Friday, February 25, 2011

On The Best Picture

I haven't seen The King's Speech. I'm sure it's a perfectly fine film, with a perfectly fine cast and a perfectly fine message about life. I'm sure I will see it and think, "This is a perfectly fine moviegoing experience," and then I will go home and forget all about it.

I have seen The Social Network. I have mixed feelings about Aaron Sorkin, but I thought his script was hard-edged and unsentimental and it spoke to an American moment, which is why I hope everyone who spends their time prognosticating about awards shows is right and it doesn't win the Oscar.

There are two reasons for this: The first is that it's just far more interesting when a film like The Social Network stands outside the mainstream...even if, in this case, "standing outside the mainstream" means it is actually the second most-honored film of the year. The second is that the movies that tend to get snubbed for Oscars are, approximately 75 percent of the time, more likely to be culturally relevant in the long-term than the films that win. This, I suppose, is because Oscar voters are comprised of such a large cross-section of Hollywood that their consensus is almost always going to be watered down by sentiment and facile thinking. Which is why, dating back to the rise of the modern studio era in Hollywood, the most relevant pictures are usually the ones that don't win.

1977--Winner: Annie Hall.
Most Relevant Best Picture Nominee Today: Annie Hall is probably one of my six favorite films of all-time, but Star Wars is the most relevant film of the past thirty-five years.

1978--Winner: The Deer Hunter.
MRBPNT: The Deer Hunter (if only for the Russian roulette).

1979--Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer.
MRBPNT: I watched K vs. K a few years ago; if not for the lead performances, it's basically something you'd see on Lifetime Women. Whereas Apocalypse Now is probably not.

1980--Winner: Ordinary People.
MRBPNT: Raging Bull.

1981--Winner: Chariots of Fire.
MRBPNT: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

1982--Winner: Gandhi.
MRBPNT: The obvious answer is E.T., but the correct answer is Tootsie, which is one of those movies that, if you seek it out in the culture, you'll find it everywhere.

1983--Winner: Terms of Endearment.
MRBPNT: The Big Chill.

1984--Winner: Amadeus.
MRBPNT: Probably Amadeus, though this may be the most thoroughly boring Best Picture slate of my lifetime.

1985--Winner: Out of Africa.
MRBPNT: Probably Witness, if only because it is impossible to watch a spoof of Amish culture without a reference to Elijah Wood Lukas Haas.

1986--Winner: Platoon.
MRBPNT: Probably Platoon, though every time I watch Hannah and Her Sisters, it comes across as so quintessentially Woody Allen that it almost seems like satire.

1987--Winner: The Last Emperor.
MRBPNT: Either Broadcast News (if you are a journalist), Moonstruck (if you are a sentimental baker), or Fatal Attraction (if you are a psychopath).

1988--Winner: Rain Man.
MRBPNT: I would say Rain Man, but Working Girl has probably eclipsed it among Gen-Y feminists.

1989--Winner: Driving Miss Daisy.
MRBPNT: Again, a split between Vietnam Veterans (Born on the Fourth of July), hairy romantics (Dead Poets Society), and sentimental fans of Ken Burns who never made peace with their fathers (Field of Dreams). 

1990--Winner: Dances With Wolves.
MRBPNT: Goodfellas. Obviously.

1991--Winner: The Silence of the Lambs.
MRBPNT: The Silence of the Lambs.

1992--Winner: Unforgiven.
MRBPNT: A Few Good Men.

1993--Winner: Schindler's List.
MRBPNT: Schindler's List. Though everyone knows Holocaust movies are anomalies.

1994--Winner: Forrest Gump.
MRBPNT: Pulp Fiction.

1995--Winner: Braveheart.
MRBPNT: Braveheart. Another horrendous year.

1996--Winner: The English Patient.
MRBPNT: Jerry Maguire. You have been redeemed, Elaine.

1997--Winner: Titanic.
MRBPNT: You may not particuarly enjoy these apples, but I would say Good Will Hunting is a more culturally pervasive movie, at least among non-idiots who were over the age of 15 in 1997.

1998--Winner: Shakespeare in Love.
MRBPNT: Saving Private Ryan.

1999--Winner: American Beauty.
MRBPNT: Probably The Sixth Sense, though everyone knows Fight Club was the best film of 1999. They're just not permitted to speak about it.

I'll stop here, because I figure it takes approximately a decade for history to sort itself out. But out of those 23 years, the Academy has been in line with history approximately six times. Which means there is a three-in-four chance that The King's Speech will win the Oscar and then promptly be forgotten. And the movie that lost will be the one we truly remember.


EricP said...

1997 -- L.A. Confidential?

Re. 1984, how does the best year for movies this side of 1939 wind up with such a stale list of BP nominees? Only in Hollywood...

Anonymous said...

Ah, I think you've confused Elijah Wood with Lukas Haas