10:54 PM

The Academy for the People!

So I'm a media communications major who is frustrated with the film world right now. Why, you ask?

The Academy Awards.

Ok, perhaps it is a bit harsh to rag on the entirety of the film world. I still like Pixar. And Jim Henson. And Noah, that creator of "Fish Hooks" that I met while interviewing on the Disney studio lot. But film critics, film students, and the film elites, yup, you make the black list right now.

This season, the 82nd Oscars will premiere with quite a few unexpected items on the list. For one thing, the Best Animated Feature now has 5 nominations instead of 3, thanks to over 16 movies entering for a coveted spot. No issues with this on my end, go animation!

Best Director sees Kathryn Bigelow, with "The Hurt Locker", as the first female director to be nominated AND supported by the DGA. Again, no issues! I'm all for more females coming into the business, and it's her first movie? Even better.

Best Picture. This is where the problem emerges. Especially among the critical eyes of the critic and film student.

The Best Picture category is now 10 slots instead of the traditional 5, for very vague reasons. Most of us think it's to get more publicity. Probably true. But the nomination list is what's getting film students and film critics annoyed. "Avatar", "The Blind Side", "District 9", "An Education", "The Hurt Locker", "Inglourious Basterds", "Precious", "A Serious Man", "Up", and "Up in the Air".

The real problems for most people seem to be "Avatar", "The Blind Side", "Up", and possibly "District 9". And while I at first agreed that "Avatar" was an odd choice, as it's not very original, I got to thinking about why these movies made it this year (not that I don't think "Up" couldn't make it normally - it honestly is one of the best movies of the decade, it's just that people seem to hate animation being a 'serious' movie). A lot of film students say these movies are considered this year because they are box office hits. And yes, that's true, they were hits.

But did anyone stop to think: maybe...just maybe, the Academy is finally realizing that movies are for the people?

I can see film students falling, flailing, at the thought of society amounting to nothing more than "Avatar" as fine entertainment. "It's Dances with Wolves all over again!" they cry. "Avatar" can't POSSIBLY be art. Art is high, noble, lofty, and wait, what was that under your breath? Not understood by most people?

I disagree.


In fact, I think that art is supposed to reach people, EVERY type of person, and mean something to them. That's what art is. I hate modern art, personally, which is why I also don't like ultra modern movies. But some abstract art is awesome, and some modern art can make a point. So can cliched movies. Because cliches exist due to the fact that they work, and often have a grain of reality buried within them. And when movies like "Avatar" come along that tell an age old tale and KEEP PEOPLE'S INTEREST, doesn't that mean there is art in it?

"Avatar" is beautiful. It should win technical awards out the wha-zoo. But it also broke box office records (yes, I know "Gone With the Wind" holds number one, when adjusted for inflation, but the only people who really, really care are trivia collectors and film students who weren't impressed by "Avatar" and/or enjoy flouting "high film knowledge" in everyone else's face). People went BACK to the movie, more than once, to see the world, to be in that spirit of discovery that the movie so strongly conveys. And of course, the message. It's a mixture of Seuss's 'The Lorax' and "Fernfully" and "Dances With Wolves", and any other nature story you can think of. The characters were identifiable, though. We got to see the bad guy defeated. Good triumphed. And that doesn't happen in the real world. There are no absolutes (or rarely are), there are few truly happy endings. "Avatar" lets us believe that there can be.

And it moved people.

And it is art.

So what's wrong with it taking a Best Picture nomination? It wasn't original? How much originality is there in Hollywood, in most stories, really? Look at how much gets poured out of Hollywood, and how much goes under our detection. There's a difference between movies that hit home, and movies that are entertaining, but impart little lasting emotion or point. Indiana Jones is great, but what do we learn from him? How about Bill and Ted? Some things become classics because the message is there, but the entertainment value overshadows it, or is equal to it. "E.T.", "Back to the Future", and numerous other cult classics. Others become cult classics because they are so far above most people's heads that only those who specialize or have an interest in that subject are moved or entertained: "Rocky Horror", "Donnie Darko", numerous others that are played at midnight in theaters or that people gather together in the same groups to watch yearly. And then, there are the movies that find a balance, but manage to impart the meaning perhaps over the entertainment, like "Casablanca", "Gone With the Wind", "Juno", etc.

It's almost like the Supreme Court's ruling on what pornography is: "we just know". You just know, sometimes, when you watch something if it has a higher quality to it or not.

The problem is...Hollywood has forgotten that even in this goal of entertainment and enlightening, their audience is the normal human being. We don't understand esoteric voyages into the mind of messed up people, because most of us are not as messed up as the extremes on the big screen. Artistic movies are nice, but often, the movie loses itself in the beauty on screen and forgets to linger on characters, story, etc. The movie attempts to sound lofty, intelligent, ARTISTIC. Like the director or writer or production assistant running to get coffee is part of a larger order of the universe that is enlightened, and has deemed to impart this wisdom to the normal human being without watering it down for us unenlightened heathens.

And that, my friends, is why the Academy has been losing support from the public. Because it has become so caught up in appearing SMART, ENLIGHTENED, ARTISTIC, that is has started to see out 'art' that no longer can identify, shape, or be understood fully by the general public. It panders to a world that is mostly behind the camera already, making the movie. "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" tries so hard to make a point about imagination versus earthly delights, the complexity of humanity, and the 'gray' aspect to everyone that it tries to say all three things, all the time, in everyone. It isn't broken up for us to understand. We're thrown into this world with a bunch of characters we can't identify with, talking about a concept that is never made clear, all for the sake of appearing independent from the main stream Hollywood - to be ARTISTIC.

What happened to art for the people? Why are we making art for the artists? Why can't we enlighten PEOPLE who AREN'T artists? I understand about a world view of a director or writer that needs to be shared, that isn't common. And in no way am I saying that highly abstract or artsy or independent films are bad. We need them to express opinions that need an outlet. Sometimes just for pure fun, sometimes because we feel that our soul will burst, pop, ignite into flames if we don't get the word out to the few that will comprehend it. But we're making so many of these almost ethereal films these days, is it any wonder most people are turning to the People's Choice Awards theses days instead of the Academy?

Oh, I understand about buying your way into the Academy Awards. It happens every year. (Look at the Coen Brothers returning once again. I haven't seen "A Serious Man", so I can't pass full judgment, but the trailer for the movie looked an awful lot like "Fargo" to me. Perhaps they are still riding off the "Fargo" win back in the older days.) And sometimes, nominations are there that probably shouldn't be. But honestly, to say it doesn't belong because it's POPULAR with the masses? Because the story is simple? SIMPLICITY WORKS. And simplicity is appreciated in a complicated world.

Now before you throw things at me, or assume I'm ungrateful, I feel the need to say that my opinion on what is a classic or a cult classic could change. Perhaps I'll watch "Inglourious Basterds" and be changed for life on what makes amazing film. Perhaps not with that movie...but with something. It could happen. Don't discount it yet!

But for now, I want to ask all of you film students out there: is art really the movie that the majority of the public dislikes? Or the movie that preaches values that you walk away from not quite sure what was going on? Or even the movie that is beautiful, and philosophical, and talky, and REAL? Or is it the thing that people identify with, no matter how unreal or how real, how ugly or how beautiful, how hard hitting or how soft?

I say: if "Avatar" is so well loved by a majority of people, then it deserves to be there. Same with "The Blind Side" (again, haven't seen it, but I've heard nothing but great things about it). And with "Up". And with "District 9". People watch it, and take away something from it, including my mom, myself, my friends, and the scientist who was so moved he wrote an article about the joy of science in "Avatar" (in the New York Times, no less, read it here).

So what if they aren't as high-brow or elite as other possible movies? What happened to the Academy recognizing the opinion of people, those outside the film industry? No, the awards shouldn't just take the top box office grossing films and slap those on for Best Picture, or Best Director, or even Best Cinematography. But the people should have some say.

So go "Avatar", and "The Blind Side", and "Up", and every other movie that doesn't meet the level of abstraction Picasso can safely say he has! It's easy to say something isn't art - it's hard to recognize art in the things that those who are educated on the 'BEST', as set forth by others who determine what is beautiful and what is too common to be sublime.

It's a trap that film critics and film students fall into, myself included: the trap of the nitpicker. We notice things that weren't perfect, weren't great, didn't compare to this or that film that is venerated as being the ABSOLUTE best thing since sliced bread or the invention of duct tape. We lose the idea that movies can not be perfect AND be perfect for people at the same time. I used to hate "Casablanca" because it was too slow. Now, older, I love it. It's got a human element to it that emerges softly. And it's beautiful. AND entertaining. Even if the woman is the typical, helpless damsel, and the man is the typical, debonair, no care yet world weary man.

It's finally time to give some humanity, some level of identity with the common person back to the Academy.

After all, a majority of butts in those seats belong to someone who doesn't work on set.


David D. said...

MY VIEW: When considering Oscar noms, the onlooker should consider what the year actually produced in film. I agree with what Leonard Maltin said, that 2009 was made up of good-not-great films. (His picks for 2009's "Greats", incidentally, included 'Up in the Air', 'Up', and 'District 9'.) I think the ten chosen were the best we could work with.

So who's arguing against these ten? Frat boys for 'The Hangover'? Hipsters for '(500) Days of Summer'? Bitter Trekkies? Jonas and Miley fans? None of these films have nearly the same impact as the ten chosen. Even I, a hardcore believer in Comedies Winning More Oscars, will admit that I have a thin case for write-in votes of 'Zombieland', especially when compared to 'Up in the Air' and 'An Education'.

frontyardgnome said...

A lot of people I've talked to don't like "The Blind Side" and "Avatar" winning. I've heard that hard core movie fans wanted "Moon" and "(500) Days of Summer" in the running. I haven't seen either, I can't judge, but the ones chosen weren't the worst we could have gone with. I love "Zombieland" too, but that would have been pushing the envelope, especially as it doesn't really deserve to be the Best Picture this year.

I guess I don't see a ton of AMAZING films this year because of the ones that came out not being within my genres that I love: comedy, kids, animated, and drama, so I am probably biased.

But with that being said, perhaps you have a good point. Maybe we should look at the year that it has been, and see what the impact has been in general with movies. The ones chosen: all well received and with a decent buzz. That has to say something.

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