscar" has meant over the years. Citizen Kane is at the top of many critics' all-time-great lists, and it didn't win Best Picture of 1941, though it was nominated.

What were some of the winning "Best Pictures?" Let's see -- we have Love Story (1970), which nobody wants to see anymore, and then the "immortal" tearjerker Terms of Endearment (1983). The latter's victory at the Oscars was when I really stopped taking the Academy Awards very seriously. What those two movies had in common was that audiences hadn't seen old-time tearjerkers in a long while, so those who hadn't grown up watching the old Douglas Sirk melodramas from the 1950s on little black-and-white TVs were often seeing something brand-new to them.

"Best actors?" I don't remember the last time I saw F. Murray Abraham, and Roberto Benigni's career certainly hasn't gone anywhere in recent years.

Somewhat in contrast, Val Kilmer doesn't look like he used to, but he's still getting parts. I thought one of the biggest ripoffs in Oscar history was that he wasn't even nominated for Best Actor for his work in The Doors (1991), in which he seemed to have disinterred the dude from that Paris grave for his performance as Jim Morrison. But Val has a rep for being difficult and isn't popular in Hollywood. (Director John Frankenheimer, before his death, was quoted as saying that one of the things he would never again do in his life was work with Val Kilmer. He had directed Kilmer and Marlon Brando in a very forgettable version of The Island of Dr. Moreau.)

Bottom line -- it's just a popularity contest among U.S. film industry insiders. I can't afford the gasoline and ticket prices to be a "movie snob" anymore, but Oscar night usually makes me wish I could be one again.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will give the Academy credit for one thing in giving the Best Picture nod to "The Artist." For once, they actually acknowledged that there is a cinema industry that exists outside of the U.S.---and they did it in a manner more appropriate than idiotically reducing the entire Rest Of The World into the "Best Foreign Language Film," (which inevitably ignores dozens of worthy films every year).

For my money, the best films these days are non-Hollywood. Nations like South Korea, Japan and Iran make some of the best films in the world these days and in recent years, Britain has seen a nice increase in edgy independent films, like "Kill List" and the truly terrifying "Eden Lake").

My own vote for the best movie from last year was predictably ignored by the Academy ("Melancholia" by the great Lars von Trier). Alexandr Sokurov's "Faust" was another great film overlooked by the Academy.

It's a shame that most Americans can't be bothered to read subtitles, because they're missing out on the best films in the world. And what's worse, is Hollywood feels compelled to constantly remake foreign films that were perfectly fine to begin with. And these remakes (everything from "The Ring," to "The Departed" invariably are inferior).

I don't believe the Academy Awards have never really been a good barometer of what's truly the best in cinema. If you want that, it's best to look at the films awarded at the top international film festival like Cannes and Venice.