The Academy Awaits an Actual Winner
By Jacob Walters ’14, A&L Section Editor
The 83rd Academy Awards have come and gone. Although a few people, who all but knew they would win beforehand, are a good deal happier than they were when the weekend started, all in all, the Oscars this year amounted to sound and fury signifying nothing good. They did signify something big, but it isn’t what the Academy wanted. The Oscars served as a clear signal that the motion picture industry desperately needs a swift kick, one with the force of Nicolas Cage breaking out of hell in 3D (Damn right I mentioned “Drive Angry.”)

The Oscars serve to commemorate the pinnacle of the previous year of filmmaking. However, 2010 was a weak year for the motion picture industry, probably the weakest in a long while (although considering the strength of the cinematic output this past decade, there is some stiff competition for that award). The winners and the nominees this year show that, despite a number of high-quality productions, the 2010 lineup was missing anything in the way of a certifiable classic. Even merely great movies were a precious few. The nominees, in addition to the winners, of the most prominent awards reveal this quite clearly.

Starting with the obvious, The Big Kahuna, The Top Banana, The Robot Nixon, if you will, of movie awards: the Best Picture. “The King’s Speech,” the frontrunner, was a quality production with a masterful lead performance and a very good script, which created an energetic, inspirational (I shudder at the word) and altogether compelling drama.

Do I think they made a respectable choice? Maybe, although my favorite nominated film was “Toy Story 3.” The list of the 10 nominees reads like a list of very good films that any other year would have been mentioned in the nomination process but wouldn’t have held up against the big contenders, “The King’s Speech” included. The problem this year was that there weren’t any big contenders, any movies that really deserve a statue and would be remembered for years to come as an example of modern filmmaking at its finest. So the statue given to “The King’s Speech” felt less like an honor and more like a consolation prize.

The award fo Best Director fared largely the same this year; once again, despite strong showings by all the nominees, I’m hard-pressed to single out which is the best of the best. My vote would go to “Black Swan.” But in a better year, something else should and would have usurped that. Last year — not a great year for film either — alone had two easily more deserving films in “The Hurt Locker” and “Inglorious Basterds.”

In Best Actor, we finally find a major category where the winner would have had a strong chance in any year. Colin Firth is brilliant as King George VI, delivering a layered, complex and entirely compelling lead performance, which, more so than any other movie this year, represents how one aspect of the production can elevate a good movie to a great one. Unfortunately, the poor quality of 2010 films rears its head again in the fact that his virtual lock for the award was as much a statement of the lack of other amazing performances as it was of the mastery exhibited by Firth in the role.

Similar to Best Picture and Best Director, I wouldn’t necessarily say the winner for Best Actress, Natalie Portman, doesn’t deserve it. But she isn’t far ahead of anyone else. She was impressive, as were the nominees on the whole. But she, in addition to the other nominees, didn’t necessarily blow me away. Michelle Williams was very good in “Blue Valentine,” but the movie’s power and its ability to break your heart came from its brutally honest script. Likewise, Jennifer Lawrence provided a deeply focused, simultaneously impassioned and sedate performance beyond her years in “Winter’s Bone.”

If the academy judged based on quality of performance in relation to the age of the performer, Lawrence would be well up there with this past decade’s finest. But, as is, her performance is an indicator of future things to come, but not necessarily in itself award-worthy. Portman deserves the prize, as her performance is great. But she doesn’t truly become the human being she portrayed in a way that makes one say that she needed to win the Oscar.

The twin awards for “The Fighter,” Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, were handed out rightfully to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo respectively. Both Leo and (especially) Bale invest themselves in their roles in “The Fighter” and both essay very believable, human figures. Bale’s performance, which is entirely believable and utterly heartbreaking, in particular would be the only other award besides Firth’s which would have likely held up in past years as a lock. Leo is very, very good as well and deserving of her statue. But, where in previous years the doubt regarding the winner would have come from the quality of the other performances, the only doubt any one had for her win was caused by her somewhat childish and simply silly self-advertising.

Best Original Screenplay is unquestionably the category I am most disappointed about. As a cynic and a person who has largely disavowed the Oscars as a means of deciphering the Best Picture (they usually get the nominees about right, but the winner is another story), I usually turn to the screenplay awards to see which screenplay the Academy feels deserves an award independent of the buzz and public opinion surrounding the bigger awards. Despite the Academy’s willingness to honor less prominent motion pictures in these categories, the award for Best Original Screenplay went to “The King’s Speech” this year, which, despite its high quality, likely wouldn’t have even been nominated any other year.

Although, I’m tempted to blame the Academy for this one, the blame once again lies in the movies themselves. Looking at the nominees, I see good and very good screenplays, but no great ones (yes, that includes you, “Inception”). Had a truly dynamite original screenplay been turned into a movie this year, then perhaps “The King’s Speech” would have faced heavier competition. Also worth noting: “Toy Story 3,” a movie which I think deserved the Best Original Screenplay, was included in the Adapted Screenplay category for “Characters based on ‘Toy Story 1’ and ‘Toy Story 2.’” Clearly, if this tells us one thing, its that the Academy needs a new award called Least Adapted Screenplay.

Which brings me to Best Adapted Screenplay, the only award which I was truly intrigued by this year. With at least four of the five nominees (excepting “127 Hours,” a very good movie regardless) deserving of a nomination in an even better year, this was the only category which really had me wanting to see who won. Deep down, I knew it would be “The Social Network,” a movie which I underesimated upon first viewing, and I can’t say it didn’t deserve it when it did win. The difference here is that “Toy Story 3”, “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone” were all strong contenders which deserved their respective nominations for quality rather than for the quality of the other films surrounding them. Although I would have been pleased to see “Winter’s Bone.” a movie which I feel will be looked upon with more appreciation in future years, win, the category, and the choice for winner, was solid regardless.

Usually, when I can’t decide which movie I want to win an Oscar, its because two or three have me trapped, and I refuse to concede the quality of any to the others. It forces me to really think about the merits and shortcomings of the movies. This year, I again couldn’t decide which movies should win a number of the awards, including Picture, Director, Actress and Original Screenplay, but this time it was not because of how great two or three of the movies were in any of the categories. It was because of how all the “best”movies were consistently only very good, and, when people look back on 2010 in film years from now, that will be a real shame.

Issue 17, Submitted 2011-03-02 01:03:13