The Oscars are coming, the Oscars are coming!
Each year I do my best to see all of the Best Picture nominees. I will say this to Hollywood: It's hard for those of us who don't live in LA or New York to actually see all of the nominated movies for actor and actress nominations when they aren't released to regular folks until AFTER they've been nominated, if at all. I mean, hey, you want us to tune in to the 9 hours of coverage on Oscar day, how about if you give us a chance to care about who's nominated and why?
Okay, rant over. I'm focusing on the Best Picture nominees. Each year I try to see them all. Granted, that doesn't happen always before the nominations are out, or before the awards are handed out. Why? Three reasons:
1) Many of the Best Picture nominees aren't available to fly over country before they are nominated.
This is problematic for one main reason: Are these movies really good, or does Hollywood figure no one is going to see them if they aren't nominated for Best Picture? For many years there were only five films nominated and everyone pretty much had either seen those films or knew of them. Since 2009 we've nominated 9 or 10 films and some of them are really, really, really small films that never hit theater screens outside of "limited release." Therefore most of us have to wait for the video release which often doesn't happen before the Oscars are handed out. This leads many of us to wonder if Hollywood really thinks these movies are the BEST or if they're just trying to generate interest in films that would never be seen if not nominated.
2011 comes to mind as a year that made us wonder. Of the nine nominated films I watched five from start to finish. Two I tried, I really did, but the Best Picture winner, "The Artist" angered me and "Tree of Life" confused me beyond words. I'm not a snob and if a non English speaking movie is truly the Best Picture, it should be crowned as such. But "The Artist" was a silent film, in black and white, with a cute dog...it was like they tossed all the gimmicks they could into one movie and then put wildly annoying music into it and tah dah, best picture. Yeah, not so much in my opinion.
A couple good surprises from this expanded nominations list came in 2010 "Winter's Bone" and 2013 "Nebraska." These are quiet films with solid casts that tell smaller, intimate family stories. Sure, "Nebraska" is in black and white. Just proves I'm not anti black and white movies. Both are genius films and neither would have much of an audience if Oscar hadn't included them on the Best Picture list.
2) Movies are expensive and it's easier, cheaper, and all around a better experience to stay home and rent the DVD.
When I was younger, and let's go back as far as 1993 before I had kids, I saw every movie released, and I saw them in theaters. Between 1982 and 1993 there just weren't many movies I didn't hit. Why? Going to a movie was social, it was a pretty decent date, and it was fairly inexpensive. For a couple bucks you could get to a movie share a popcorn and soda with your date or friend, and it didn't eat up your entertainment budget. Now, movie tickets range upwards up $10 a piece. Not a huge investment compared to live plays or concerts, true, but since going to a movie is a crap shoot, half the time you walk out saying, "So, I had to put in two hours at a job I hate to pay for that movie ticket to a movie I didn't like."
Matinees aren't the bargain they once were, either. They used to be half price if you got to the movies before 6 Pm. Now, you still get to pay $8 before 4 PM. More, if you wind up in a 3D or Ultra screen movie.
Conversely, buying a DVD/blu ray with a digital copy generally maxes out at $30. You can watch it a million times and the popcorn is free. With advances in TV picture quality and the explosion of surround sound systems, it just makes more sense to stay home and watch the movie. Besides, if you really hate the film, you can sell it back to the second hand market, recouping a couple bucks.
3) Blockbusters are a thing of the past...and nothing stays in theaters very long.
|Excellent Best Picture|
Massive blockbusters are few and far between "Titanic" "Avatar" are probably the last two truly universal massive films that have been nominated. "Titanic" is almost twenty years old and "Avatar" is six. Other movies in recent history have done well, but where's the "Oh you have to see this movie, everyone's seeing it" movie?
But what does any of this mean within the question of what is a "Best Picture?"
Well, as writers, we'd like to see a movie that's written well, with few mistakes and great dialogue. We'd like a good story well told. Sure, costumes, editing, cinematography are all vital, but a movie starts, first and foremost, as a story.
So far I've seen three of the eight nominated films this year, and I plan to see one more today. I've seen "Grand Budapest Hotel, " "Boyhood," and "The Imitation Game." If I had to pick from those three it would be "The Imitation Game" hands down. Why? Two reasons:
1) "Grand Budapest Hotel" is a Wes Anderson film. The man who brought us "The Royal Tennebaums" and "Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou." I get it that people love his films. I do not. I think they are the equivalent of the worst kind of name dropping. Anderson writes small parts for a hundred people and gets big name actors to work for five minutes. So he gets all the huge names in his movies, which brings people in, but his films are incoherent and narcissistic. If we give him an Oscar that will only encourage him to do more. I know I'm in the minority with this opinion, but I've stood by this opinion for decades. Incoherent storytelling is not a best picture.
2) "Boyhood" is a truly original concept: Filming a family drama that covers twelve years of a family's life...and do it in real time with the same actors. No one's done this before because no one's taken the time to do it. It's fascinating to watch the child actors, especially, grow up before our very eyes. There's a certain sense of reality attached to it, and that's fresh and original. The movie itself, however, is not fresh or original. It's another family drama about a broken family, a single mom, the kids' struggling through teen years. So, on story merit, this is not a best picture.
Is the "Imitation Game" a best picture? It hits all the marks for me, but I haven't seen all the competition yet. That'll be a project between now and the 22nd of February. I'm just not sure I'll have access to all the films...