Fixing Oscar For One Film: Part Eight 2003-2016
Posted by daffystardust
Well, here we are in the final round of movies before we re-set for the championship group and we’ve expanded again to a window of fourteen years. Are certain eras of filmmaking measurably better than others? I have seen some opinions expressed that suggest while our current cinematic environment is producing an increased number of decent to good movies, that we’re seeing fewer truly great ones. In going over the various eras while working on this series, there does seem to have been some ebb and flow over the years and we might very well be in a mild leveling-off period when it comes to actual brilliance. It might also be the case that the films of the last fifteen years haven’t had the time to solidify into classics in our minds.
Lost In Translation (2003)
We pretty much went into 2003 knowing that as long as Peter Jackson and company didn’t wet the bed in the final installment of their enormously successful and critically lauded Lord of the Rings series, that they were in line for a heaping pile of awards. Although the first installment is still the most satisfying from my point of view, I’m not going to argue that Return of the King was an undeserving winner, just that it’s too bad a perfect little gem of a movie like Lost In Translation never really stood a chance. In retrospect, director Sofia Coppola’s big breakout movie wasn’t just left wanting in the categories it was nominated in, but maybe should have had additional nominations in both cinematography and film editing. As with plenty of other Best Picture losers over the years like Citizen Kane, Her, Fargo, and Pulp Fiction, the Best Original Screenplay award was perhaps used as a consolation prize of sorts because the Academy knew that Lost In Translation wasn’t likely to grab the other big prizes it was in line for. This same approach may just be in the offing this year as a way of calling attention to a film such as Lady Bird or Get Out.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor
Oscar Wins: Best Original Screenplay
The Social Network (2010)
Here’s a case where I may be guilty in either falling in line with preferring a traditional “Oscar-style” film or perhaps merely valuing subject matter that is very close to my own heart. Perhaps for partly these reasons I have continued to believe over the intervening years that Tom Hooper’s film about King George VI’s struggle with poor speech fluency at a time when his ability to speak confidently and comfortingly to his subjects was of the greatest importance was indeed the right choice as the Best Picture of 2010. I’m not going to rescind that opinion, but I will say that this might have been one of those situations in which the Best Director award should have been split from the Academy’s choice for Best Picture. It would have been perfectly appropriate in this case to award the consistently excellent David Fincher, who may have been done in by a split in votes with other more modern approach directors like Darren Aronofsky and David O Russell. The Social Network is certainly a more than worthy subject for film study, especially for its Oscar-winning adapted screenplay and its typically sharp cinematography and editing. Consider it here to move on to our championship round.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Sound Mixing, Cinematography
Oscar Wins: Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Film Editing
In the age of both amazing advances in special effects in film and increased use of home theater strategies for consuming movie offerings, it is perfectly understandable why the Academy might be wary of throwing the Best Picture award in the direction of a film whose strengths are most notably in its visuals and other technical domains. Such an approach will have inconsistent long term results, though. As the years go on and film fans continue to experience these movies at home with a wide variety of available hardware their mileage may vary. This game concern may be part of why this year’s amazing theater experience of cinematography and sound Dunkirk has receded after opening to big awards conjecture. I remember getting glowing reports back on Gravity from friends who had seen it on the big screen before I had a chance, and their enthusiasm for the experience they had in that context was not misplaced. What I walked out of the movie theater sensing, however, was echoed by the Academy when Gravity failed to garner a nomination in either of the screenplay categories. As impressive as the technical achievements of Gravity were, when it comes down to it, if you don’t have many votes from the writers or from the actors who both make up the largest portion of the voting population and who have to speak the given lines and play the given parts, your chances of winning Best Picture go way down.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Actress, Production Design
Oscar Wins: Best Director, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
You can pretty much take everything I just said about Gravity above and apply it to Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015. Although I will say that the newest Mad Max film has both stuck with me stronger to this date and that I didn’t notice how thin its overall plot was until I saw it a second time. Multiple screenings of George Miller’s amazing work, however, has only strengthened my admiration of the absolute virtuosity of the filmmaking involved in telling that thin story. Mad Max: Fury Road should become the subject of intense study at film schools across the world because of its masterful use of visual storytelling, camera placement, and the writing that had nothing to do with what the characters were saying. What becomes obvious is how painstakingly arduous and well-conceived the story boarding on this movie was. Black Panther‘s Ryan Coogler and company could take some lessons from Miller and his team of filmmakers. While I do think the script is undervalued to some degree, this is an example of how the Academy repeatedly undervalues science fiction and fantasy pictures when it comes time for the ‘above-the-line’ categories on Oscars night, so much so that nobody ever really considered this to be a viable Best Picture winner. Again, I’m not going to argue that this nominee should have beaten out the eventual winner (Spotlight was, after all, my very favorite movie of that year for entirely opposite reasons), but I’d give it a pretty strong recommendation to our voters here.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects
Oscar Wins: Best Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design
La La Land (2016)
Oh boy is this a divisive movie! If you were reading here last year you know that I went back to the movie theater for a second look at La La Land to confirm what my initial misgivings had been about the movie and why I had come out of the theater loving it nonetheless. In the end, I gave La La Land a less than enthusiastic endorsement for the Best Picture win, in part because none of the other nominated films had been particularly faultless either and it was the movie that I suspected I’d watch most often in the future for its mixture of design and emotion and appealing froth. It seemed like a Best Picture winner, too. I guess I understand why so many of the Academy voters fell for Moonlight with its beautiful cinematography, strong performances, and meaningful social topicality, but for whatever reason I found myself one step ahead of it and mostly emotionally at bay over the course of its run time. Moonlight‘s win has been largely attributed to the new preferential ballot and its relative high position on many ballots in comparison to La La Land‘s tendency to show up either very high or very low on ballots, picking up fewer votes as the tallying process progressed. I’m looking forward to seeing how our voters place it among this group of competitors.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Actor, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Film Editing
Oscar Wins: Best Director, Actress, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Cinematography
These movies are much more recent in our memories, so maybe we have more immediate reactions to them or maybe we’re more or less invested in their Oscars night fates. Let us know where you stand both by voting here and telling us how you feel about them in the comments section.