Oscar! Oscar! Why I Am/Am Not An Oscar Grouch
I love the Academy Awards. Wait, let me start again. A-hem. I hate the Academy Awards. No, that’s too harsh. I love to watch the Academy Awards, and I love to hate the Academy Awards. I try to see as many of the nominated films as I can. I cheer when the person I think is most deserving wins, and I boo and swear and get all self-righteous when a movie that I hated wins anything.
Last year I was just as shocked as Jack Nicholson when he announced that Crash was the Best Picture of the year. I almost threw the television out the window. And don’t even get me started on films like Chicago, Gladiator, Titanic or Braveheart. As for the others in the last fifteen years or so, the only one that I think really deserved to win was The English Patient, and, well, okay, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, cause I dug ’em.
But whatever, the Academy Awards are still great. They’ve provided fodder for countless discussions and arguments over the years, and even though I rarely agree with them, I feel somehow bound by some strange, mystical contract to watch them.
Except for one.
Babel. It’s perhaps the most overrated, contrived film since, well, Crash. Yet because it’s a film that takes place on three different continents, is in a bunch of different languages, with a bunch of interlocking stories and deals with ‘important’ themes, it has garnered a lot of critical praise. I have rarely felt so manipulated in a film. Babel isn’t from the heart, it’s a carefully designed ‘issues’ film, like Crash or Syriana, made to push as many sensitive buttons as possible – uh-oh, the kids are in danger! And here’s a scene where the deaf/mute girl is rejected by another man, and, get ready for it, cause the Mexican/US border scene is coming up, etc, and so on. The characters never feel real because the strings are always visible. They are used as vehicles to tell a tightly-controlled story, rather then having the story emanating from them. You know that terrible things are going to happen before the movie begins, and the movie rewards you by having a lot of terrible things happen…to everyone…and that’s about it.
The others are all fine films. Scorsese’s The Departed is like a grab-bag of the director’s best tricks, but strong acting and writing make it a highly enjoyable cops n’ robbers flick. Letters From Iwo Jima is definitely one of Clint’s best movies. It’s far superior to Flags of Our Fathers, and, while a little on the long side (perhaps even a bit wordy at times), it’s a powerful, emotional movie. Ken Watanabe is fantastic, as is Kazunari Ninomiya as the main grunt/‘fool’.
The Queen and Little Miss Sunshine are small, character studies. For my review of The Queen, read this. LMS is such a crowd-pleaser, and people seem to love it. I saw it back in the summer, and thought it a great comedy, and heart-warming in a genuine way. It’s not a Hollywood-type film by any means. Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin (the little girl) have both been nominated for supporting acting Oscars, but anyone out of the main cast could have been nominated, it’s such a strong ensemble, helped immensely by a great script, and understated direction.
Last year I was really rooting for Brokeback Mountain, but this year I could handle any of these films winning, except for Babel. And I think Little Miss Sunshine will inch out the competition by a nose.
If I were pulling the strings however, I would have nominated Children of Men for director and picture. This was my absolute favourite movie of the year. Visually and stylistically it’s one of the most exciting pieces of bravura filmmaking I’ve ever seen. Yet, like most of my favourite movies it’s been under-appreciated by Oscar. It’s only been nominated for cinematography, editing and Adapted Screenplay, which, I’ll admit, is not too shabby, but when a turkey like Babel can be nominated for seven, clearly, I don’t know anything about movies. If Children of Men doesn’t win for cinematography and editing, then there’s something criminally wrong with the whole Academy system, and I swear I’ll never watch the Oscars ever again. EVER. Until next year. llewopemearg