Movies – The Oscar Flush

It’s almost October, and you know what that means! Endless speculation about movies you don’t care about for an awards show that’s becoming increasingly culturally irrelevant dominating the news for six…fucking…months. And this year it’s going to be worse, because there’s essentially nothing to talk about.

There’s no point in pretending the Oscars matter anymore. Last year was an epic disaster area for one reason, and one reason only: somebody in the Academy went in there and fiddled with the awards to make sure that damn movie about that guy who dresses like a flying rat and fights a clown didn’t get a damn award other than the one they couldn’t avoid acknowledging.

Normally I wouldn’t be annoyed about “The Dark Knight” not being nominated for Oscars: even if it had been nominated, it wasn’t going to win. But it’s pretty telling that if you go through the DGA, WGA, Producer’s Guild, etc. awards for last year, there’s five movies that consistently turn up: four Best Picture nominees and “The Dark Knight”. But mysteriously, “The Dark Knight” was replaced by “The Reader”, a movie nobody liked and didn’t do well, and had zero Oscar chances until, magically, it did.

This isn’t Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein’s a brilliant marketer, but he’s not so good that he can boot a movie like “Knight” out of the Oscars. No, I quite bluntly think somebody stepped in and made damn sure “The Dark Knight” didn’t get any major nominations beyond Heath Ledger, and that was only because he was dead.

And, really, what does that say about the Oscars? “The Dark Knight” wasn’t just a summer movie: it was the kind of thing that even true artists chase for years and never catch, a movie that was a genuine event. It didn’t make $500 million in the US because everybody loves Batman; it made $500 million because it spoke to people, and it also happens to be a pretty damn good movie. It had something on its mind and didn’t belabor its points, the kind of filmmaking we generally want to encourage.

And what’s the Academy’s reaction to a major studio making a blockbuster that genuinely had something on its mind and that people genuinely loved and wanted to see? It ran right in the opposite direction. What was especially insulting is “The Reader” catered to just about every stereotype about how the Academy has become stodgy and clueless. They’ve been bitched at for letting movies like “The Reader” so much as a nomination in the past: what the hell were they doing giving it nods?

And this Oscar season promises to be particularly painful. You’ve got your biopic, “Amelia”. You’ve got Rob Marshall phoning in another damn musical, “Nine”. “Me And Orson Welles” is finally getting released, a year after it played festivals, which isn’t a good sign, and it’s being run by Freestyle Releasing, also not a good sign.

To be fair, there are movies to look forward to. John Hillcoat’s “The Road” is a must-see. Peter Jackson returns to literary territory with “The Lovely Bones”. The Coens are striking again with “A Serious Man”, which has the best trailer in ages. “Up In The Air” looks pretty funny. And “Precious” is getting buzz, but I’m not sure audiences will go for it: although I’m certain Sapphire isn’t making a bit of that novel up, at least in terms of Precious’ misfortunes, the movie could easily turn into an over-the-top melodrama. To be honest, I’m interested to see how some of the country’s more prominent black film critics take “Precious”, because I have a sneaking suspicion that if it’s a misstep, they’re not going to pull any punches.

But I think it says something that I’m frankly more excited about “Zombieland”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, “The Box” and “Ninja Assassin” than I am for any of the Deep Serious Movies. Maybe that’s a reflection of a profound character flaw. But somehow, I doubt it.

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