I love the Oscars. In fact, I’m a sucker for the whole movie awards season. Even though, over here, you need access to pay-TV to catch the Oscars live, I’m the target audience.
Every year, I tape the live broadcasts, painstakingly avoid seeing the results the next day and watch the whole shebang that evening from the edge of my sofa. This year, I might not bother.
From where I’m sitting, the 84th Academy Awards looks set to be the worst Oscars ever. It’s dominated by an alarmingly narrow band of films, bereft of grit and darkness, and largely predicated on nostalgia, and even though the best picture category has been expanded to accommodate ten nominations, the Academy could only come up with… nine.
(And I’d argue that three of those don’t deserve inclusion: the tiresome Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the disappointing War Horse and the merely adequate Midnight in Paris.)
The Oscar slate gives a misleading impression of 2011, which I’d say was a superb year for moving pictures – if not necessarily for Hollywood, which continues to chase the bottom line with franchises and superheroes. But with so much emphasis on so small a knot of Oscar-anointed titles – The Artist, Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball – we’re in real danger of growing bored with films of actual merit.
There’s nothing more dispiriting for awards junkies than for one film to sweep the board, even if it’s obviously deserving, like Gandhi (see Barry Norman, right), On the Waterfront and Slumdog Millionaire – even worse, if it’s something whose stock is insanely overinflated like Titanic, The King’s Speech or Terms of Endearment (see page 45).
It’s sobering to note that Casablanca, The Godfather and Brokeback Mountain only won three apiece. I’m as excited as everyone else by the surprise success of a French-made, black-and- white silent movie, but with ten nominations and the prevailing wind of seven Baftas and three Golden Globes behind it, The Artist seems set to repeat the pattern.
But if the latent nationalism of the Academy comes into play, I predict it will be Martin Scorsese’s Hugo that takes its ubiquitous place, a far less memorable paean to the early days of cinema. The past is anything but a foreign country this year; even Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, a best picture/best director nominee that actually engages the brain, is set predominantly in the 1950s and 60s.
Can we really blame the recession for all this rose-tinted nostalgia? America was going through turmoil in the 70s with Watergate and Vietnam, but its best picture nominees reflected this national unease: The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Chinatown, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nashville, even Jaws.
This year only the terrific Margin Call, nominated for original screenplay, touches on the financial collapse. The most political film in the pile is The Help, a gooey period matinee about civil rights that makes Driving Miss Daisy look like Do the Right Thing. (Can it only be two years since the hard-hitting Precious was up for best picture?)
The Iron Lady, which will complete Meryl Streep’s best actress hat-trick, is more like a flick book than a meaningful political memoir. The absences speak louder than the shoo-ins. No Michael Fassbender for Shame; nothing for We Need to Talk about Kevin; no Drive (my favourite film of 2011); not a crumb for J Edgar, not even best make-up, a category with just three nominations, while the anaemic best song award is a pathetic battle between two!
Even Sky Movies, the channel proudly airing the ceremony, listed “ten actor snubs” on its website. Maybe Eddie Murphy got off lightly, replaced by Billy Crystal as host for the night after a nasty business about a “gay slur” involving programme producer Brett Ratner. Wake me up when it’s over, and let’s hope for more variety, more depth, and more surprises at the 85th Academy Awards.
The 84th Annual Academy Awards is on tonight at 1:30am on Sky Premiere