OK, I’ve had a few hours to think about the Oscar results. The only thing particularly bad was the result for Best Picture.
12 Years a Slave was not the Best Picture of the year. It was not among the ten best pictures of last year. It has several very deep flaws that prevent it from being great. I went over them in my review. The third act was a mess, the conclusion was farfetched, and it had nothing original or insightful to say.
But it pretends like it does.
This blog is not the place to discuss slavery or civil rights. That is far too important a task for someone like me. However, I can discuss the artistic value of a film. And I want to remind everyone – just because a film talks about something important does not meant it is automatically good.
Let’s take a look at what 12 Years a Slave had to say. Essentially, the main message of 12 Years a Slave was “This sure is horrible.” I knew that going in. Every human being with any decency does. Slavery has been explored in countless films (Amistad, Roots, Mandingo, even Django Unchained and Gone With the Wind to an extent). And that is not getting into the list of films that explore post American Civil War race relations. Sidney Poitier presented an award last night. That was the face of a man who shattered barriers at a time when it was almost dangerous to do so. The release of 12 Years a Slave was not particularly dangerous or even that revolutionary.
It needed something else. Here’s an idea – the people who kidnapped Solomon Northrup were prosecuted, right? And he became a huge part of the emancipation movement. Why not show that? Why not show the trial and show how the two people who robbed a man of his life were not punished for their hateful crimes? Show his slavery and then the trial. Then, ask whether or not there have been other Solomon Northrups in the past five years. I guarantee you that would stir debate. I guarantee you that would have been different and shocking.
So why wasn’t that done? I don’t know. Maybe the filmmakers felt that emotional appeal would get everyone in the door. And it is a very emotional film. So what? It needs something more.
I also don’t know why the film won Best Picture. Maybe it was an apology for all of those times when the Academy ignored like minded films. The Color Purple still holds the record for most nominations without a win. Do The Right Thing was not nominated and criminally beat by Driving Miss Daisy. AMPAS did a similar thing when the gave the top prize to Crash in 2005. It was a way for Hollywood to seem progressive and smart, even though the fact that we still get Adam Sandler movies greenlit.
The blow of 12 Years’ win was greatly softened when Alfonso Cuaron took home the Best Director award. He deserved it far more than Steve McQueen. And there were no real surprises until the big awards. I am sadly not familiar with the performances that took home Best Actor and Actress. I do want to see those now. And I did not see the winning documentary, but it’s hard to imagine how a film about a singing group is more important than the expose of the military industrial complex.
So, besides my ranting above, were there any other disappointments? Yes – Ellen DeGeneres. She is a smart, funny woman who just seems to love life. But as a host last night, she was awkward and her bits dragged out far too long. Yes, ordering pizza for everyone and having it delivered live is a great idea. But then having plates passed out and watching everyone eat it was just too much. Same with the selfie – that could have been a fun backstage moment. But to drag it out in front of millions of viewers just didn’t work. It was the action of someone hosting a slumber party, not a major awards show.
I know that many people considered Seth MacFarlane to be controversial. I am far from a McFarlane fan, but I thought he was a much more effective host. He was able to simultaneously celebrate Hollywood and mock it for it’s frequent attempts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And he was equally good at mocking himself. The infamous “We Saw Your Boobs” song was not about nudity but about MacFarlane and how he frequently goes for that sort of laugh.
DeGeneres was just not formal enough. It works well for her talk show but it didn’t click last night. The least she could have done was bought me a piece of pizza too.
Oh well. At the end of the day I guess there are more important things for all of us to worry about. It’s all just a movie, and if someone found value in any of the nominees – well, that experience cannot be taken away from you. And that’s the best thing about the medium.
Well, onto 2014, where I’ll be sure to do this again and complain about H Jon Benjamin’s hosting duties and about the fact Gone Girl didn’t win.