The Oscars are basically the end of the cinematic Tax Year. Members of the Academy audit the past year’s offerings and dole out prizes to the very best films of the past 12 months. No stone is left unturned or movie unwatched in an effort to recognise excellence.
Of course this is what they want you to think. In reality the Oscars are voted for by – mostly – white old people who spend the majority of their working days jobbing on such films as Paranormal Transformers V: The Bloodening (warning: just in case you’re looking out for that film, it doesn’t actually exist) and need to honour ‘quality’ films to feel better about themselves, while also having a night, where they can pat themselves on the back whilst getting hideously drunk at numerous expensive parties.
I am not for a moment claiming there is necessarily anything wrong with this.
As inevitable as the Oscars are, it’s also inevitable that journalists such as myself do lists looking at the contenders, so that we can be vicariously involved with all the glitz and glamour, without the inconvenience of actually going to the ceremony.
So, let’s look at this year’s nominees for Best Picture, the majority of which are all based on true-to-life events (which always goes down well with voters as it proves the relevance of cinema to reality).
The biggest con that has been pulled is not the one on which this film is based. It’s by the filmmakers who have convinced everyone that this is a great film when – in fact – it’s not. Sure, it’s entertaining and disposable fun, but if putting on bad clothes, having a pot belly and not much hair, is a recipe for success, then I have the tools to be the greatest actor ever. A long shot for Best Film, though look for Jennifer Lawrence to pick up Best Supporting Actress and most likely swear on American TV in the process.
A quality film no doubt – with director Paul Greengrass showing his ability to show so much of tension on screen that you need a masseuse before you leave the cinema – but it doesn’t stand a chance. However, Barkhad Abdi has the type of story that Oscar voters love (born in Mogdishu, he worked as limousine driver and DJ before making his film debut acting against Tom Hanks and being bloody good at it) and he seems a good shout for walking off with Best Supporting Actor.
Incredibly earnest, well-acted. Everyone is going to fall over themselves to praise this film but no-one is going to go as far as giving this film an award, unless they want to complete Matthew McConaughey’s journey back from ‘stoned, bongo playing fool’ to ‘brilliant artist’ by giving him the Best Actor award.
Because ‘in space no-one can hear you give an acceptance speech’: this has to be considered a favourite because it is everything that people want to feel is good about Hollywood. It is a blockbuster with all the special effects and high concept drama, but it takes itself seriously so the American film industry can prove that it is in no-way shape or form ‘frivolous’. Sandra Bullock may also get Best Actress, though, by virtue of carrying almost the entire movie which – in the progressive and ground breaking roles that the forward thinking Hollywood film industry gives to women (note: this is sarcasm) – is something of a rarity.
Spike Jonze’s film about a man falling in love with an operating system is an inventive, clever, affecting and beautifully nuanced film with the technical futurism of Kubrick mixed with emotional depth. It won’t win a thing.
While this is replete with actors whose fine performances may have earned them extra respect for capping off long and distinguished careers (Bruce Dern and Stacey Keach amongst them) this is another low key film that will get loads of praise but little in the way of recognition. But if June Squibb does not get Best Supporting Actress, she should stand up in the middle of the ceremony and show the Academy what they missed (and to understand that you’re just going to have to watch the film).
Yet another year, another Oscar nomination for Judi Dench. This year’s most obviously British film (though Gravity is also classed as a British film though if that’s British, then I humbly invite you round my house for an all British feast of Burgers, Fries, Apple Pie and Coca-Cola) has the low-key nature and gentle humour that most people associate with UK cinema. Look for Steve Coogan – who is showing more and more that his skills lay beyond (often excellent) comedy characters – maybe getting Best Adapted Screenplay alongside co-writer Jeff Pope.
Rather uncharitably described as ‘White Guilt: The Movie’ in some quarters, Steve McQueen’s latest movie is that strange beast so beloved by the Academy. It is a stunning movie, full of great performances and a powerful story. But it is incredibly difficult to watch and enjoy as an experience. It’s going to be either this or Gravity winning the Best Film Award.
Martin Scorsese has already been given his Oscar after being denied in 1990 for The Goodfellas (I still have trouble believing it lost to Dances With Wolves) and his divisive film will no doubt have divided voters in the same way. Still, while Scorsese and DiCaprio don’t need Oscars anymore, it would be interesting to see Jonah Hill get a nod for Best Supporting Actor as he’d give a funny speech if nothing else.
Screenwriter William Goldman famously said about Hollywood that “No-one knows anything,” and this is never more so apparent than during the Oscars. So while I am undoubtedly wrong about everything above – look for it to be a tasteful ceremony with only the best and most quality films winning (ahem) – half the fun is in trying to second guess the voters. Because, at the end of the day, the party will go on, the winners will go home clutching a golden statuette and the rest of Hollywood will get up with a huge hangover the next day and get ready to go to work on Paranormal Transformers VI: This time it’s more personal than the last one.
Laurence Boyce is a British born film critic who lives in Tallinn. He has never been invited to go to the Oscars. He is not bitter about it. Honest.