When the Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, my first thought was, at least there’s no Braveheart this year. Actually, this year the field seems to be a pretty good one, although I was a little dismayed to see that Juno had been nominated for best picture. Come to thinks of it, Juno has more in common with Braveheart than a title character who wears a skirt. Juno may be low budget and quirky where Mel Gibson’s film was big budget and pompous, but like Braveheart, people seem to like Juno for the wrong reasons.
Despite some major letdowns over the years — I’m still steamed that Crash won Best Picture in 2004 — I retain an avid interest in the Oscars. I’m not one of those spoilsports who point out that the Oscar Best Picture isn’t really the best film made that year. Who wants that responsibility, anyway? Anyone who dares to pick one film as the best film made on the planet in a given calendar year is just as asking for trouble. Far and away my least favorite question I get asked my opinion of the best film of all time. For some reason, when speaking to a PhD in film studies, people go for broke and ask for the best film ever made. No one ever asks me for the best film of the year.
It’s just as well that we give the job of picking one film, one actress, one sound editor as the best in a single year to an anonymous group of know-nothings. Only the Nobel committee is more secretive, unpredictable, and indifferent to generally accepted standards of excellence than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy Awards are everyone’s experience with a teacher who grades unfairly, the one who gives the best grades to the teacher’s pet. The coolest kid never gets the A. The coolest kid this year is Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, which, to everyone’s mild surprise, has been nominated for best picture, along with the teacher’s pet film, Atonement. The smart immigrant kid, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, flunked out on the first pop quiz. Judging from all of the fuss made about the film — it doesn’t appear in Chicago until next month — I would’ve thought that this film would have been a shoo-in for a best foreign film nomination.
I know that we’re invited to contemplate the best films Hollywood has produced at the precise moment when Hollywood puts its worst films on the screen. Like the Super Bowl, that other late winter extravaganza, the Oscars are timed to wrest the maximum amount of publicity out of the media. Still, it’s kind of fun to play along, despite the excesses. This year’s ceremony, however, carries with it the threat of an interesting ethical dilemma. If the writers strike is still going on, I probably shouldn’t watch the ceremony. Boycotting the broadcast is about as pointless a political statement as I could make, even more effectual than my continual refusal to shop at Wal-Mart, but I worry that it will have to be made anyway. Luckily, most of the accounts I’ve read say that the strike will most likely be settled in time.
My big Oscar prediction: Ratatouille will win best animated film. I know I’m going against the tide on this one, but I have a gut feeling.
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