With Oscar season not too far away and the fall being the time of the year when contenders start to rear their head, I figured it’d be only natural to post something that I’ve wanted to for quite some time.
Here’s the thing; everybody knows that Hollywood and moreover award shows are no stranger to controversy particularly when they get it ‘wrong’. Now I’m not saying that this prevents some of us who choose to nitpick over the ins and outs of mainstream entertainment from enjoying the movie, I guess it’s just more indicative of our irritation with how society rewards its darlings.
The past 8 years I’ve tried to watch the Oscars for at least the better part of an hour either because I have a dog I’m rooting for or mainly because I hope to see the Academy get something right without having to be shilled into doing so. Now, it’s no secret that a big part of winning Oscars is self-marketing and making yourself look like you really don’t want the award but not so much that you give your award away to someone else. Jennifer Lawrence is a pro at this as it’s been awhile since someone her age was given the Best Actress statue, let alone in contention for it two years in a row. My contention however is that the Academy and the film industry as a whole, are so desperate to have someone marketable enough under the age of 30 that they’d probably give Justin Bieber an award if he threw on a pair of buck teeth and gained 50 pounds. The problem with this is that Award shows are reduced to making its main criteria be: who makes themselves look the ugliest or gains the most weight. Charlize Theron most famously ran with this in the film Monster and while I find her to be a capable actress outside of playing murderous prostitutes, I can’t say that I mark my calendar every time a new film featuring her drops. More recently, Anne Hatahway got away with an Oscar nab for her rather short and exhausting performance in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, which is a film that was overrated to begin with and has been driven into the ground with both it’s stage revival and now motion picture and makes me question whether anybody as actually heard of the book anymore.
What I find so nauseating about her Oscar in particular was the fact that it was based entirely on one scene she had in the film rather than an over arching performance. Yes, Tom Hooper (regrettably) made his actors sing live as opposed to overdubbing it with a studio version and yes Anne Hathaway looked sweaty and dingy, which I believe is more credit to the makeup people but is that alone really deserving of lauding? After seeing her performance I can agree with the critics on two things A. Anne Hathaway can carry a tune & B. She certainly does a good job at looking like she’s in pain but that could’ve been due to hearing Russell Crowe belt out a few tunes. I guess my issue overall is with the film as a whole which was just so unnecessary and self indulgent that it looks like less of an homage to the stage play and more of a desperate way of getting Oscar nominations. Now I’m not going to be one of those critics who gives Anne Hathaway shit for looking like a 10 year old on Christmas when she received her Oscar but I will say this; she’s lucky Meryl Streep wasn’t up for an award that year or else she would’ve been a seat filler. Because if there’s nothing the Academy loves more than giving actors who beat themselves up for their roles, it’s giving Oscars to veteran actors for impersonating other famous people.
Now obviously I picked on Anne Hathaway a little but mostly because it was the most recent example of self indulgent ‘pats on the back’ per say. However, I think it should be made clear that the Academy has been getting things wrong a lot farther back than a few years ago mainly in it’s mind boggling decision to give Gregory Peck the Actor Award for To Kill a Mockingbird over Peter O’ Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Here’s an example of the academy siding with a portrayal of a popular fiction character over someone like T.E Lawrence whose experiences during the Arab Revolt were depicted in the film. My issue is that while Peck gave a perfectly fine performance in the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s magnum (and only) opus, it stops at being fine as he didn’t have a whole lot to do. People tend to confuse the film and moreso the novel as being about Atticus Finch which it really isn’t but rather a view of Southern racial injustice from the p,o.v of a child who grows to see her father as a beacon of courage in the face of oppressive race relations. Thus for this reason I always view Atticus Finch as less of a character but more of a symbol for a much larger theme. That doesn’t take away from the film but it doesn’t mean that his Oscar was worthy of anything more than a ‘bravo’. O’ Toole’s performance is so nuanced, we see him change from the self assured cocky young officer on a mission to a man forced to struggle with inner demons on his relationship with the Arab tribes and torture at the hands of the Ottoman military. It’s an amazing performance that asks deep questions of its audience not only of Lawrence himself but of the British role in occupied Arabia. In other words, the Academy really dropped the ball but doing something very predictable and very easy, opting to reward a fine performance rather than one that might’ve been out of some peoples comfort zone.
In the end I suppose Hollywood has always played it safe, choosing to spend billions of dollars yearly on comic book adaptations and remakes than spend anytime creating original screenplays. It should also be noted that the Academy has yet to give out a Best Picture award to a Science Fiction film. Instead every year we get the usual line of box-office suspects: the superhero film, the annual sequel to some franchise (usually involving cars or some voluptuous babes), and finally somewhere around fall, the biographical films where veteran actors pull out all the stops to give their best impression of some famous politician or social activist. It’s all very predictable ,with the only real innovation being in what I suppose would be called the ‘indie’ film where there seems to be no shortage of ideas, good or bad, but dammit at least they try! I doubt Hollywood will ever really put those films front and center particularly since there is no foreseeable end to comic book films which now account for perhaps the largest amount of revenue (thanks Disney!) on a yearly basis. But hey, that’s what this country is about right?