I am not exactly crazy about the Oscars, and you will not see me tune in to watch an Academy Award ceremony any year soon. I subscribe to the popular point of view that it is more about the hype than about real quality (although I admit that many quality actors, directors and films have been justly recognized). The following is a reaction to a list from the Film Comment magazine.
1. Crash Paul Haggis, 2005: Despite of the fact that I derisively call it the “everybody-is-a-little-bit-racist” film, and has stereotypes that annoy me more often than not, I don’t think the film is bad. However, I do agree it did not deserve to be “best picture of 2005” either. It was well acted and directed, but the message was lacking something and made the whole racial prejudice message sound superficial while ignoring the systematic source at the bottom of these prejudices.
2. Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle, 2008: I love Danny Boyle and I love Indian cinema that does not recur to formulas. But this is not the best in either case. It bugs me that this film won Best Picture, when the far superior Trainspotting was not even recognized by the academy. Again, another proof of the Hype-based nature of the Oscars.
3. Chicago Rob Marshall, 2002: I have yet to watch it, so jury is out.
4. Forrest Gump Robert Zemeckis, 1994: This is one I disagree with. It was original enough; Zemeckis did a wonderful job with the story and Tom Hanks did a great performance. One of the few films I think deserved the recognition it got.
5. A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard, 2001: I enjoyed the movie, but other films have tackled the subject of mental illness a lot better and with less formulas and clichés than this one.
6. Gladiator Ridley Scott, 2000: I have yet to watch this one as a whole, but I have seen parts and I am not necessarily seduced by it, so I am inclined to agree.
7. American Beauty Sam Mendes, 1999: Another disagreement. It was quality and Sam Mendes put his personal mark in it. A mixture of great imagery, terrific acting and a wonderful juxtaposition of dark humor and poignant drama make this film a masterpiece.
8. Shakespeare in Love John Madden, 1998: Totally agree! It’s too saccharine and the acting ranged between mediocre and just-above-average (Sorry Gwyneth!)
9. Braveheart Mel Gibson, 1995: It is better if I don’t comment on this one. I endured boredom while watching this film. It is not even historically accurate!
10. Titanic James Cameron, 1997: What can I say about this film that has not been said before? Too long for what it had to offer in content; too clichéd; too saccharine, too overproduced… OK I better stop!
11. Driving Miss Daisy Bruce Beresford, 1989: I have yet to watch it, so I have no opinion.
12. Dances with Wolves Kevin Costner, 1990: Another favourite cliché from Hollywood that a friend of mine rightly calls “Whitey Saves the Day” complete, with the guy romancing a variation from Woman Of Color (white woman raised by people of colour). We have seen it before, and we will see it again for centuries to come!
13. The Greatest Show on Earth Cecil B. DeMille, 1952: I have yet to see it.
14. The King’s Speech Tom Hooper, 2010: It was not the best picture of the year, that’s true, but I would not list it as one of the worst winners either. It was well done.
15. The English Patient Anthony Minghella, 1996:
16. Amadeus Milos Forman, 1984:
17. Around the World in 80 Days Michael Anderson, 1956:
18. Chariots of Fire Hugh Hudson, 1981:
19. Gandhi Richard Attenborough, 1982:
20. Mrs. Miniver William Wyler, 1942:
Jury is still out in all these 6 last films, as I haven’t seen any of them.
Lessons: Lists are subjective, but so are the academies that give awards. While it is nice to be recognized, I think quality is not often as appreciated as popularity. The Oscars, in this sense, fell in the same trap than the Grammys.
The sad thing is that the lesson is obvious.