“We need to talk about the Oscars”

Award Season reached its questionable peak with last sunday’s Oscars ceremony. In spite of a severe case of sleep deprivation, I was – surprisingly – awake enough on monday to reflect on what I have witnessed that night. And there was a lot to witness, for it was a very long night. Most of its length may have been due to the exorbitant number of commercial breaks. It is no exaggeration to state that there was at least one hour of commercials interrupting the show. The number of breaks even increased towards the end of the ceremony when traditionally the most significant awards are handed out to more or less deserving winners.

OK, I get that over the course of three hours – spent mostly sitting calmly on small chairs trying to look glamorous and entertained –, one needs to stretch ones tired legs at some point. I understand that even the biggest and brightest stars need their fair share of rest room time. But who of the people in the room actually dares to leave when the winners of the main categories are about to be announced? The last part of the show – between the final annoying commercial and the hosts’ farewell to the (film) world – was only about five minutes long. That’s about the same time the break claimed for itself.

At least most of those breaks were quite predictable. Every interruption was introduced by a musical performance – whether those of the nominated ‘best original song’ or commemorating numbers – you could be sure to have enough time for your own rest room break, including brushing your teeth and clipping your nails – all of them in one session. Although these activities are actually quite pleasant to do, it just didn’t need to be that many (for how often am I actually going to brush my teeth in one night?).

Enough about my viewing experience. Let’s cut to the chase and dive deep down into the obscure world of the Oscars.

This year, the Academy did some things right – most notably, its very wise decision of giving the hosting job the brilliant Ellen DeGeneres. Last year’s Seth MacFarlane had a unique talent to make everyone feel extremely uncomfortable while in fact attempting to gain comic relief. But Ellen, although occasionally appearing to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, mastered the tricky task of combining the venerable prestige of the event with the ease of her own sense of humour. Almost all of her jokes were made at the expense of someone in the room, yet without being insulting or in bad taste. She amazingly accomplished to let god-like praised celebrities appear as the normal human beings they are. Additionally, she handed out some delicious pizza to skinny actresses like Julia Roberts and seemingly very hungry directors like Martin Scorsese. However, I’ll never understand why Jared Leto was so eager to make sure that the pizza he got hold of was in fact for his mother. It is only a small slice of pizza, Mr. Leto. And after seeing you in Dallas Buyers Club you surely needed it. Mrs. DeGeneres also took up the infamous habit of famous people – taking selfies. No one in the room was save from her paparazzi-like advances. She even shot the most re-tweeted selfie of all time: In it, some of the most highly acclaimed people of show business get together to look ridiculous and likeable at the same time.

Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars Selfie
Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscars Selfie

But the show does not (solely) exist for the Academy to celebrate itself. I seriously appreciate that at this event of self-praise, some non-profitable formats gain recognition, too. In spite of the fact that only a few people actually watch short films (whether animated or real life action) or documentaries at the cinema – compared to the amount of viewers paying to see the big feature films – it is important not to forget the vast variety of films and their ability to provide a multitude of views on the world. Each year I am reminded of the very existence of short animated films. And each year I am grateful for this reminder.

However, this year’s winner in the category ‘documentary feature film’ disappointed me. Among the nominees was The Act of Killing,- one of the most celebrated documentaries of last year, maybe even of all time! It is appreciated for the revelation that former mass murderers in Indonesia now lead a fabulous life. I did not come across one negative statement about that film. On the contrary, all critics agreed on it being a must-see, giving insights in history, pop culture and psychology in a way nothing ever did before. The Act of Killing won several awards from all over the world, yet the judges in Hollywood decided to give the golden statuette to 20 Feet from Stardom. I have to admit, I have not seen this film. I actually never even heard of it before. From what I could discern, this documentary deals with one of the most American customs there is: glorifying their own entertainment industry. Certainly, it is an original idea to look into the pop music business focussing on the background singers. The makers of this film probably have done a great job. Yet, the ‘Academy of Motion Pictures and Science’ still tries to convince us (and possibly itself as well) that the honourable Oscar is given to the most “outstanding achievement” in the respective category. I sincerely doubt that, especially with The Act of Killing not receiving the award. It is one of the few categories that does not distinguish between English-speaking and foreign submissions. The chance to broaden the Academy’s American-centred view on the film industry itself is therefore much higher than in the main categories. What a shame it is that its members did not seem to take a look beyond their horizon to appreciate the rest of the world. To add insult to injury, one of the singers depicted in 20 Feet from Stardom burst out into a ridiculous song when accepting the award.

Nonetheless, for something I’m deeply grateful to the judges. Although American Hustle was considered very likely to win a bunch of Oscars, the Academy apparently forgot about it as fast as I did – i.e. almost immediately after watching it. Since American Hustle is now officially a non-significant film of this season, I won’t say anything more about it.
However, I have to discuss Gravity. I really wished it had suffered the same fate as American Hustle; unfortunately, it did not. Why does it still receive all this recognition and praise? It has nothing to offer. The acting is boring. I think Sandra Bullock did not really know her character’s motivations throughout her space journey. Therefore Bullock delivered only one emotion – anxiety. Since Ryan Stone (her character) was alone for the larger part of the film, the story severely lacks interaction and conflict to observe and exercise. The plot is so ludicrous, I’m not even sure the term ‘story’ applies. The action only consists of explosions and debris floating around, and space capsules making loud, high-pitched noises. I actually try to avoid categorizing it as science fiction, for there may be a lot of science but nearly no fiction. I have to admit, the many technical awards it won were indeed justified – except the ones in the sound categories (Gravity mysteriously got the awards for nearly all sound categories: ‘sound editing’, ‘sound mixing’ and best ‘original score’). In fact, the sound is incredibly annoying and makes it really hard to endure the whole cinematic nonsense. I will never understand why Alfonso Cuarón received the best directing award for this film. Seriously, this man directed Children of Men; a brilliant, captivating motion picture. But he wins for Gravity? Why on earth would anybody consider his work on Gravity an “outstanding achievement”? Well, maybe this decision was not based on earthly considerations…

At least it did not win ‘best picture’. In the Oscar universe it is a very rare thing for a film to be awarded for ‘best picture’ and ‘best directing’. 12 Years a Slave triumphed over the other eight nominees in this supposedly most important category. This was probably the most predictable decision of last sunday.
Let us not forget that Sandra Bullock did not take the little golden man home either. If she had won for ‘best actress in a leading role’, I swear I would never have been able to take this award seriously again. Luckily, the Academy decided to give it to the gorgeous Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. She, by the way, also gave an incredible acceptance speech. For me, it was the best one in this year’s show because it was funny, heart-warming and considerate without ever being corny. At the end she made a valid point (long over-due within the film industry) saying that female-centred films are not a “niche” and that “audiences want to see them and in fact they earn money”1

As pleased as I was with the outcome in the best leading actress category, as disappointed I was with Matthew McConaughey winning the award for ‘best actor in a leading role’ for Dallas Buyers Club. It may be one of his best performances ever –considering he spent most of his career shooting romantic comedies. In fact, he was the only one I can remember who thanked God within his acceptance speech. And to be honest, that was the only time I ever approved of it – his win can only be explained by divine intervention.
Everybody talks about Leonardo DiCaprio as an all-time Oscar-loser. Although The Wolf of Wallstreet is not serious enough for the Oscars to ever stand a chance against the other films, I still think he deserved it way more than McConaughey. I may not be the biggest fan of biopics (I find this genre highly overrated), nevertheless Chiwetel Ejiofor stood out from his fellow nominees with his performance in 12 Years a Slave. Apart from McConaughey eventually receiving the award, I considered it even more outrageous that Joaquin Phoenix was not nominated for this category in the first place. All the critics keep praising Sandra Bullock for running the whole show on her own. In Her, Phoenix practically does the same, yet has been overlooked by the Academy. Some kind of hypocrisy, if you ask me.
Basically, Her didn’t get its fair share of recognition in this current award season, although I personally consider it the best, most original Hollywood film of 2013. Well, at least it won the award for ‘best original screenplay’, which was some sort of reconciliation for me.

By the way, Frozen was voted ‘best animated feature film’. Not such a big surprise. Since the other nominated pictures just cannot keep up with an original Disney-Pixar-collaboration. Not even Hayao Miyazaki stands a chance when competing on his own.

The conclusion I draw from this year’s Oscar ceremony is a sobering certainty that the status quo is maintained. I still hope for another 2011, when originality and aesthetics dominated the Hollywood Hills.

  • 1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-26412356

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