I’m an avid cinephile. I see as many movies as I can in both the theater and home video formats. I’ve written about movies (I’m a former contributor/reviewer to the PopMatters website), I’ve studies them in film classes, I’m always reading about them, I talk to others about them constantly. I know so much about movies, past and present, that I’m confident I could hold my own in a room of film critics.
But today as I handicap the Oscar race, and I look over a list of the Best Picture nominees, I realize I have only seen two of the nine nominated films. I’d like to think that this was due to a lack of time, but I have to admit that it was mainly through a total lack of interest. In my opinion this is the weakest field of films to come down the pike in years.
I think part of the blame for this comes from the recent expansion of the field from five films to anywhere between five and ten. This, of course, was the direct result of The Dark Knight not even being nominated in 2008, despite the fact that it was clearly one of the best films released that year. The thinking was that expanding the field would eliminate such grievous errors, and give a chance to other deserving films.
So what do we get? A bloated field of a few great films, and a lot of also-rans. I mean, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (or, as I like to call it, Extremely Maudlin and Incredibly Manipulative)? Really? A film critics savaged and people stayed away from in droves? Where is Bridesmaids? Margin Call? Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows II? The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy? The wonderful Brit import The Trip? The Ides of March? (All films I’ve seen, by the way).
I could go on and on here, and part of the fun of the Oscars is bitching about what got nominated and what didn’t. So with no further ado, here’s my rundown of the Best Picture nominees, even though I only saw two of them:
The Artist: This will probably win, but to me it stinks of high pretension. Silent films from back in the day were never my cup of tea, and I’m not about to plunk down ten dollars to see a modern silent film.
The Descendents: This one’s really high on my list. I like the films of Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and George Clooney is doing the best work of what’s becoming a pretty amazing career.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: I think you know my opinions on this one.
The Help: People either loved or hated this one, but in my opinion this is the film that should win. It sheds light on the human experience, i.e. African American maids in the Deep South. It raised questions about class and racism, deep questions that are the stuff of great films.
Hugo: Let me say straight off that I love the films of Martin Scorsese. He has produced some of the best American films ever, and his canon of work is most impressive. But a schmaltzy Scorsese is not my cup of tea. I understand that it is visually stunning, and it tips its cap to the early filmmakers, but unless the robot gets whacked, I’m not interested.
Midnight In Paris: I actually saw this one, and I loved it. It may be a lightweight soufflé of a film, a trait some say keep it from being a Best Picture nominee, but it took you to places you will never be, and it did it in a wonderful, witty way, and that, to me, is what movies are all about. And, as a writer and a creative person, I wanted to be Owen Wilson.
The Tree of Life: Another head scratcher. Critics fall all over themselves praising the films of Terrence Mallick, but I find them dense and slow. That said, while I’m not interested in the family drama that makes up the bulk of the film, I’m intrigued by the twenty minute, wordless opening that depicts the creation of life.
War Horse: Simply put: I’d rather by trampled to death by a herd of stampeding war horses before I see what looks like Spielberg at his treacly worst.
Moneyball: Loved it. Destined the join the annals of great sports film. It took the extremely dry subject of the finances of baseball (from an extremely dry book) and made it fascinating character study. Even people who don’t like baseball will find something to like in Moneyball. Plus, it’s nice to see Jonah Hill pull away from the raunchy comedies he’s so good at.
So there you go, my take on the Best Picture nominees. In the acting categories I predict wins for Clooney, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Christopher Plummer, while Michel Hazanavicius should win for Best Director. I expect Midnight In Paris to win Original Screenplay, and The Descendents for Adapted Screenplay. Rango will win Best Animated Picture, but again, where’s The Adventures of Tin Tin?
So even though I sometimes take a cynical view of the Oscars (and all award shows, for that matter), I will still watch, and when it’s over, I will still wonder if there’s a better way to spend three hours of my life.