An Oscar is not reward for best film or best director. It’s an award presented by a bunch of people who are going on record about their favourite film / director of the year, for reasons best known to them
“When you see who wins those things — or who doesn’t win them — you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is.”
The funny thing is that the guy who said this has 23 Oscar nominations and four wins. He’s never gone to collect them.
As his biographer Eric Lax once told NPR: “It’s really almost impossible, as he puts it, to judge art, that it’s so subjective, you can’t really say, well, this performance is better than that or that writing is better than this and that, if you get caught in that trap of relying on other people, however great they are, to tell you whether you’re any good, you’re either going to consciously or subconsciously start playing to that group.”
This year’s Oscars, like any other Oscar ceremony before, did reward a few films we all liked. But what we easily forget is that the Academy does not even nominate some of the finest films made every year.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s riveting masterpiece The Master had to contend with acting nominations (that went unrewarded as well) and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was given a token writing nomination while David O Russell’s light-hearted romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook got eight nominations!
Which brings us to, ‘Who are the people nominating these films?’ The Academy members, veterans in the motion picture business, with a median age of 62!
As is the case with any human exercise, voting is subject to many factors, including the motivation to go watch the film that’s made the long list, where it’s playing, its running time, the genre of the film, the mood of the voter to watch that genre etc.
And then, there are the external factors. Mostly political.
Zero Dark Thirty, for example, this year was targeted by critics, for showing an America that’s pro-torture of prisoners. As unfair as it sounds, it was the same politics that aided her win for The Hurt Locker. The same politics that snubbed James Cameron’s Avatar on the grounds that it reminded people of America in Afghanistan.
Comparatively, Argo, that won the Best Picture this year, was a safe bet. It was a film that was so unanimously celebrated at every award, that the Academy members felt the pressing urge to make up for its mistake of not nominating Ben Affleck for Best Director. Argo showed an America that saved its citizens without having to fire a single bullet. And it was based on a true story.
A film not nominated for Best Director winning Best Picture is only proof of one thing: That Academy Awards are subject to the winds of change in mood and public opinion.
Because the nominations had set it up for Steven Spielberg to win Best Director with no threat in the category barring Ang Lee, for a film that won mostly technical nominations. No acting nominations. Or maybe because Richard Parker couldn’t technically be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
As solid as Lincoln is, with its running time of 150 minutes and genre (period drama that’s almost a conversation film), it is possible that it made for a difficult watch.
That brings us to the biggest factor. Luck.
An Oscar win only proves this much: That the film to win, was among the better films made that year, was also political correct, and popular enough to be endorsed as the best, and ultimately won because the others weren’t as lucky.
And it takes a lot of grace to admit this.
Ben Affleck displayed just that in his acceptance speech: “I want to acknowledge Steven Spielberg, who I feel is a genius and a towering talent among us. I want to acknowledge the other eight films, there are eight great films, who have as much a right to be up here as we do. I want to acknowledge them for what they did and thank them and many of them who didn’t even get nominated this year.”
Or as Ang Lee said: Thank you, Movie God.
Because these gentlemen know.
That an Oscar is not reward for best film or best director. It’s an award presented by a bunch of people who are going on record about their favourite film / director of the year, for reasons best known to them.
If it would ever be possible to prove that one film is really better than the other — scientifically — someday, then maybe the maverick filmmaker with 23 Oscar nominations and four wins would indeed show up and walk up the stage when he hears the words: ‘And the Oscar goes to Woody Allen’.