Do you judge people by their taste and choice of films? You ought to, especially if they are in charge of judging themselves, critics included. Just who are these people who, year after year, give away the most prestigious of all awards to a film that neither the movie buffs loved most nor the one that critics loved the most. Take a look:
Clearly, the Academy voters have a mind of their own.
It has been widely reported that their average age is 57, they comprise of more men than women and over 20 per cent of them are actors. Many of them own real estate on Mulholland Drive but are uncomfortable seeing their own face in the movies.
So what kind of films do they like? Since the selection process requires them to watch the films on DVD at home, we hear that they tend to prefer the family friendly films over the ones that are dark in theme, feature graphic nudity or extreme violence or the ones that mess with your head.
No surprise then, that harmless underdog films like Slumdog Millionaire (2009), The King’s Speech (2011) and A Beautiful Mind (2001) have beaten films that have actually required some amount of thought and intellect – like Mulholland Dr. (2001), Black Swan (2011) or Inception (2011).
In fact, Mulholland Dr. was not even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (it got David Lynch a nod for Best Director though) because it took Hollywood head-on and frustrated the intellectually challenged with its abstract narrative. Ten years later, nothing has changed.
David Lynch, this year, was replaced by two auteurs who continued to defy convention – Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan – and it’s their turn to be ignored. Nolan was not even nominated for Best Director. Like Lynch, both Aronofsky and Nolan have refused to explain their films.
The beauty is that all three films — Mulholland Dr., Black Swan and Inception — challenge your perception of fantasy and reality as the filmmakers blend the real with the surreal to explore the subconscious of the dreamer/creator/artist. All three films are about what they lose to get what they want. They mark the death of love and innocence in the pursuit of that seemingly impossible dream.
If Lynch’s heroine marked the cold-blooded murder of an artist/actor after her seduction into stardom (with all three actors playing different dimensions of the same person — the aspiring actor who dies, the starlet responsible for the murder and the failed actor of the future haunted by guilt), Aronofsky’s heroine sees the death of innocence as a necessary incidental sacrifice. (There’s a lesbian scene here as well to signify the seduction — only that the seduction is an integral part of the coming of age and transformation from a frail girl living her mother’s dreams to a self-loving woman haunted by the destiny of the one she has replaced. Interestingly, all three women, like in Mulholland Dr., are dimensions of the artist’s past, present and future.) Nolan’s hero, meanwhile, is stuck in a limbo of the future, and haunted in the present by the death of love and innocence after creating the perfect world in the past. As Vanilla Sky, another film in the same genre tells us: The sweet is never as sweet without the sour. This year, The Social Network, David Fincher’s dark tale of modern-day ambition and flexible morality, was not politically correct either. Obviously, the elderly do not take kindly to such darkness.
Since most nominated films are a mix of the most popular films of the year (like The Lord of the Rings or Avatar or Inception) at one end of the spectrum and the indie hits from Sundance at the other (like Winter’s Bone or The Kids Are All Right or Juno or Little Miss Sunshine or Precious) with some safe critically acclaimed politically correct films pitched somewhere in the middle.
Obviously, they don’t want to seem dumb enough to always vote for the most popular film and are too prudish to vote for the extreme content of the indie film. What they are left with is the safe territory: Films that do not offend anyone and are seen as underdogs in the competition featuring protagonists fighting the odds – The Hurt Locker (2010), Crash (2005), Slumdog Millionaire (2009), Million Dollar Baby (2004), A Beautiful Mind (2001) or The King’s Speech (2011); Films that honour previously ignored filmmakers – The Departed (2006), No Country for Old Men (2007), Gladiator (2000) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) and the occasional sure-fire crowd pleasers – Chicago (2002) or Titanic (1997).
So, Messrs. Fincher, Nolan and Aronofsky, I am glad you didn’t play it safe to appeal to out of work, prudish old folk watching an upbeat film with family when they ought to be picking films that push the boundaries, films that are not scared to embrace darkness in their search of perfection, in their pursuit of beauty and as the quote from Black Swan goes: “Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so that you can surprise your audience. Transcendence.”
You gentlemen have managed just that.