by Ian aka GayAsXmas
In an effort to make itself relevant in an increasingly fractured media environment, The Oscars announced earlier on in the year that they were increasing the number of films nominated for Best Picture from five to ten. All other categories would keep their limit to five nominees.
I’m still slightly up in the air about this. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are inevitably diluting the ‘honour’ of being in the Best Picture fold. They are also increasing the chances of embarrassing nominees being included (the Chocolat Syndrome) which can be used to bash the organisation. On the other hand, there are always two or three films deserving films which get left out every year and this can be a way to ensure that films with a small but passionate following can get recognition, or for more commercially successful blockbusters to get a pat on the back.
The increase also comes at an excellent time for women directors, who are enjoying something of a banner year. An Education, by Lone Scherfig and Bright Star by Jane Campion are both much more likely to be in the final 10 they they might have been with just five. I have seen both films and they are fantastic — I’m particularly glad to see Campion back on top form after losing her way somewhat in the last couple of years. It is unlikely that Campion will get a nomination for direction, but Scherfig should end up in the final five.
But the big dog in the race is Kathryn Bigelow who seems to be the early favourite to actually win the Oscar for her incredible work on The Hurt Locker. Bigelow is another director who lost her way; she has always been an incredile visual storyteller and one of the great action directors of the late eighties. But Hollywood, shamefully, couldn’t find a space for her unique talents, until she proved herself once again with one of the most breathless, brilliant war films of the last twenty years. Adding another frisson of drama, her main competition could actually turn out to be her ex-husband, James Cameron, who is currently basking in the vindication afforded by the early raves for Avatar. Bigelow and Cameron are still close, and the diametrically opposed nature of their war films (tiny budget, mega-realistic Iraq versus GDP-of-a-small-country CGI fantasia) create an irresistible backstage drama.
The fact that three of the top 10 films come from distinctive female visions (and possibly a fourth if Its Complicated or Julie and Julia sneak in) is pretty wonderful. Women directors’ gross under-representation is still a massive issue in Hollywood — it affects both the quality of the work and the type of stories told to have half the population virtually absent from the major conducting role in mainstream film. But Campion, Bigelow and Scherfig, as well as Sofia Coppolla, Catherine Hardwicke, and others, are creating new icons which will hopefully inspire more to follow.
A lot of people dismiss talk of the Oscars as being desperately uncool. While not quite at the level of the Grammys, the Oscars are undoubtedly crass, silly and far too self-important, but I still love them. I have great memories of watching them at my Aunt’s house back home in Ireland. It would start at about 2am — I would be piled on the couch with my cousin, wrapped in a duvet with a giant bowl of popcorn As much as people like to be blase about them, they do still matter. Bigelow winning would be a real cinematic milestone, and a hugely deserved vindication of her talent.
Update: Manohla Dargis, one of the lead film critics of The New York Times and possibly my favourite living film writer, has just posted a much more detailed look at some of the issues I raised here (and of course, does so in her usual brilliant way). It’s well worth a read, as is Dave Poland’s response on The Hot Blog.