The voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are a strange, unpredictable group, not least when selecting the winner for their premiere award, Best Picture. In some extent, the unpredictability of their choices can be an asset. Unlike the Grammys, they usually do not reward the biggest moneymakers (although they won’t reflexively avoid crowning blockbusters either: in the last dozen years, Titanic, Gladiator, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King have nabbed the prize). Heavy, serious dramas predominate, as one might expect; but lighter fare like Shakespeare in Love wins now and then, as do actioners like the aforementioned Gladiator and LOTR. 2003’s award to Chicago reassured musical fans that their genre was still in the running, even in the 21st century. (Only comedies have so rarely won, that one wonders if it might not be fair to give them their own category.)
But there’s another way in which it is hard to predict the winner of the award, one that is not so welcome: quality. Now, of course the quality of a film is inherently a subjective issue, I understand that. But frankly, my wife and I have good enough cinematic tastes that even if we might quibble over whether another film might have been slightly more deserving, we can at least understand how the film in question was at least in the conversation over “best of the year”. Or, even more minimally, we ought to find the movie watchable enough that we aren’t fidgeting and checking our watches all the way through, hoping the agony will soon end.
It was just recently that she and I worked our way around on Netflix to catching up on the last two Best Picture winners. Neither seemed appealing enough to be something we would have made a point to see absent that imprimatur of awesomeness from AMPAS, but we felt we ought to see what the fuss was all about. We went in reverse order, watching Hurt Locker a few weeks back. We were just so phenomenally bored by that film that I must confess that we did not in fact finish it–I think we only got about thirty or forty minutes into it and pulled the eject button. Then last night it was Slumdog Millionaire’s turn. The same fate almost befell it; but I convinced Brittany to watch it all the way through as I did want to see how it tied up, as well as the dance number I knew was coming at the end. Still got a definite thumbs-down from both of us.
The film that preceded those two, No Country for Old Men, is in my opinion one of the greatest works of art in cinematic history. So it’s only a two year dry run, but it is worrisome nevertheless. And though some of the winners in the past have been sketchy (I’m thinking of Forrest Gump here), none were both dull and offensive as Slumdog was (Hurt Locker was just dull).
So I’ll be very interested in seeing what wins next time! Anyone want to nominate anything that’s been out so far this year?