Hollywood is looking back and outside. For inspiration? Or a market?
“Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Woody Allen nails it on the head with that line in Midnight in Paris, one of the nine films nominated for this year’s Oscars, that look back at a different period. In a way, his is THE most relevant film of our times, and that quote a single line review of what cinema is going through, at least artistically.
Check it out:
The Artist: Looks back fondly at the silent era when cinema was on cusp of change
The Descendants: Looks back at the land your ancestors owned when family was more important than anything else
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: Looks back at a time before 9/11, trying to hold on to the memory
The Help: Looks back at the period when the coloured finally spoke out against the racist system
Hugo: Looks back at a time when the magic of cinema triumphed in the face of adversity and war and survived
Midnight in Paris: Looks back as denial of the painful present as already established by the quote from the film
Moneyball: Looks back at the recent past when sport changed focus from experience to science and economics
Tree of Life: Looks back to the creation of the universe to understand the purpose of life
War Horse: Looks back at a period when brave soldiers were sent away from home to an uncertain future and actually came back
Not just these films, even some of the other films nominated this year look back at a different period (My Week With Marilyn, The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs) as if conflicts of today are too painful to address. The only other explanation is that the Academy members are getting really old and senile and like most old people start are clinging on to the past: “Those were the days…”
Maybe the studios have figured out that surest way to win an Oscar is to look back at “those days” that the old folk at the Academy like to talk about.
Looks like Hollywood is in no mood to discuss what’s happening in America today. Maybe it’s too painful and disturbing to talk about. There are only so many films you can make about the disintegrating family unit (sample: We need to talk about Kevin) and most of them end up as tense, dark and disturbing family dramas made for Sundance. You need to keep these things light these days. Ask Alexander Payne (The Descendants).
After all, art is always connected to commerce in Hollywood.
So what is Hollywood up to these days apart from tapping into/rebooting its comic book franchises?
It’s trying to seduce the rest of the world, going global for stories and expanding its market. Again, check this out:
The Artist: Considering how resistant the art-loving French have been towards big bad Hollywood, this was the perfect opportunity to build bridges, one that Hollywood wasn’t going to miss. It didn’t win any of the big technical awards but the major awards won suggest it won their hearts.
Hugo: Set in Paris, this one was made to encourage more filmmakers outside Hollywood to use the 3D format. Wim Wenders, Herzog and Scorsese have been the biggest ambassadors for 3D to the world. Not surprising that 3D cinematography was rewarded.
The Help, War Horse & Real Steel: 11 nominations in all for films produced by Dreamworks and Reliance Entertainment, one of the biggest players from India picked for Best Picture (two of them without a Directing nod – clearly a bone thrown to the studio)
Midnight in Paris: The Academy prefers Woody Allen’s films set in Europe (Vicky, Christina, Barcelona) over his Manhattan films of late. Rewarded with a Best Original Screenplay and a well-deserved one at that, considering it is the most relevant film that reflects on art and who we have become.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Fincher stays faithful to the Swedish backdrop to capitalize on the popularity of the books around the world and kickstart a big budget Hollywood franchise with James Bond himself. And rewarded with a big Technical award for Best Editing.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2: Oh, well. Goodbye finally.
My Week With Marilyn & The Iron Lady: Hollywood productions in the UK, rewarded with nominations and at least a win for an American white actor (while a coloured actor beat her white co-nominee with a Best Supporting Actor for a film about race).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A popular UK-based franchise/production that got a token nod for an British actor.
Albert Nobbs: A Hollywood production in Ireland.
A Separation: An nod outside the Best Foreign Language film, nominated for Best Original Screenplay and an award – the perfect opportunity to make a political statement to the Islamic world. That America loves them too. Ask Pakistan, they won something too tonight.
The fact that the Academy rewarded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon some years ago, Slumdog Millionaire a few years ago, The King’s Speech last year and now The Artist this year only further proves that Hollywood is large-hearted and looking to reward other cinemas in the world too.
Especially, if it translates to finding a market there and expanding its business.
They have succeeded India’s biggest entertainment company to invest in Hollywood already and rewarded it by letting the family walk the Red Carpet.
And that’s how the game is played.
If the final tally proves anything, it’s that Hollywood is saying: We have the best technology, you have something we find interesting once in a while. Let’s share the spoils together. We take five for Hugo set in Paris, you take five for The Artist set in Hollywood. You celebrate our cinema, we celebrate yours.
As the host Billy Crystal said right at the start of the Oscars, it’s all about channeling cinema for escape and making people believe that all is well with the world.
“So tonight, enjoy yourselves because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.”