Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charge Aught!!!: The Decade in Movies

aught-movies-2 Part OnePart Three

Andrew Pankin, Alex Boivin and Jordan Pedersen have spent most of the last decade in darkened rooms – some of those rooms were movie theaters. Read on for their thoughts about the most important developments in the cinema of the aughts.

slumdog-millionaire-tyra-banks-show JP: Is it just me, or are the Oscars way more quirky and foreign than they used to be?

What qualifies as Oscar bait these days seems far off from the yearly crop of presumptive nominees just ten years ago.  I can't imagine that films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno would have been as fawned-over by the Academy if they had been released in the nineties.  Although films by director like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg still receive nominations, they have generated considerably less buzz in the aughts.

"Yeah, Frost/Nixon was okay, but did you see Slumdog Millionaire?!  It had a freakin' dance sequence at the end!"

Academy voters seem much more eager to vote for (or at least nominate) contenders that might have seemed left-field a decade ago.  That Up and An Education sit alongside more conventional choices like Invictus and Up in the Air among this year's list of presumptive Best Picture nominees seems to evince the view that the concept of a "prestige picture" is morphing.  And films that would have been sure-fire nominees in the nineties often fail to even be nominated in the aughts (see American Gangster or Cinderella Man).

It almost seems as if the film industry is undergoing a transformation akin to the ascendancy of alternative rock in the nineties (and parallel to that of indie rock in the aughts):  the alternative has become the mainstream.  A Best Picture win for a film like Slumdog Millionaire has made at least a nomination for a film like Precious almost a certainty.  Crash's dark-horse victory in 2005 (*cough* bullshit *cough*) made it commonplace for other film festival pick-ups to receive nominations or even statues.

So whaddya think?  Have the Oscars always been this quirky?

Oscar 2 AP: I think the Academy is always secretly happy to see new types of films get nominated, even while it outwardly (in practice, if not openly) discourages the practice. "Sure, The Dark Knight was the best picture of the year," I seem to recall many experts saying last year, "but it will never win Best Picture. It's just not an Oscar Film."

Some claim that the gimmick of expanding the list of Best Pic nominated films from five to ten this year was somewhat driven by the hope of including other genres than the prestige film in the festivities. Maybe with ten nominees, for every five Preciouses, we'll get one The Hangover or District 9. Others argue that Academy voters are happily set in their ways and we'll just see more of the same. This is all conjecture, since no one seems to know why or even how the change to this well-established format came about.

While we have seen some increasingly quirky indie (or at least indie-looking) Best Pic nods, they've always been one among many; the majority of nominees have remained traditional, predictable fare. I do agree that we've seen a shift that's corresponded with changes in the film industry over the last decade - more audience favorites as opposed to experts' selections. And with an expanded field of nominees, I'm hopeful that said shift may also expand.

brokeback_mountain_14 AB: I've begun to realize in the past few years, perhaps just because I'm becoming older and therefore automatically wiser, that the Oscars are less a means of rewarding greatness in film than about celebrating the Academy and the movie industry itself. I don't see this as necessarily a bad thing, Oscar Night is one of my favorite nights of the year, but I've learned not to pick Oscar winners based on merit but rather on how they fit the Oscar formula:

1) Big issues (race, homosexuality, mental retardation etc.)?
2) Director/actors who have gotten enough buzz/have it coming?
3) Biopic?

I've become less passionate about hoping my favorite film wins and more about the politicking of the Oscar process. Take for example Crash's big upset in 2006. Part of me couldn't be more mad that this pandering exercise in white guilt took the top prize over what is honestly one of the best love stories of our lifetime, Brokeback Mountain. And yet I can't help but be intrigued by all the obvious decision making on the Academy's part, clearly they're a bunch of old fogies who are more comfortable awarding an inferior movie that confirms and absolves them of their own prejudices/what have you than they are giving Best Picture to a much better movie about the Gays.

If you ask me to pick my own personal Best Picture of 2009, I'd go with Inglourious Basterds: I saw it five times in theaters and now own it on DVD. But will it win Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Probably not (though with this newfangled 10 movies thing it has a much better chance). But asking the Academy to pick Basterds for best picture would be like asking me personally to pick Precious- not their/my taste, ain't gonna happen.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of the story, same bat time, same bat channel!