The Oscars, and Why I’m Giddy Like a Schoolgirl

For the first time in a long time I’m actually getting really excited about the Oscars.  For the past decade, but most notably the past few years, the Best Picture nominees have not necessarily reflected the best films of the year but rather the five films that were able to afford enough ad space and sounded pretentious enough to weasel their way into the Oscars (*cough* The Reader.)

My issues go way back to 1999 (the 2000 Oscars), one of the best years for movies in recent memory.  The five films nominated for Best Picture that year were American Beauty (which won), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense.  I’m not going to argue with the inclusion of a few of these movies.  American Beauty was very buzzed about at the time, and it was a very solid film (even if it doesn’t hold up as well in 2010).  The Sixth Sense was obscenely popular, and, as big of a wiener nozzle as M. Night Shayamalan turned out to be, this film was very innovative, story-wise in its day.  The Insider is a brilliant film (and Russell Crowe is absolutely amazing in it).  The two films I take issue with are The Cider House Rules and The Green Mile.

First of all, I have nothing against The Green Mile as a film.  I really enjoyed this movie.  Michael Clark Duncan is heartbreaking, and the story is touching.  It’s just that when compared with the other films that were shafted for a nomination that year, The Green Mile does not measure up.  The Cider House Rules, though, should never have even been in contention.  It’s not that it’s a bad film, per se.  It’s just so very, very slight yet very, very pretentious.  Sure, Michael Caine can have his Supporting Actor award, but leave the Best Picture nods to the movies that made actual impact.

Of which movies am I speaking?  Well, in 1999, aside from the five aforementioned films, the following pictures were released: Magnolia, The Matrix, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Being John Malkovich, South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut; Election, and Fight Club.  The issue with most of these films (except for maybe Ripley, which has always seemed to me like Oscar bait incarnate) is that they’re too edgy for the Oscars.  They’re too action-y or funny or think-y.  But which films are we still talking about more than a decade later?  Not The Cider House Rules and The Green Mile (or even The Insider, really), that’s for sure.

But this year the Oscars changed the game a little bit.  This year there are TEN Best Picture nominees.  If we’d had ten nominees back in 2000, there would’ve been room for some of the more innovative, more popular, and more challenging films to make the cut.  Maybe one of them would’ve even taken the crown from American Beauty.

I’m hoping the Academy fills up the ten slots wisely this year.  Some spots are all but locks.  Avatar is in for sure, so are The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up, and Up in the Air.  Who will take the final four slots?

If the voters choose to go for hype and pedigree over actual quality, we might see a final four featuring the likes of the craptacular Nine or the underwhelming Invictus.  If the voters choose to think outside their restrictive little pretentious box, we could see nominations awarded to the very deserving District 9 and/or Star Trek, which received a 90% and 94% respectively on RottenTomatoes.com, better than Avatar (82%), Inglourious Basterds (89%), and Invictus (77%) .  The Hangover (78% — Take that, Invictus and Nine (37%, yes you read that right)) may even sneak in there.

Awarding quality mainstream films in this way can only be good for the Oscars themselves.  Many people have seen these movies, meaning they will be more likely to tune into the broadcast.  Producers and quality directors will see that there is some potential for reward (beyond monetary) for making good films that can also appeal to mass audiences.  Mass audiences may flock to see smaller films by directors with whom they have become familiar (see Christopher Nolan, for example).  The 10-nominee system may well contribute to a new Golden Age in Hollywood.  Or maybe I’m overstating things a bit.

Either way, I’ll be watching on Tuesday with bated breath, wearing my District 9 T-shirt and waving my Star Trek pompons.

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