The Bigger Picture: Hook, Line, and Sinker

Written by The Bigger Picture

1725157DM05_oscarsAwards season.  I don’t much care for this time of year.  Sure, all the good movies get released around this time, but there’s something that overtakes Hollywood this time of year that really bothers me. Yes, Oscar-baiting is a familiar term for cinephiles, but nonetheless it is troublesome.

We see it every year.  The awards season begins with those “For Your Consideration” advertisements in Variety and other industry magazines.  Some films are rereleased to theaters to attract attention.  Perhaps the most obnoxious of all these is that half of the nominated films seem to be movies that a majority of the country hasn’t even had a chance to see yet.

Every year we seem to see the same thing: One film seems to dominate the Academy Award nominations.  This year, it’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which leads the pack with 13 nominations.  This is a good film, well directed and finely executed in almost every way.  However, it’s also one of the best examples of Oscar-baiting I have ever seen.

Let’s break it down.  Eric Roth, who also wrote the script for Forrest Gump, writes the screenplay.  Stop it right there.  Even casual filmgoers will be able to see the incredible similarity between the plot structures of those two films.  We see the world through the eyes of a white Southern man who struggles to fit in because he was born with a debilitating condition.  Along the way he visits exotic parts of the world, all the while longing for a girl who fate keeps from him.  When they finally do get together, it’s short-lived, because life pulls them apart in some tragic manner.

I suppose the nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay means Eric Roth, a very good writer, is nominated for adapting the story of Forrest Gump.

There is also nothing remarkable about Brad Pitt’s performance.  Pitt, an excellent actor, was even outdone by himself this year in the disappointing Burn After Reading.  His portrayal of Benjamin Button is very solid; the problem is that his character is portrayed on the exterior, and the internalization is rarely emphasized.  Clint Eastwood, who gave one of the most memorable performances of the year, could have easily replaced him on the list.

And now we come to my biggest problem with this time of year.  Were Benjamin Button to have been released in March of 2008, I probably would have enjoyed it much more.  However, since I was watching a screener copy that had been sent around Hollywood prior to the film’s release, a disc that was stamped with “For Your Consideration,” I was constantly aware of the studio’s intentions.  They obviously went into production with the full intention of marketing it for the awards season.  Thus, everyone who has seen the film knows the gravity of the situation and the fact that they are watching an “Oscar-worthy” film.  It distorts the views of the audience, and for people like myself, who pay a little more attention than the average viewer, acts as a huge turnoff.

We need to reward the most earnest of films.  Thankfully, Slumdog Millionaire is gaining a large following this year.  Were I to put money on the Best Picture winner, I would bet heavily on Slumdog.  It has become popular to nominate an underdog movie, such as Little Miss Sunshine and/or Juno.  However, this is the first year that I have agreed with the choice.  I found neither Little Miss Sunshine nor Juno to be deserving of the accolades they received, though they are both nice little films.

I also feel the need to dip my toe into the shark-infested waters of The Dark Knight discussions.  (Robin, get me the Bat-Shark Repellent.)  If any blockbuster film were deserving of a Best Picture nomination, it would be this one.  Oftentimes the best films are those that appear to be one thing, yet are cleverly disguised as something else.  As Vertigo is a love story in the guise of a thriller, The Dark Knight is an optimistic allegory for our times with the dressing of a dark summer popcorn flick.  At the very least, I feel that a nomination for this film would have sent a very positive message to the studios that it’s okay to craft an intelligent and thoughtful action movie.  Should this ambition not be rewarded?

The awards season is a lot like fishing season.  The filmmakers cast out from their boats in waters filled with fish.  The fishermen are all equally deserving of a catch, and they cast their lures out into the water.  They might catch a fish or two with the bait they are using, but all of a sudden a roar is heard and the water is displaced by new waves.  All the fish, startled, flee the scene.  The source of the disturbance suddenly becomes apparent.  A large boat fills the horizon, all hands furiously barking as a giant net is cast out onto the waters.  When the day is done, the other fishermen go home frustrated, while the commercial fishing boat hauls in a tremendous bounty of flopping fish.

That analogy might seem a bit silly, but it’s true.  The awards season is, in truth, a marketing ploy.  Hollywood uses the buzz created by the Oscars and the Golden Globes as a way to sell more tickets and DVDs.  “Watch it again,” the ad-wizards command.

Don’t forget to consider The Bigger Picture here.  The Oscars should not be allowed to influence your idea of what a good movie is — they’re merely a collective pat on the back (and wallet) of Hollywood.  I would wager that, unless your last name is Weinstein, many of your favorite films do not fall into the neat little Oscar categories.  The very fact that the Oscars do not always celebrate the most memorable films is symbolic of how out of touch the Academy is with the average moviegoer.