‘I’ ON CULTURE
The Oscar nominations are out, and despite the controversies, they are pretty much what those of us who actually see all the movies expected. The big movies, the ones where the theaters are crowded all day and night, were essentially ignored, and many small movies got the nods. And generally speaking, the films and performers selected were not duds. Unlike the Golden Globes, you seldom get examples of unworthy folk coming on stage because the voting turned weird.
The nominees for best film just about all fit the bill. Several were British. For some reason, we are fascinated by stories from England, particularly so when they are well-done. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, more or less biographical stories, were so well-acted that the audience was completely drawn in. Boyhood is a gimmick movie. It was made over 12 years with the cast returning occasionally for filming.
Birdman is a clever American film, almost a classic “let’s get a show together” movie that had a Mexican director who wove a surrealistic web around it. Whiplash, a surprise nominee, was another small movie, in this case a smart and powerful film about a young musician and his teacher. The Grand Budapest Hotel was a charming bit of fantasy turned nightmare.
American Sniper was a powerful war film that focused mainly on the life of Chris Kyle. In other words, an Americanized version of the British bio story, but one that looked less at science than warfare. Only one “big picture” was on the list, Selma, not that it was that much more expensive, but it was also a biographical vehicle built out to focus on a major event in American history.
All the movies were very, very good. And it should be noted, there is one important differentiation. A few — Birdman, Boyhood, Budapest — were actually made for an audience’s enjoyment. Not exactly comedies, but the movies provided a sense of relaxed entertainment, at least for most of the films. The others were dramatic and powerful. Watching Hawking’s physical deterioration (The Theory of Everything) or the horror of the chemical castration of Turing (The Imitation Game) or the excruciating sniper scene with the woman and child (American Sniper), provided examples of just how strong a good script and a top director can make a film. The sense of destiny for Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers, and the terrorism they faced, was a superb use of technique to re-create a vital time in Selma.
The actors chosen all were exceptional. There is a controversy over the lack of non-white actors, none of whom was nominated. I doubt this was due to racism. In general, people get nominated because of the parts they play. A really dramatic part certainly helps, and in a year when there were several top performances by British actors (Eddie Redmayne gives one of the best performances I have ever seen in The Theory of Everything), there were fewer places for others. David Oyelowo was excellent as Dr. King, but the nominees all were superb. Oyelowo so dominated Selma that the other performers in it were overshadowed.
The most interesting element of these award competitions is that the popular movies, the ones that people really go to see, are generally ignored. Although American Sniper is doing well, most of the films are very small-scale, with audiences now coming simply because they have won nominations. While the general theory is that top movies come at the end of the year to make it easy to remember them for these awards, the real reason they appear now is because people will go because they have been nominated.
There were few other people in the theater when I saw many of the films; I was sitting alone, completely alone, for Birdman. On the other hand, the theaters were jam-packed for Guardians of the Galaxy, the Hobbit movie and the Hunger Games picture. As always, we seem to differentiate between the really popular and the award-winners.
Which one should win? Frankly, all were good. My personal favorite was The Grand Budapest Hotel, but any of the others would not distress me. There were no great films on the list, but quite a few very good ones. Various entertainment magazines are pushing one or the other. The best advice I can give is that you will not go wrong seeing any of them that you have not seen before.