Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Short Life of an Oscar Hit
When Steven Spielberg got up to present Best Picture at last year's Oscars, he said this: "In a moment, one of these ten movies will join a list that includes On the Waterfront, Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather and The Deer Hunter. The other nine will join a list that includes The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate and Raging Bull!" Among the films that joined the latter list were Inception, The Social Network, and Black Swan. The film that joined the former list was The King's Speech. Anyone remember that film? Does anyone still talk about it today in a conversation about something other than why it shouldn't have won? Has it left a mark on cinematic history? Does it deserve to be in a list that includes The Godfather? If you'd have asked the latter two questions this time last year, lots of people would have said yes. Now, reflecting on last year's Oscar season, most people would have given the award to anything but The King's Speech.
Here's the thing with awards season: everyone gets quite obsessed with a set of movies, and they're all that matters for a long time. The producers and advertising team manipulate you into thinking these are the best movies ever by drowning their TV spots in "WINNER OF..." "★★★★★!" "UP FOR X OSCARS!" They'll play the most epic orchestral music they can find, show you plenty of tears and hugs and sentiment. The posters won't be advertising the movie...they'll be advertising all the awards it has and the awards it is hoping to get. I am one of those people who does get easily manipulated by awards season advertising...I admit, I was taken in by the TV spots of The King's Speech with Colin Firth announcing "because I have a voice!", going as far to Facebook the quote and say that it was a magical movie. I loved seeing the triumphant looking advertisements for The Fighter and probably got more inspiration from them than I did from the actual movie. 127 Hours had me crying at the very mention of it's name amongst all of the Oscar buzz - not because it was bad, but it was exactly the type of human hardship movie that Oscar likes so much and that was manipulative. I spent around two months of last year talking non-stop about these movies. Now, they'd be lucky to get into the conversation.
It isn't because they're bad movies, because, in fact, I liked all of the ten nominees, and held at least five of them in particular high esteem, but there isn't really any burning need for me to keep talking about them now. Basically, my relationship with these movies ended long ago. With the exception of Winter's Bone (I do own it - I actually own all of the nominees - but just haven't got around to watching it again), I've seen each of last year's nominees at least twice. I watched them when they first came out, and then again when they came out on DVD. After their DVD release though, I haven't watched most of them again. In fact, the only ones that I've watched since then are Inception, Black Swan and The Social Network, three films which I loved to death and had their fair share of Oscar success, but didn't get the big prize. These are three films which I feel have lived out past the awards season and people still talk about them a bit today - and why is that? Inception for the multiple questions surrounding the plot and the big debate over the end, Black Swan for it's stirring look at how someone can transform and Darren Aronofsky's freaking awesome direction, and The Social Network for being one of the best modern movies ever, taking a look at the phenomenon that is Facebook. But what is The King's Speech? It tells a nice enough story about a King with a stutter who eventually overcame his fear, featuring splendid performances from Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. Problem is, while I don't have much of a problem with the odd period biopic, they don't challenge cinema in any way. They're doing what has been done for ages, and yet they still get accolades. But once those accolades are over, people are unlikely to remember them, because they were too safe.
Let's take 2011, for example. With the Oscar nominations just around the corner, there'll be a lot of deserving movies that will be missing out. As I said in my review of The Descendants, it is a film that will be popular during awards season but people will forget about it just like that. I imagine that would be the same case for films like Moneyball or War Horse. However, Hollywood is showing a bit of a change - they're not so keen to support period biopics like The Iron Lady, J. Edgar or My Week with Marilyn unless it is for the performances at the front. There are a few odd films making their way into Oscar contention, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (even though Fincher and Co. are trying everything they can to stop it from happening), shockingly an R-rated comedy, Bridesmaids, is making some waves and silent film The Artist is the front-runner to win Best Picture. I have to wonder whether this film might become another The King's Speech, even though it is silent and in black and white which provides a bit of difference, but other than that, is it really that special? Who knows?
2011 has been an odd year in cinema, which is most likely what it will be remembered for - and it would be nice if the Oscar nominations could reflect that as they become the first segment of cinematic history that people will look at in the future. Yet, I can't see the Academy showering love upon Terrence Malick's beautiful, polarizing The Tree of Life. Or what about Steve McQueen's NC-17 look at sex addiction in Shame? Or maybe the 'film event of a generation', the wonderful Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2? The wonderful Nikhat mentioned that 2011 was a nostalgia-filled year, with films like Midnight in Paris, Drive, Super 8 and Hugo...these are films that should stand the test of time because they realise times from the past and teach us modern people about them and what we can learn from them. I know it is impossible to accurately predict the future, but the Oscars shouldn't keep rewarding the best movies of the past two months and start thinking about the movies that will factor in as some of the best movies of all time.
I've always wondered how something like An American in Paris won Best Picture over A Streetcar Named Desire. Or Chariots of Fire over Raiders of the Lost Ark. Or Forrest Gump (a good movie) over the better The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. Slumdog Millionaire over an un-nominated The Dark Knight. The King's Speech over The Social Network. And definitely Crash over Brokeback Mountain. I wonder which one of those films is remembered the most now.
The Oscars are an interesting thing - they get easily obsessed with one film, whether it be through the manipulative marketing or by the actual film. Then we all wonder how they could be so blind as to not nominate some great films. Of course, the Oscars aren't everything, but to relatively young newcomers to film-loving such as myself, they are the first records of what was good in year X that I'd go to. So I wonder what 2011 films will make it through the Oscars and into a long, prosperous life?
What do you think? Do you think Oscar hits are destined for a long life of being loved by the masses or do they end their lives quickly? Discuss.