Academic Writing

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscars 2014

Tonight is the 86th Oscar ceremony, honoring the year's best films - or the films the Hollywood Machine has told us are the best.  I watch every year with ritual.  I have my ballot, my highlighter, my notes, and I do it all - alone.  My phone is off, my friends, my family and husband know that this is my night and not to bother me.  I will be acting out this ritual again tonight, and yet, I won't do it with the same fervor that I usually do.  Why? Well, frankly, I don't think this year's films deserve all of the attention that they're getting.

As a group at least.  Not one film has risen to the level of acclaim they've been receiving.  Her was a terribly boring film that had me squirming in my seat for 2 hours.  Joaquin Pheonix falls in love with his phone's operating system - and yet, no one seems to think this is strange.  If it was a comment on how we a society are becoming to reliant on technology then the film might have had something to say, but that's not what it was saying.  It seemed to be asking the question of can machines feel and think.  This topic is not new - the Twilight Zone asked this of us half a century ago.  There was never a moment of revelation where the characters realized how much better human interaction is, nor was there a time where the audience was given any real insight as to how the characters on screen believed this to be a viable option.  The acting was...ok.  Phoenix's character oscillates between being a nebbish ne'er do well and a likeable loner.  Amy Adams is a cute filmmaker and friend to Phoenix's Theodore but her character never is given the opportunity to develop fully - and, let's be real, Adams is always cute and likable so that's no shocker or a stretch for her.

American Hustle was just ok- it's characters were all caricatures, which made for a fun romp, but serious film it is not.  The plot was convoluted and inane with little character development, but the acting and costumes were definitely superb.

12 Years a Slave offered a powerful story with excellent acting, but the screenplay was often forced and many directorial choices were odd.  For instance, a major plot point - like the moment that Solomon Northup, the main character, was kidnapped and sent down south to be sold as a slave was vague and convoluted.  One would think that this pivotal moment would be wrought with emotion and nuances.  Yet, it was lacking.  And yes, it does take on a powerful important story to tell, and it's important to keep the atrocities of slavery top of mind in our history to make sure we do not repeat the sins of our fathers. 

Gravity made a huge splash this year because of its technological achievement, but as far as storytelling goes, there wasn't much there.  Sandra Bullock spends much of the film floating around space just trying to get back into planet earth's atmosphere.  There is an emotional heart at the center of the film, but best film winner it is not. 

Of the films that I actually liked were Dallas Buyers Club and Wolf of Wall Street.  Both films are biopics, telling a part of the story of our national history and about a person who made a difference - good or bad in our historical narrative.  They were good, yes, and definitely deserving of nominations.  Will they go down in history as best films of all time?  Probably not. 

2014 should not go down in history as a year of great filmmaking, but as the Hollywood machine dictates, we have to honor up to 10 films with "best film" nominees.  I am excited about the show and the pomp and circumstance that comes with the show because I love the glamor.  What I am not excited about is being forced to root for a film that I am not excited about.  The FYC campaigns that surround the titles and entice voters to cast their ballot for the film that spends the most money is a system that falsifies its results and doesn't truly honor the best in show. 

So during tonight's telecast, let's consider those who might not have had the most money to spend or the biggest horn to blow and consider some of the true artistic expressions that deserve the top prize.

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