The annual festival of Hollywood-types congratulating each other for their ability to play make-believe really well while flaunting a garish display of uniquely American excess is rapidly approaching. Of course I’m talking about the annual Academy Awards. As a concept, and looking at the amount of import it is often met with, the entire affair can be seen as somewhat ludicrous. Wealthy people handing out statues while displaying millions of dollars in gowns, tuxedos, and jewelry can be seen as paling in comparison to really important things. Teachers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, social workers, Peace Corps volunteers, parents, and thousands of others toil away in professions that, it can be argued, deserve much more praise. They do REALLY impactful work for far less/no money with often little thanks. So yes, the Oscars can be seen as yet another example of our out of whack priorities. Much like the carnival that surrounds sports figures or models or reality TV stars or musicians, the Oscars elevate a group that already gets plenty of rewards for their toils.
Despite all of that, I love them anyway.
Well, what a weak year it has been. Not that there haven’t been movies and performances that I have liked, but nothing is easy to point to and say: “this is a great piece of cinema that deserve accolades and will be talked about years from now.” The Academy has done little to help here, with many random—and, in some cases, dismal—nomination choices. But still, they have to give these awards to someone. So, here are my guesses and personal choices for the Academy Awards.
What is in a look, a stare, or a knowing glance? What is an emotion? Ideally in film, emotions should be expressed in actions, since it’s a medium of moving pictures and all. However, over the decades directors have struggled to define the actor’s interior sense without words to do some of the heavy lifting. A long time ago, in the 1920s and before, sound and words were not taken for granted. The silent film era is still considered one of the most important, not only because they were the ones who were still making all the rules, but because they had to work within their limitations. Besides the obvious technological disadvantages, the actors had to come up with ways of showing emotion and moving a scene along with just their actions and expressions. Some of these now-silly acting techniques were acquired by overly melodramatic theater and have since been seen as a dated way to build a character. But perhaps there is something to be said for being able to get a scene from point A to point B without ever saying a word.
Nostalgia has been a major theme this year in films. With Midnight in Paris, about a man who thinks culture was at its peak in the 1940s, and Hugo and its honoring of an early filmmaker, this is the year of recognizing the past. Now there is The Artist, a silent film in black and white, about the silent age of film and what the onset of talkies did to those who did their best work in silent pictures. While it is a homage to silent films, it is also a reintroduction to how silent movies can work as a medium.
With 2011 officially in the books, it’s time once again to look back and reflect on some of the best films that have come out in the past year. As with all movie writers, coming up with a list like this is usually expected, but also damn near impossible. To me, reading and writing these types of articles are only beneficial in spreading word about titles that really had an effect on me, while stirring up debate between those who strongly agree with my choices, or vehemently disagree. No one list is ever truly definitive; what is considered great to one may not register the same way to another. The only real truth is that 2011 had a wide range of very interesting and fascinating films, and just like every year, there’s always a good handful worth noting.
I love the Oscar race! Just looking at the potential films and seeing which will become major contenders sends excitement coursing through me, especially for Best Picture. I try to figure out the films that the Academy will love and, more importantly, which films will I love as well. I always hope that I will agree with the Academy, because despite what my feelings might be about the Academy, them giving a movie Best Picture helps a movie become more well known and helps people embrace it. So, when they give it to something less than deserving (or worse), it is like they are hurting film. This is an intense love/hate relationship for me, but I keep coming back and right now we have reached the end of summer and are entering the fall. This is usually the starting point for the Oscar season.