Whenever I sit down to watch the Oscars I am impressed by how much I do not know about show business.
I remember the first time someone told me that films actually campaign the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for votes. I was shocked. As I turned to watch Phillip Seymour Hoffman walk down the red carpet via my television, I wondered how he felt about being asked by producers to take Academy members out to dinner in order to rally support for his performance. I worried, “Doesn’t that sully the whole process? What if he’s a great actor but has a lousy personality? Can charm and wit, or the serious lack thereof, influence a nomination? Just how far does this dog and pony show go?”
Apparently, pretty far. According to the New York Times, efforts are made to limit campaigning in order to protect the process. Direct calls to members, mailings that extol the virtues of the film, phone calls, and emails are strictly prohibited. It says nothing about dinner.
That is not to say that the Academy can be bought but the fact remains: "vote getting" is a political process. However, the process extends far further than what might be considered a glorified popularity contest. Members have to take into account not only the basic technological and dramatic virtues of the work of art they are considering — there is the body of work of the director(s) and/or producer(s); the relevance to our current political and/or cultural moment in time; whether the film is able to connect with a wide audience on a deep emotional level; how it supports the film industry as a whole; and its importance to American history.
I have also noticed there is a broad but meaningful theme that seems to arise every year in the Best Picture category. Sometimes it is redemption, other years, degradation. I believe this year it is conflict so great it must express itself in war. This is not to say all films that touch on issues pertaining to war will be nominated, but that the films most likely to be nominated are reflecting back to us our serious concern regarding why America is finding itself so often at war with the rest of the world, and what that means about our countries identity (and therefore our individual American identity) as a whole.
The film that explores this theme the most surprisingly, is Zero Dark Thirty. In this film director Kathryn Bigelow follows the story of the hunt for and death of one of America’s greatest enemies. I expected this film to be about rock star Marines who macho it up and save our country. Boy was I wrong. Not only does the film have an entirely different focus, it goes deep within the emotional dedication and passion that those without a gun possess. Because of her former win as Best Director, this film has every chance at being nominated. Elegantly shot and brilliantly edited it takes us all on an important trip, challenging the preconceptions of all who see it.
Because of its similar ability to take us inside the process of war, Argo will also be nominated. With this film, Ben Affleck has graduated to being a master at his craft, and the Academy always loves a young Cinderella story. Tense to the very end, we are forced to consider the dangerous game our country plays in foreign affairs and the all too human cost. Its nod to Hollywood cannot be underestimated. Who doesn’t like to think they saved the world?
One cannot argue that the president who forced through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is one of the most revered in our history, and with his film Lincoln, director Steven Spielberg has created a fine homage to the man. As we are taken inside the process of law, I found it impossible to not reflect on our own Congress and wonder about the back door machinations currently being employed. An important film for current generations as well as those to come, no longer will anyone wonder how hard it is to be the president when the country is so divided. When it comes to celebrating a body of work, Spielberg is without a doubt first in line in this group, but whether his film will hit all the buttons of the Academy is yet to be seen.
Another civil war is at the heart of the next film which I believe will be nominated, Les Miserables. Although the totalitarianism and elitism at the heart of the French Revolution is not yet America’s issue, they are issues that define us all the same: Europe’s hard won lessons have become America’s study guide of “What Not to Do.” There is no arguing that director Tom Hooper has made a gorgeous film and that his recent win for The King’s Speech gives this film, his follow up, a special edge but it relies a bit too much on close ups for my taste. That said, one cannot deny that the movie musical is now a force of dramatic storytelling with which to be reckoned.
Although it is a long shot, I think there is a chance the Academy will remember the power of the film The Dark Knight Rises and if they don’t … well, they should. It is without a doubt a film about the origins of war, exposing the dark heart of a revolution. It was hard not to see similarities to our current culture as both “Bain” capital and the Occupy movement took center stage. An emotional, epic event, this film reminded us of the power of film to affect us on a deep personal level, unsettling the strong and undoing the weakest amongst us to horrific end. Director Christopher Nolan created a film that may turn out to have the longest shelf life in the bunch.
There are many, many other films that I think should be nominated, but I chose these five based on the criteria that they dealt with the theme of war, a topic I think extremely relevant to our American culture at this moment in time. There is another theme, that of liberation from slavery, that I could write another article about and it would be just as valid an argument. Django Unchained is one of the best films on the subject ever made and deserves all the recognition it can get. I hope that it will get a nomination, but it is hard to say given that it may offend some people’s taste.
Other films that made my list but did not fall into the war category are The Master, Cloud Altas, Skyfall, The Sessions, Life of Pi, Flight, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Impossible. I believe all these will all be vying for a spot on the list of Ten Best Films of 2013.
Who will win? You’ll just have to watch to find out.