Oscars 2012: Grumpy Old Men
Forty-seven percent fresh. Certified rotten. Such is the current state of Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on Rotten Tomatoes, bastion of quality for all widely released films whether they like it or not. While the Fresh/Rotten scorecard has ostensibly replaced the greater Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down of the last great critic revolution, it arguably is not the most accurate way to measure critical mass; the yea or nay of it all is a bit black and white with little wiggle room. But even the more granular aggregate of Metacritic places Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at a 46/100, making it the worst reviewed film to be nominated for Best Picture in ten years. While this alone is quite startling, what’s far scarier is that this nod is yet another move in the downward spiral of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and their disconnect from what films have made an impression in a calendar year and will continue to make an impression for years and decades to come.
Whiffs of the sorry state of the Academy could be smelled way back in 2005 when the over-hyped, over-rated, and over-the-top Million Dollar Baby won for Best Picture. The reign of Paul Haggis continued the following year when Crash won, demonstrating that the Academy thought they were awarding the movie that was most challenging and artistic when really, Million Dollar Baby was just a soap opera-stylized Rocky and Crash was as heavy-handed as any PSA on racism, just dressed in dirtier clothes. And where is Paul Haggis’s heavy-hand now? His last two films (In the Valley of Elah and The Last Three Days) were critical and commercial stinkers and the TV adaptation of his Oscar winner Crash was quickly put out to pasture. There is no longevity in a film like Crash. Even now, only six years on, it feels as dated as Driving Miss Daisy.
Voters redeemed themselves in years that followed, giving trophies to The Departed and No Country for Old Men in separate years and nominating one of the most challenging and artistically unique films of the last decade, There Will Be Blood. There, at least, are three films and filmmakers that have and do stand the test of time. But unfortunately this is more the exception rather than the norm. For every No Country For Old Men, there is a The Hurt Locker or a The King’s Speech. This year is yet another reflection of that same tired mentality, though it seems magnified to an extreme more than any other year. Take The Artist, for example; a fine, lovely film, but one that is classic catnip for the Academy; it is uplifting and feels original even though it’s really not (let’s be fair – Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson have been doing these types of “throwback” films, harkening to older styles of filmmaking, their entire career; the main difference being it is expected of them because they consistently raise the bar with each film they complete). Same goes for The Help, which thematically is merely the much-maligned Crash for the Soccer Mom set, stuffed into an easy-to-swallow caplet.
And what of Demian Bichir, who is a great actor in his own right (his performance in In the Time of the Butterflies is not easily forgotten), but seems to have come out of nowhere to steal the last Best Actor slot from the likes of Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender, two actors who have delivered a pair of shining performances in two of the year’s best films (Drive and Shame, respectively), neither of which were nominated for much of anything this year. Which really is the core of what is wrong with the Oscars this year – the snubs tend to speak more toward the sad state of affairs than the nominees themselves.
While Gosling and Fassbender’s snubs are disappointing, there are larger, more inexcusable disses this year than ever before. Nick Nolte has been recognized for his work in Warrior, but what of the rest of the cast, or the entire movie itself. Creatively, Warrior was quick to take down and submit The Fighter, a best picture nominee last year that somehow caught mad fire while adding nothing of value to the boxing movie archetype. Warrior is everything that The Fighter should have been and what is its reward for all that hard work? A single nod. But perhaps the biggest snub of the year is for Drive, which is easily the most original, most unique, and best reviewed movie of the year. It currently sits at a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, an 80 on Metacritic, and is one of the few films this year to be listed in the Top 250 on IMDB along with The Artist and Hugo, and for its originality, it is not given a single nomination in any of the big categories. In its stead, a middling melodrama about a boy trying to reconnect with his father who died on 9/11. When you say it like that, it’s understandable why Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close connected with Academy members, whose average age is around 60 years old. Knowing that, it’s a small miracle that movies as forward thinking as The Social Network or There Will Be Blood are even recognized at all.
While the Academy has always been known for its “safe” choices, awarding Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas or Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan, their arbitrary choices and old-school tastes seem to be rotting the foundation from the inside out, pushing it ever further toward the irrelevant circle-jerk that the Golden Globes have become. While the prestige of an Oscar will never tarnish, enthusiasm will continue to erode until the whole song and dance becomes nothing more than a glorified Secret Santa office party, with everyone patting each other on the back, giving awards for “Most Enthusiastic” and “Favorite Lunch Friend.” Until then, we can only hope that the Oscars get put into a forced turnaround which will give them time to reevaluate their choices and how they will look in the pantheon of other Oscar winners of years past, the ones that were truly deserving of those shiny gold statues and not just the flavor of the week.
Bask in the self-congratulation of this year’s Oscars telecast, Sunday, February 26 at 7/6c on ABC
Stick with Poptimal for more coverage of the 2012 Academy Awards
Images courtesy of Warner Bros., FilmDistrict, Lionsgate, Dreamworks and IMDbPro
Originally published January 27, 2012.