Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I like—not just snarkily notice from on high but genuinely like—how everyone hates the Oscars in their own ways. Nobody can agree on what the good choices were, but we all know they were few. Me, I'm only rooting for The Tree of Life and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I got enough out of Hugo and Midnight in Paris to half-heartedly care about their fortunes, and I’m okay with The Descendants if hardly a fan. But Margin Call? Moneyball? Falderal, at least to me, but there are plenty of smart cinephiles for whom those are the bright spots.
I still haven’t seen The Iron Lady or Albert Nobbs, and I’ll probably catch them before the big show, but if I give any more money to Jonathan Safran Foer it’s going toward deprogramming for his kids. That leaves a whole bunch of movies that fall somewhere between toleration and contempt, from The Artist to The Help. Now we have to take these movies seriously? And not just those but minor nominees (like the airy almost Warrior and the reheated leftovers The Ides of March) and "major snubs" (like the overbearing alien Shame and the standardized tearjerker 50/50)? And when did everyone decide Moneyball was a real film? Bennett Miller couldn’t direct the phonebook, though he’d be a perfect fit, and Brad Pitt puts on his serious face and races to Acting for Awards at the Downtown Marriott, leaving Malick’s Pa and Chad Feldheimer and Jesse James choking on dust and regret. Meanwhile Best Actress puts Rooney Mara’s absolute metamorphosis in this sparkly category with cross-dressing and impersonation and the wise, black tears that worked so well for Paul Haggis. When I watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I feel nothing so much as resentment toward David Fincher for subjecting me to “the feel-bad movie of Christmas”—truly, an achievement worthy of Ozymandias—but Mara gives one of the all-timers, and the most she can hope for on Oscar night is a warm compliment from Meryl gripping her third horcrux.
Still, I had a good time at the movies in 2011. I go by worldwide public release dates, because living in Houston I may as well be in fucking Yangon for all the indies that come here in a timely manner, so all those films marking 2011 as a great year—Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee, Film: Socialisme, Mysteries of Lisbon, The Strange Case of Angelica, etc.—are what make 2010 so special to me. I’m still catching up on 2011, but my best picture slate would have a lot less English—or maybe just English that speaks to me more, like Meek's Cutoff, Weekend, A Dangerous Method, Into the Abyss, Contagion, Road to Nowhere, hell, Apollo 18 is a stronger piece of cinema than The Artist, and I don't think The Artist is terrible. I haven’t even mentioned Take Shelter, Melancholia, Carnage, Tintin, Cold Weather, The Guard, the list goes on. It's not that I hate all the major 2011 films. I just hate all the 2011 Oscar films.
But back to the subtitled world, every single 2011 foreign-language film I’ve seen so far would make a worthy Best Pictures nominee: Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, Bertrand Bonnello’s House of Pleasures, and Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives. [A Separation hasn’t come to Houston yet, but everyone loves it, so it’ll probably lose to whatever Belgium submitted in place of the latest Dardennes.] That a nomination for This is Not a Film was basically impossible says all you need to know about the overdetermined foreign language category, by far Oscar’s least relevant—and when a film featuring "oxymoron wars" is up for Best Picture, that's saying something.
It can be frustrating seeing an ostensible award for best foreign film deliberately ignore so many classics, but these conversations, about whether Margin Call is a riveting first-timer or a made-for-TV shit pie that says as much about The World Today as The Help, are for us to have. Oscar just stokes the fire. The X-Factor is more closely related to arts criticism than the Oscars, which is exactly why we’re free to love them. If the big complaint is that Oscar has horrible taste, well, of course he does. That’s how this works. What did you think you were watching, the Sight/Sound decennial?
I love the Oscars because I accept that they have nothing to do with evaluating art. Watching the show is like trying to stay steady aboard a ramshackle raft of Alberto Iglesias and Gary Oldman and Emmanuel Lubezki thatched together floating you across a milquetoast sea. But for a few hours every year I get to see this horrible ritual where Rooney Mara is disparaged for not wanting to gab with Ryan Seacrest about her body piercings, and Meryl Streep feigns surprise because she never thought in a million years she'd get another award from her peers, and Uggie dances for us while Igi’s under house arrest in Iran, and it's all so terrible, but I don't watch sports, and politics makes me suicidal, so here we are. It's a zoo, but a relatively brief one, and hey, look at all the pretty dresses, and there's a Coen brother, and dayum does Tom Hardy look fine in that suit. The nominees are only relevant in who they bring to the viewing cages for us to spend an evening joking about, in person and online all at once.
All those comedians on Twitter aren’t bursting anyone’s pretensions. It’s a charade, and we know it. That’s what makes it so fun.
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 9:21 PM