Oscar’s gutsiness runs in cycles, awarding genuinely fresh and cutting edge films (like American Beauty, the Hurt Locker or The Departed) with feel-good period of bourgeois gratification and placation, like Chicago, Life is Beautiful, Shakespeare in Love, Slumdog Millionaire, The English Patient, and–my prediction for this year–The Artist. There’s nothing wrong with these films per se: they stir deep emotions; they move us, en masse; they spark enraptured conversation on the drive home from the mall-tiplex; they are superb examples of craftsmanship; they make us feel ‘the magic’. B most importantly, they make bourgeois Oscar voters feel good about themselves, and their profession. These films rub the voters’ shoulders and whisper in their wrinkly ears, “you, my darling Academy member, are the makers of our dreams.”
But these films are not risky. They say nothing new and dangerous. They do not threaten the status quo. They do not climb up to the perches where Academy retirees perch and drag them down kicking and screaming in a flurry of ivory feathers.
I’ve watched the mainstream fawn over fawning, icon-enraptured period pieces like The Artist and Hugo before (in their ways, they’re both more meta versions of My Week with Marilyn, or Allen’s fantasia of being able to go back in time and drink absinthe with Post-WW1 Parisian intellectual society, Midnight in Paris, ) and I’m suspicious –one look at the utter predictability of the picks for actor and actress is enough to knock me off the couch in boredom. Add stuff no one I know has seen, like Streep’s Thatcher or Spielberg’s War Horse and Incredibly Loud, (yhe latter especially with its mix of Tom Hanks, death and the importance of worshipping your father like a god), is nominated, and I’m guessing it’s because academy voters have grown lazy and just nominate whatever Hanks, Speilberg, or Streed do, and as far as I’m concerned you can officially color the Oscars as uncool. These are your parent’s Oscars.
Where is any mention of Melancholia, or Andy Serkis? None that I have yet heard of.
There’s only one place my top ten and the Oscar noms meet, and that’s Tree of Life. Surprise surprise. It won’t win. The Oscar voters like a good story, and a few tears, and Tree has only the tears. The Artist will, I’m sure, give them everything they want, and we’ll have another Roberto Begnini moment as a bunch of people we’ll never hear from again run amok and steal our gold. I just hope that hack among hacks John Williams won’t win for best score. Williams scores are so stuffed shirt safe and emotionally trite they are emblematic of how award ceremonies have gradually become meaningless.
Well, some of us watching the ceremony later this month will maybe realize that maybe that whole bourgeois wedding ceremony in MELANCHOLIA was Von Trier’s own prediction about not just the end of the world, but the March 2012 Oscars, the apocalyptic Intolerance moment when Babylon crumbles and all the sawdust finally explodes the taxidermy birds on Norman’s wall and the Academy becomes, officially, a stuffed turkey… It will happen, when the gang who made The Artist all cheer and dance and they play that uber-trite jazz rhumba music for the commercial during each of their long walk-ups. And in 20 years people will read lists of the past Oscar winners and have no doubt that the old fogeys were in charge in 2012, making sure the cinema of the past, and safety, is lionized and lauded, while the cinema of danger, and the future stifles in its low budget crib.