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FILMS THE ACADEMY IGNORED - AND WHY

Oscar is in danger of becoming irrelevant argues ANDREW L. URBAN, by failing to keep up with the cinematic times.

What can we do with the Oscars? Looking at the Academy Awards categories is like going to a motor show held in the 1920s. The models have been superceded not just by new coachwork, but by totally new dimensions and materials. (Cars have satellite navigation these days; movies have SFX and CGI.) They have new roads to travel and new ways of getting there; an excellent hand-winched starter is no longer a desirable feature. None of this would matter if the awards were still a small-town affair in an outpost of American civilisation (or a variety of it); but when it’s a global affair beamed to billions, putting its stamp of approval on the entertainment opium of the masses, it's like taking the old Model T for a chug on the Monte Carlo circuit: silly and embarrassing.

"Where are the guernseys for extraordinary, inventive and uplifting films"

For example, this year's nominations ignore some of the most memorable, high impact, powder-keg films of the year like Lolita, Happiness, Eyes Wide Shut, Being John Malkovich (yes, of course it has a writing nomination).

And where are the guernseys for extraordinary, inventive and uplifting films created with (varying forms of) animation, like Tarzan and Toy Story 2. Where on the altar of film do we praise High Art and An Ideal Husband, to take two very different but equally gutsy films. And what about the occasional edgy teen flicks that actually cut deep into the psyche, like Election. Or dramas that shake the collective morality of society, like Enemy of the State or A Civil Action…the thrilling examples of edgy stories about ordinary characters caught by fate, like A Simple Plan, The Bone Collector or the loving memorials like Tea With Mussolini. Not to mention The Talented Mr Ripley or Snow Falling on Cedars, both of which, differently but set less than decade apart, slice into the human (American) condition with spectacular filmmaking.

Where is the Academy in recognising the explorative films with low budgets and high invention, such as Go, Cube, Pi and Run Lola Run? And The Blair Witch Project, indeed? Where is the search for visceral social statement as exemplified by Cabaret Balkan or It All Starts Today? (Foreign language films - all competing for four nomination slots….)

"Categories… do not adequately reflect the ambitions of the system"

The 72nd Academy Awards will be presented on March 26, 2000; does that not tell us something? I'm not talking about the date. I'm talking about its age. That first award ceremony (1928) was held in a Hollywood restaurant when Hollywood was still just a place, not a frame of mind. When Hollywood was a kinder, safer place. When Hollywood meant movies that fell into two categories: A and B movies. The pictures that vied for awards were dramas or romance, historical or Biblical epics; the B grade pictures were never really contenders until much later. Hitchcock never won an Academy Award. And when the Academy was even more insular than it is today, independent filmmaking was off the radar and Europe was in ruins from the first world war.

Imagine how different the awards structure would be if created today. For a start, genre films like The Matrix and End of Days would be in a special category, not lumped with American Beauty which in turn would not be crowded into the voting pen with The Man on the Moon. I'm not suggesting that all the films mentioned here deserve to be Academy Awarded (at least not in the context of the existing framework), but that the categories (across most areas of the 'motion picture arts and sciences') do not adequately reflect the ambitions of the system, namely to recognise and encourage excellence.

For a globally revered award structure, serious thought ought to be given to the way such highly charged recognition is dispensed. It is not for me - here - to devise such a structure, but it is not beyond the imagination of the Academy itself.

An ideal award system (not just in Hollywood) would strive to reflect the filmmaking diversity which is evident today. (For all its narrow base and its critics the Golden Globe Awards at least splits the major categories into Drama and Musical/Comedy; it's a start.) Given America's expanded film culture, in which schmaltz and corn share movie theatres with vibrancy and grunt, the Academy needs to get its award structure remodeled to suit the cinematic superhighway. And - speaking of superhighways - before long, internet movies will be shrieking for attention. It's all relevant, especially as the Academy encourages the world to see it as the Mount Olympus of global filmmaking, the ultimate prize. To do that they have to stay relevant.

"the magnet of a billion viewers worldwide"

Without relevance, the Oscars will go (are going?) the way of the Catholic church: a senile voice of authority that is no more than an echo through history to give it the remains of respect.

What the Oscars will always have is relevance of another kind and that relevance will out-shout this futile voice in the wilderness of antipodean subUrbia. It has the magnet of a billion viewers worldwide, and the red carpet, which attracts a cavalcade of stars at whom tv viewers can ogle in a concentrated burst of fame-fishing. This year, within a three hour minithon in your lounge room, you can peer at the cleavages and the wardrobes, the tans and the tuxedos of the biggest names in movies, such as: Roberto Benigni, Annette Bening, Salma Hayek, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Keanu Reeves, Steven Spielberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlize Theron and Chow Yun Fat - and that's just the presenters.

AND THE LOSERS ARE . . .

The Awfule Awards

By the way, the little known subcommittee for the Academy's Awfule Awards (named after Arthur Awfule, a filmmaker whose works were so lousy they disintegrated automatically after the first screening) has requested a short list of my nominations for these secret awards, handed out at 3am Los Angeles time the night after the televised Oscars. These awards are hosted by a lawyer and broadcast on CB radio. To be eligible, the films nominated must not be made intentionally awful, they should be mainstream and preferably use high profile cast.

I sent them this:

  • Best Performance by a House in an Awful Movie:
    The Haunting - stars Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones (and the House)
  • Most Awful Casting of Romantic Leads in a Generally Awful Movie:
    Mickey Blue Eyes - stars Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn
  • Most Misguided Maudlin Movie:
    Jakob the Liar - stars Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Liev Schreiber
  • Most Awful Remake:
    Meet Joe Black - stars Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt
  • Most Awfully Stuffed Up True Story:
    Rogue Trader - stars Ewan McGregor

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And the losers are….

(See the Awfule Awards - at the end of this page.)

The Academy Awards 2000 are presented on March 26, in Los Angeles.

Lolita

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Happiness

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Snow Falling on Cedars

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A Simple Plan

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Run Lola Run

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