Sunday, March 6, 2011

And the Oscar Goes To...

Last Sunday, February 27, 2011, the voters for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters chose “The King’s Speech” as the Best Picture of 2011. “The King’s Speech” won a total of four awards, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay as well. In the middle of January it looked like it was going to be a sure fire victory for “The Social Network”, but as February continued “The King’s Speech” started gaining momentum by winning awards at Producers, Directors, and Actors guild’s. When you look at the Academy’s track record, it was all too obvious that “The King’s Speech” was going to win. It’s an excellent period drama that is uplifting and shows one man’s struggle and triumph over a personal problem, in George the sixth’s case, his stutter. The Academy in the past has made the obvious choice of the more “uplifting” and “feel good” film, but have they always been right? Certainly I can’t argue with the Academy’s choice for “The King’s Speech” to win Best Picture (I can argue with Tom Hooper winning Best Director over David Fincher, but whatever) because I think it is one of the best historical films of all time and without a doubt one of the best films about a man overcoming his disorder since “My Left Foot.”

In the future when cinema lovers look back on the Best Picture winners, will they see then what we see in “The King’s Speech” now? When I look back on the crowd pleasing British films that have won best picture like “Chariots of Fire” and “Gandhi”, they come off quite dull and underwhelming, they may not be “bad” films by any means, but they just don’t seem to deserve the acclaim they received. There are also times where the Academy simply chose the wrong movie, like “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas”, “Ordinary People” over “Raging Bull” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” over “Apocalypse Now.” Perhaps with the latter, it was taken into account that Frances Ford Coppola had two films take home the Best Picture statuette already in that same decade with “The Godfather” in 1972 and with “The Godfather Part 2” in 1974. All of the films I just mentioned that won Best Picture are excellent in their own way, but since time has passed, they’re not quite as memorable as their fellow nominees. That’s what I am afraid will happen with “The King’s Speech.” This is only because of the significance that “The Social Network” has to this time period. Though, I don’t think that “The King’s Speech” will become dated like a lot of naysayers believe. What “The King” has over all of the other films of its nature that have won Best Picture is a solid amount of humor and a superb screenplay that makes a story about a British king easy for everyone to relate to. 

I don’t think that the Academy should lose any sleep over making the obvious choice for the Best Picture Oscar, not this year anyway. But when I glance back at the list of films that have been crowned the top prize in the past I cocked my head sideways and said, “Whaaa’?!” So, here are some not so bright choices the Academy has made for Best Picture.

"Oliver!" 1968

After the ending of the production code era for Hollywood in 1967, the Academy was tired of all those “realistic” films that were excellent representations of the time period. In 1968, a very weak year for the Best Picture nominees (a list that completely neglected “2001: A Space Odyssey”) the Academy went with “Oliver!.” Compared to all of the films being released in 1968 that had an authentic appeal to real life, the Best Picture Oscar ended up in the lap of a film that played like it was already extremely out of date. Even though “Oliver!” was a weak choice, this film is still interesting to watch out of curiosity. It may be dated but, this musical adaptation of the classic Dickens tale still plays with some of the joy of the Hollywood films of yesteryear.  Grade: B-

 "Out of Africa" 1985
“Out of Africa” is a dull, bloated and overlong film with a completely forgettable storyline; it’s a wonder that the Academy even stayed awake to see the offensively predictable ending. The director, Sydney Pollack and his cinematographer frame every shot with care and respect for the beauty of Africa, but didn’t bother paying any attention to the un-involving affair that blossomed between an overacting Meryl Streep and an ultra bland performance by Robert Redford. “Out of Africa” is one of the most gorgeously photographed films of all time, too bad it’s a drag to sit through. Grade: C

 "Gladiator" 2000

Ridley Scott is a great director and Russell Crowe is a great actor, it’s too bad they both got awarded for the wrong movie. “Gladiator” is best described by Roger Ebert as “the story of ‘Rocky’ on downers.” Well, he is exactly right. I find “Gladiator” to be no more than a mindless Saturday afternoon film. It’s well made, but ultimately too grim and too similar to the overrated “Braveheart”, which took home the same award five years prior. Grade: B-… Check out Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” and Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” to see their artistic abilities done right.

"The English Patient" 1996
“The English Patient” is a dull, bloated and overlong film with a completely forgettable storyline; it’s a wonder that the Academy even stayed awake to see the offensively predictable ending… Wait, did I repeat myself? Once again, this film is gorgeously shot, but the central storyline about the Ralph Fiennes character that is burnt to a crisp from an airplane accident and is upset about some woman he lost is such a bore to watch that my eyelids became so heavy I couldn’t hold them up. The storytelling is quite lazy and unoriginal; the whole plot is revealed via clunky flashback style. I may revisit this film one day to see if it will grow on me, but I doubt it. Grade: C-

"Forrest Gump" 1994
I know I’m alone on this one, I’ve probably seen this film more times than any other movie in my life, but as I have become more and more infatuated with cinema, the more my childhood attachment to this film has worn off. What kind of a man is Forrest Gump? Many have said that Forrest Gump represents America. What the hell? So America is kind of retarded, but not really? No way would the Army let a man of minimal intelligence enlist, but oh well. I also don’t care for how this film uses melodramatic clichés in an attempt to relate to the people that pass away around us. Mama dies of cancer and Jenny dies of AIDS! Forrest Gump is a flat movie character who shows know real change after all the history he experiences; he doesn’t even understand what went on in his generation.
But hey, I’m not completely out of the loop. This film is well made by Bob Zemeckis and all of the scenes where they place Forrest in the archival footage are always fun to watch. I also enjoy Gary Sinise’s work in the film and the humor, even if it is uneven and overrated. Grade: C
 Did I mention that this film beat "Pulp Fiction", "Shawshank Redemption", and "Quiz Show" for Best Picture? That's almost repulsive to think about.

"Crash" 2005

I have had something nice to say about all of the films that I have wrote about so far, but when it comes to the disgustingly overrated “Crash”, I have trouble coming up with anything nice to say other than Matt Dillon is excellent in it. Just thinking about Paul Haggis’s film makes me sick. It offends all the senses, from its exploitation of melodramatic clichés, to its complete misrepresentation of the human race, “Crash” tries to teach us a lesson our school system’s tried to teach us; racism is bad. Every character just happens to be utterly racist, and every five seconds someone is shouting a racial slur and running or crying or shooting or almost blowing up in a car accident in slow motion. The film is trying to show that every human has subtle racist tendencies because of stereotypes, which is true. But every argument in the film boils completely out of control up to a ridiculously laughable conclusion where it literally starts snowing in Los Angeles. Then, in the last seconds of the film, a car wreck happens and one of the minor characters that we met earlier in the film, a black woman offensively named Shaniqua Johnson, gets out of her car and starts screaming a racist remarks to an Asian woman. That comes off to me that Haggis thinks there is no hope for the human race. The real message of “Crash”, “Every human is a back stabbing racist until someone gets killed out of stupidity or some sort of really bad thing happens to make you realize that it wasn’t about race at all because we’re all humans”, is delivered in a completely ham-fisted and eye rolling manner. WHAT WAS THE ACADEMY THINKING? To the worst Best Picture winner of all time: Grade: D-

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