Politics or Perfection?

"We Need to Talk About Kevin received no attention despite Tilda Swinton giving arguably her finest performance"

A look at this year’s questionable Oscars nominations.

It is around this time each year that people complain about the alleged ‘terrible’ Oscars nominees. 2012 has been no exception, with many outwardly disagreeing with the Academy’s choices. However, although it has been heralded as one of the worst years for cinema in a long time, it is undeniable that there have been films far superior to those nominated that haven’t received the recognition they duly deserve. This is not a new trend but a factor of the Academy Awards that has taken place since their inception in 1929.

The Oscars nomination process is one that clearly adheres to a number of set rules and principles. It is governed by a political process that means certain types of films can never make it to the short list and the same people can’t win on numerous occasions. It is arguable that were a director to jump through the hoops and make a film that ticks all the right boxes, they would have no problem garnering that much sought after Oscars nod. Being the most esteemed award to be offered to members of the film community, you would presume it should commend originality, artistic merit and exceptional acting skills, however, more often than not, those films that are placed in the limelight are simply safe choices that are average at best.

The top films of the previous year can be split into two main categories. The first illustrates a celebration of nostalgia, featuring allusions to the past and the supposed Golden Years of cinema. It is this category that has captured the hearts of the Academy and therefore landed this year’s Oscars nods. Hugo, which leads the pack with 11 nominations, is a commemoration of the work of George Méliès, much forgotten following his decline as a result of the first World War. Similarly, The Artist, which is just behind with 10 nominations, is a homage to the silent era and captures the devastating effect the advent of the talkies had on silent actors. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, with 4 nods, perhaps best encapsulates the ethos of this year’s nominations as it delightfully explores the disenchantment of one’s own era and longing to be part of artistic ages past.

The second group can be collated due to their unconventional intensity that often treads a fine line between gratuity and tastefulness. Perhaps due to the controversial nature of their content these films have been largely overlooked, despite featuring some of the best performances of the year. It is surprising that We Need to Talk About Kevin received no attention despite Tilda Swinton giving arguably her finest performance and an exquisite cinematography that blended the beautiful with the grotesque. Similarly, Michael Fassbender’s performance in Shame is flawless in its delivery, yet due to the tender subject of the film, never stood a chance.

In the Best Foreign Language Film category, Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In received no recognition despite being one of the best films of the year, let alone one of the best foreign films. However, again due to the controversial nature of its content it is perhaps understandable that it was never considered.

Olivia Coleman’s turn in Tyrannosaur was a brutal portrayal of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage and yet she didn’t receive any notice. Ryan Gosling in the graphic Drive, Australia’s Snowtown, Britain’s Kill List. These were all brilliant films but never had a look in due to the constraints placed on what constitutes an ‘Oscar Worthy’ film.

There were, however, a number of surprising omissions that can’t be disregarded due to contentious content. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gained a Golden Globe nod for his part in 50/50 was nowhere to be seen, as was Charlize Theron for Young Adult. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, infinitely better than Kung Fu Panda 2 yet perhaps dismissed due to Spielberg’s numerous nominations for War Horse. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, most probably forgotten due to the excitement over the director’s ill advised Nazi comments.

So far it appears that the only awards ceremony that seem to have acknowledged the year’s truly best films is the London Critics’ Circle Awards. Unafraid to buck the trend, they heralded the real deserving films. It remains puzzling how films as trite as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close or as emotionally manipulative as War Horse can be given any attention yet this seems to be the way of the Hollywood circle. One piece of advice: don’t go looking to the best picture nominees for a decent piece of cinema.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Jan 31st 2012.

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