Best Picture Nominees 2013: …”inherently thrilling”


ARGO is solid but problematic; Django Unchained is a mess of errant genres; Les Mis is bloated, bombastic and juvenile (which should make it Best Pic frontrunner); and AMOUR is already up for Best Foreign Film so why vote that? With nine nominees to choose from at least five of them serve as public pats on the back (sadly, the most obvious “Pat” goes to LIFE OF PI). I think they’re throwing Beasts of the Southern Wild in there to get people hoping for another “Swell Season” moment.

The front runner on this year’s diluted list of Best Pic nominees is Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a war drama starring Jessica Chastain and the seemingly un-maligned subject of torture.

When Bigelow’s last war drama, Hurt Locker, was the 2009 Oscar frontrunner, I was vocally opposed. Truffaut wrote that war films are always propagandistic because “scenes of battle are inherently thrilling,” and while Hurt Locker is thrilling, that wasn’t my problem with it. I felt it lionized an American warrior class that succumbed to this modern cowboy concept above their duties at home. Y’all saw Jeremy Renner gloriously leave his wife and toddler for another tour of duty, right? The rest of the film even features some concerns about the point of the war, so Renner’s return to duty might not even be in service of a "greater good.”

The Oscars are the biggest awards the industry offers itself, which means it sends a message of approval to all facets of the picture awarded for its given category. However flawed or pristine the nominee may be, it's impossible to award it while admonishing its message. There's a "bigger picture" here.

I’m all for LINCOLN and see Silver Linings Playbook as a lesser option, but if they're superior films to Zero Dark Thirty, their subjects (a great dead president and overcoming mental illness through love, respectively) they’ll never appear as relevant next to a film about a war from which we’re still recovering.

When the Academy awards a film about real world controversy, it sends a split message: one half the message is approbation, but the other message is about industry superiority. More important than the cause of the day is the industry that can make you laugh and cry about it—for $12. As such, they can be above issues of international concern, even as they inform or influence us about them. Is another message possible in the climate of an election?

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