The only thing wrong with the Academy Awards is they make people hate perfectly decent movies. They generate a lot of cash and have become a small economy unto themselves, helping films get made that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day – but it all comes at a price.
How many times has it happened in the last five years that you’ve seen a film and thought something like “I’m glad they made that film” and not given it a second thought until it walks off with seven Academy Awards, at which point you have no option but to resent it for its pretensions to greatness, disown it when it comes up in conversation and frown over its flattening of far worthier competition.
So it is with Argo, which is a good film. It’s not my favorite film of Ben Affleck’s. I preferred The Town, a much faster animal, powered along by a humdinger of a performance from Jeremy Renner. As a piece of film-making, Argo marks a cautious advance in every department except casting; it really needed a loose cannon like Russell Crowe in the lead, to really put the fear of God into those hostages, instead of which we get Affleck, struggling hard to fit his gym-toned torso into seventies jackets and speak in his trustful, sotto voce hero voice. But the film ticks along nicely. If a friend said to you, “I hear the new Ben Affleck film is pretty good” and you saw it, you wouldn’t go “I’m never listening to that friend again”.
But now of course, it has won best picture, which means everyone has to hate it as a usurper in a slipping crown. Here’s Salon’s Andrew O Hehir:
In a year full of big, ungainly, ambitious movies that wrestle with questions of history, morality and philosophy, Argo is less than the sum of its parts … a self-smooching gift from the film industry to itself, a likable mainstream hit that possesses what critics sometimes call “movie-movie” qualities. It’s a real movie about a fake movie that makes a few lightweight observations about the similarities between spycraft and moviemaking, the two greatest let’s-pretend businesses of our age.
Except, have you seen Oscar winners recently, Andrew? After a few years in the late aughts spent panhandling the darker corners of the indie sphere for artful arrangements of arterial spray and brain spatter (The Departed, 2006), for the sight of people punching holes in each other with cow-punches (No Country for Old Men, 2007), or men hot-wiring their psyches to the adrenaline rush of war (The Hurt Locker, 2008), the Academy decided it wanted an easier life.
They wanted to put their feet up to song-and-dance numbers from the developing world (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008). They wanted kings learning to cure a stutter by saying the word “bugger” (The King’s Speech, 2010). Or silent matinee idols with furry sidekicks (The Artist, 2011). And now Argo, the Iranian caper from the good-looking producers with the made-up ending.
It bears repeating: Hollywood no longer makes the kind of movies that used to win Academy Awards, which is to say, mid-range, mid-budget humanitarian epics like Dances With Wolves, Gandhi and Driving Missy Daisy, about the moral efficacy of the individual – one person making a difference, in costume. As a genre, the ‘Oscar film’ is dead.
“The middle is toast,” as one Disney executive remarked recently. Steven Spielberg can get those films made, but even he was turned down by three studios for Lincoln, and two times by Daniel-Day Lewis until Tony Kushner’s script met with the actor’s approval.
The result was a movie shaped much more to its actor’s specifications than its director’s – you could almost feel Spielberg sitting on his hands during those in-absentia battle scenes, like a schoolboy ordered not to fidget – and the Academy punished him for it on Sunday night, stripping Lincoln of its 12 nominations to award it just two wins, for best actor and production design, which as good as said: masterpiece theatre.
The Best Director gong instead went to Ang Lee, for a piece of direction felt like it owed more to cinema’s future than its past: rendered with cutting-edge digital paint-box technology, in 3D, Life of Pi has flourished with an international audience made fluent in this new visual grammar by the likes of Avatar in 2009 and Hugo in 2011. The 3D phenomenon now has its king. It was one of the evening’s more satisfying calls, along with the wins for Day-Lewis, Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence, who at 22, reinforces the downward trend of the age of Best Actress winners. These were all worthy wins, if disappointing to those who wished to see Michael Haneke’s Amour play a big spoiling role in the Best Actress and Original script race.
Instead they gave Original Script to Tarantino, and backed it up with a second Oscar for Christoph Waltz – something of a puzzle, given the debt Waltz’s performance owes to his last Oscar-winning turn for Tarantino, in 2009′s Inglourious Basterds. Otherwise, the night will probably go down as the year Harvey Weinstein’s magic faltered. He provided the last two years with its Best Pictures, this year he was hoist by his own petard: having worked so assiduously to shape Silver Linings Playbook into the audience-pleasuring delight it is, he then found it hard to reverse direction and redress it as an issue movie about mental illness. Not even Harvey could pull off that handbrake turn.
At the end of the night, the wealth was shared as follows: four wins for Life of Pi, three for Argo, three for Les Misérables, two for Lincoln, Django Unchained and Skyfall, and one apiece for Silver Linings Playbook and Amour. Is it just me or did those films look better as a group than when standing on the dias on their own?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.