With the 2010 Oscars having finished, I thought I’d offer my opinions on the winners, and how they relate to the films I saw last year. In true Jackie Harvey Outside Scoop style, I’ll do this without having seen the ceremony itself, so nothing about dresses or speeches here, just the films.
First of all, it was very heartening to see The Hurt Locker win Best Picture and Best Director. The film may be a modern iteration of the post-Vietnam wave of war-is-hell films, but the level of skill and passion on display is undeniable. It’s a true cinematic experience that makes the audience feel all the sweaty, nightmarish tension experienced by its protagonists, and brilliantly shows the physical and spiritual toll taken by war. Its win shows that at least the Academy can actually look past formula and reward genuine film-making talent.
While that should be the message taken away, a lot of attention was paid to Kathryn Bigelow as the first female director to win Best Director. Gender shouldn’t matter in the world of cinema today, but it does, and to a shameful extent. The underlying attitudes in Hollywood seem to be that directing is a man’s game, and when women do it they should stick to fluffy rom-coms and costume dramas. This stereotype leapt to the foreground as reports on The Hurt Locker’s success at the Baftas and Oscars patronisingly concentrated on the “novelty factor” of a female director making a tough, violent action film. To Bigelow’s credit, her comments after winning managed to sidestep these attitudes gracefully, as she described herself as a filmmaker first, and hoped that her victory would inspire people of any gender to follow in her footsteps. An absolute class act.
Out of the expanded field of ten Best Picture nominees, there are three that I thought of as genuinely deserving: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man. The trouble is, they’re all deserving in different ways. Locker is a gritty, technically accomplished war film. A Serious Man is inquisitive, surreal and unique as only the Coen brothers can be. And Basterds has all of Quentin Tarantino’s sprawling genre-savvy vision, but with every part working perfectly together in the service of the whole. If A Serious Man is a beautifully painted miniature, Basterds is a gigantic, delirious work of pop art. (And to extend the metaphor, Locker is a Don McCullin photograph.)
Compared to 2007, the strongest showing for films in years, there’s very little cohesion. While the 2007 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director were split between No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood, the awards snubbed Zodiac and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. All four in my opinion have a claim to be among the best films of the decade, and all could be described as dark, violent dramas about the hollowness of the American dream (individualism, freedom, wealth, fame, reinvention of self). The best films of 2009 didn’t have the same thematic consistency.
As for the other awards, I was extremely disappointed to see In The Loop lose out to Previous for Best Adapted Screenplay. I haven’t seen Precious, but from trailers and clips, it looks a lot like the standard Oscar-formula Heart-warming Tale Of Triumph Over Adversity™. I’d take the scabrous, profane wit and breakneck plotting of Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche’s screenplay for Loop over that any day.
On a similar note, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet missed out on Best Foreign Language Film. Again, I haven’t seen the winner, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes – it could be just as good as A Prophet, if not better. But Audiard’s masterful prison drama is easily one of the best films of last year, creating a brutal, violent world but also leavening the grit with unexpected moment of lyricism and abstraction.
I actually object to the ghettoisation of foreign-language films, as I don’t believe subtitles necessitate a different categorisation. A Prophet is certainly able to hold its own among this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Tahar Rahim), Best Supporting Actor (Niels Arestrup), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing … you get the picture.
Anyway, I don’t see the Oscars as an infallible barometer of taste. Quite the opposite in fact, I view it as a happy accident when they get things right. With nominations for Basterds, District 9, and wins for Up and Locker, there are signs that the Academy is looking to reward less conventional and formulaic films. Here’s to more of that in future.