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.
Comparing two good movies and giving an award to one of them will all way end up controversial… but still, Hurt locker has to go down as one of the worst choices ever made in the history of the award…poor tarantino
Worst choice I wouldn’t say. Most risky, yes.
Although my pick is for The Social Network and David Fincher, I think The King’s Speech is equally deserving. It’s inspiring. Yes, that’s how the Academy works. But I see nothing wrong with that. They’ve never nominated bad films, they’ve only nominated good films and probably made safe bets, only with regard to awarding best picture by choosing films that are more likely to appeal to the average movie goer than the rest. Remember, anything that gets people to watch good films is only a blessing. The Academy does that. I don’t think the best picture choice is a big deal especially when a nomination itself gives the film as much buzz as it can get. The directors you’ve mentioned are artists with the exception of Nolan. He just makes GOOD commercial films. Inception had one-dimensional characters and so did Prestige. The ending of Inception is a cheap commercial trick used purely for the purpose of viral advertising. I really hate it when people ask me- Dude, What’s your take on the ending on Inception? Dude, I don’t care. I do agree he deserved a best director nomination over the Coens but best picture belonged to The King’s Speech. What I saw in it weren’t stick figures without personalities caught in a maze, I saw real people.
Titanic was an epic. My pick might be Good Will Hunting, but I certainly understand why everyone else thinks Titanic is better. Best picture is not rewarding a film that a bunch of self-indulgent intellectuals love and wildly campaign for. It’s about rewarding a film that is loved by both, the film buff and the average film goer.
I don’t know what you’re even talking about when you say The Hurt Locker features its protagonist fighting the odds. That wasn’t it at all. You should check it out again and try understanding the character instead of focusing on how you feel after the film is over. It’s a raw film, brilliantly made and it certainly wasn’t a safe pick by The Academy.
We’re all enraged that The Academy didn’t pick what “we” think the best of that category was. Best Picture is the least of my concern. You disagree with any other category, it might give rise to a healthy debate.
Inception has one dimensional characters i agree. But Nolan introduced us surrealistic world with endless possibilities. Its hard even to contemplate a world like this and to convincingly make a movie based on it is pure genius. Nolan got better and better with his movies. The ending might seem like a cheap commercial trick but the ending one must remember was the consequence of the things shown all throughout the film. Many subtle elements all through the film points to the ending. Ambiguity. That is what is achieved through the ending. Its a signature style used in many movies. The rest must be filled in by the viewer. And of course its a beautiful publicity strategy.
Shutter Island, another brilliant work of ambiguity and here you cant say the characters are one dimensional. The thin line of sanity and insanity drawn. The Academy dint even CARE about this masterpiece? Not even a nomination. Why ? It was too hard for them to catch up.
And Hurt Locker is thrilling and raw i agree. But its just a movie about an adrenaline junkie. That is it. Period. It doesn’t have any other big striking elements to it. Its a good movie. It deserved a nomination. But to project it as a war movie, fighting the odds thing was wrong.
Come on, Shutter Island wasn’t even close to being a masterpiece. If anything, Dicaprio could’ve been nominatd instead of Eisenberg or Bridges. Ambiguity isn’t synonymous with originality. Just check out Stone, it’s the most original film of 2010 and I’ve seen nothing like it. It is ambiguous and very original. Try getting your mind around it. I can assure you, most of the critics, Roger Ebert included missed the point. It really requires you to think and understand characters not go around making wall posts on facebook or discussing it with people you’ve met after a long time. Inception got all the nominations it deserved and it certainly deserved a best director nomination. Yes, it’s good fun and very entertaining but, you can’t relate to it. Hence, no best picture. I think The King’s Speech was the safest pick although years later it’ll be debated by film buffs just like Rocky vs Taxi Driver.
Also, The Hurt Locker was the most original film of 2009, so yeah. I think they should’ve given best picture to Up in the Air and best director to Bigelow.
Also, it isn’t just about an adrenaline junkie. Why do you think it’s called the hurt locker? The last few scenes are where the character is dug into. He sucks at dealing with the real world and people. Hence he retreats into the hurt locker, which is what he’s good at, defusing bombs. He’s more comfortable there because he’s an expert. Well, that’s what I took from the film.
” Best picture is not rewarding a film that a bunch of self-indulgent intellectuals love and wildly campaign for. It’s about rewarding a film that is loved by both, the film buff and the average film goer.”
See stats in the box. The film most loved by film buffs (IMDB rating) has not won nor has the film most praised by critics (Rotten tomatoes) won. The Hurt Locker, according to the average film buff (unless you mean a film buff who is averagely informed), is rated 7.8/10 by movie buffs on IMDB, one of the lowest rated among the nominated films.
Loved the article… Is the no of votes are the people who have voted in Imdb ?
Aren’t critics film buffs as well? I’m talking about the average movie goer who isn’t on imdb or on rottentomatoes but just needs to go see a good movie after a hard week. An” Oscar for best picture” would definitely influence his choice. Something that’s impossible to relate to like Inception or mind fuck( I mean that in a good way) like Black Swan is the last thing he needs. The Social Network isn’t the most feel good movie either. The reason I choose The Social Network is because it stands the test of time. The King’s Speech is relatively shallow in content. For the film buff, The Academy just brings about healthy discussion with other film buffs. He doesn’t need the academy to tell him what to watch because he will, in any case, check out all the nominees. If there’s something about best picture that you have to rant about, it should be about the ones snubbed. For eg., I think The Ghost Writer could’ve replaced the ever so ordinary True Grit. What do you think was snubbed, fellow film buff?
Sudhish , I too feel Black swan is over rated compared to other Afronsky’s movies. Swan is completely filled with cliches which we had seen in every other movie.
Mother telling her daughter ” I didn’t pursue my carrier because of you”
Sex/Masturbation/Lesbian is the only solution if you want to feel grown up.
I do agree on Rohit’s word that it is a mind fuck movie. I would rate inception far high than Black swan or for that matter American pie over Hurt locker.
Films like Black Swan get rewarded at the indie spirit awards. That balances it in my opinion.
How many of the movie buffs actually vote on IMDb..You can’t judge a movie by these internet rankings..And when a film like Inception gets nominated in the top 10 movies of the year something ought to be wrong with Oscar jury..Inception doesn’t even deserve to be in the top 20 films of the year..So the rating “8.9” is not justified…I always wonder what’s so special about Nolan films that people find it academy award worthy..”Christopher Nolan fans” are groupies and that doesn’t make his mediocre movies great… Other than that I can see your point..Yet generally speaking Best picture always go to a film with more melodrama and less substance..
maybe you dint understand what the movie was about!
You’re the smartest guy here.
All that talk is no good without mentioning ten films (since you said it’s not even worthy of top twenty) that are more deserving of Inception’s best picture spot.
At least True Grit,Black Swan,127 Hours,Shutter Island,Blue Valentine,The Social Network,Animal Kingdom,Toy Story 3,The King’s Speech,The Kids Are All Right,The Fighter,How To Train Your Dragon were better than Inception…
Even some of the fun movies were better than “Inception”….
Inception ran successfully for 125days in Chennai. Don’t you think the average film gore loved it?
Kamath: Good write up.
Take people above the age of forty and I’m sure only fifty percentage of the people would love it. The King’s Speech is the safest bet. The Academy has to keep its credibility and at the same time reward the almost most deserving film.
hi, very intresting discussion… so would like to provide some figures.
approx 20cr box office and almost 12 lac people watched inception in India … out of 12 lac almost 30% people were from southern cities-Banglore, Chennai and Hydrabad. movie didnt work at all in hindi dubbed.
60 to 65%% people who watched inception are from delhi,guargaon, Mumbai and Pune.
Just one nitpick. Inception is not an intellectual movie.
Okay i don’t get what part of commercialism you saw in Inception, but i bet that it had a solid screenplay and a story better than what was in the King’s Speech(About a king who had to regain his stuttering voice to inspire the people). Nolan’s movies transcend a pattern and this one had a pattern which yu failed to recognize. If you want to watch Character movies i guess that’s good too. But it was one rare movie that satisfied the movie buffs and the critics like Sudish pointed out, sir!
What part of commercialism? Disguised commercialism. Nolan surely pulled the wool over your eyes. Don’t worry about it, you’re not alone. I still agree it’s a good commercial movie but it still is a commercial and films are a form of art, so a nomination is as much as it deserves to get.
Okay, i don’t intend to start a debate.
Nolan’s movies have a concept defined.
Memento – Facts over memories, this is what the protagonist thinks! Memories over facts is what we find out instead.
Prestige – About the greater of the magicians, not about the sacrifice. We find that it’s sacrifices that we make that counts! Not the other way.
Dark Knight – Truth is what people seek. In the end, Batman says People deserve more than the truth. They don’t need the truth.
Inception – Totem defines Dream and reality. But you re confused as to what is real and what is not by the ending. So, if people ask you what the ending was, there you GO! That is how the movie defines it’s success. No one talked about King’s Speech after it ended. No one bothered about Black Swan, Avtar. But i agree to one line of yours – I don’t care about the Best Picture. Oscar runs it’s own. People always will crown Nolan, Aronofrsky, Lynch for who they are and what they did to Hollywood.!
I watched Black Swan last night at Satyam which I felt was one of the better films in recent times though a little cliched at the end. Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman deserve kudos but the screenwriters could have done a better job not because the film doesn’t have engaging scenes.
It does, though it looks very much INDIE. But dying for a “dream” is as old as the hills. Also, The storyline “A DREAM THAT TURNS INTO AN OBSESSION” is well conveyed that you feel right from the beginning. Otherwise, the abstract qualities and expressionist approach shows the auteuristic qualities of the director better.
Slumdog Millionaire is obviously a poor choice, but i wouldn’t say its the case with the history of Oscars.
I haven’t seen Kings Speech yet, but i wouldn’t say Inception deserved a win either. For me, Nolan’s best is still ‘Mementos’ and ‘Prestige’.
Comparing Inception and Kings Speech based upon the number of votes might not be appropriate. Inception was officially released on 16 July 2010 in US and Kings Speech on 24th December 2010 in US. So comparing the number of votes with a movie which was released 6 months earlier looks inappropriate.
With respect to numbers, may be its Okay to compare Black Swan vs Kings Speech as both these movies got released in less than a weeks time.But again it depends on what numbers we look into. Rotten tomatoes has a better rating for King Speech than Black Swan. Based upon Rotten Tomatoes critics/movie buffs rating, can we say Kings Speech a better movie than Black Swan ? I haven’t seen both, so i cannot comment on the movie itself.
But all said and done, Oscars like any other awards is just an opinion of a few people. For a lot of movie buffs, these awards are not an epitome or a measuring scale.
It could be a recognition/appreciation for the movie makers (though i doubt if its the case all ways), but for a normal movie lovers like me, what matters is the feel we get after watching a movie. It doesn’t matter whether it was an Oscar winning or it tops the IMDB top 250 list of all time.
Isn’t it a known truth in India that Slumdog Millionaire is not the best of Rahman?
I felt that The Black Swan was very entertaining and thrilling but it was messy and incoherent. It looked like a collection of stunning scenes that were randomly arranged. Inception has to be appreciated for the freshness of screenplay and the Nolan’s conviction in the taste of the audience. I feel that it is a tad too overrated.
The Social Network was by far the best movie of the year and will be appreciated even after 50 years whereas The King’s speech will be forgotten after a few months. Nobody talks about The Hurt Locker now whereas Avatar will be remembered forever. The morons in the academy have always chosen safe and uncontroversial films like TKS over dark and edgy films like TSN.
For me it was more disappointing to see Tom Hooper win the Best Director award over David Fincher. Hooper was the least deserving in that category. I hope the academy doesn’t make up for it by honoring Fincher for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We don’t want them to do another Scorsese.
Loved this post. Loved reading the comments too. I have this to add.
I think when Steven Spielberg went on stage to announce the best movie oscar, he understood it’ll split the audience. Maybe that is why he had the following to say while announcing the best movie.
Tonight, one of the nominated movies will join On the waterfront, midnight cowboy, godfather& deer hunter while the rest 9 will join Grapes of wrath, citizen kane, the graduate & raging bull. He had to wait a few seconds for the prolonged applause to subside before announcing the nominees.
I remember these words so well because I just could not choose between black swan & inception to cheer for. Those words put things in perspective for me.
Nolan, Lynch & Aaronofsky give a flying eff what the academy thinks about their movies. In fact, they mustnt care a dime as to what the audiences think either. Its this irreverence which makes their movies so lovable. If we were to leave the nourishment of cinema to the academy, I would have changed my passion long ago. Award or no award, I had a satisfying 2010.