The Academy Awards are upon us and with the nominations in and speculations a-brewing, it’s a great time to step back and check out the scope of what we’re dealing with this award season. As any jaded film fan knows, the Oscars are only important insofar as they indicate the themes and personalities Hollywood deigns worthy of endorsing. As we have learned in previous years, tremendous talent can be snubbed only to receive recognition years later; films that resonate with a modern audience can be passed over for the sake of tradition; and generally, politics and timing are more useful measures for determining picks for your Oscar party than going with what you thought was good in theaters.
So rather than muse on what films we think deserve those infamous statuettes, it might be more enlightening to explore the stories being told by the nominated films. Considering the current political climate and demographics of the Academy, what is the likelihood for these nominations to come away with the coveted Hollywood seal of approval?
On the menu this year we have Best Picture nominees Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.
Those that have received some of the most buzz are the more typical “safe” Hollywood fare. Take Argo, the story of a rescue mission in Iran led by CIA operative Tony Mendez, played by the decidedly not-Chicano Ben Affleck, or Lincoln, which takes liberties with history to make the 16th President into a clean figurehead, a staunch opponent of slavery at all costs, rather than the complicated politician with less than progressive views toward Black Americans. Zero Dark Thirty similarly presents a somewhat one-sided view of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, including controversial depictions of torture and humiliation enacted by the main characters in an effort to gain key pieces of information on bin Laden’s whereabouts. Of note is the fact that only three of the nominated films – Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi – feature people of color in lead roles, while Amour’s star, Emmanuelle Riva, is the oldest Best Actress nominee on record.
Of the remaining films, Les Misérables and Silver Linings Playbook are great examples of the types of films that attract accolades like magnets during awards season, one being a visually stunning period classic, and the other being an emotional romantic drama, with the one of the two main characters suffering from bipolar disorder and the other afflicted with an unnamed condition (handled somewhat unevenly, according to articles on Slate and Vulture.)
The rest of the award categories are mostly made up of the same whiter shade of pale, with the bright spot being Quvenzhané Wallis, nominated in the Best Actress category for her starring role in Beasts of the Southern Wild. This makes her the youngest to ever be nominated for the award, but whether or not she’ll actually take the Oscar home remains to be seen. (She’s definitely our favorite for the category.) Hollywood certainly loves to make grand gestures and break records, even if they tend to do it years late, but in that process, would they unseat the precocious Tatum O’Neal as the youngest winner in any category? (O’Neal took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in the 1973 film Paper Moon when she was 10 years old.)
Finally, the technical awards are where geekdom really shines (as usual), with the Visual Effects nominees being almost exclusively geeky fare: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman. The Hobbit also snagged nominations for Production Design and Hair/Makeup, making it my pick for the Token Geek/Pop Culture Oscar Winner™. We usually get one a year.
In any case, the Oscars are sure to be a great show, as they usually are, and we’ll come up with some new rules for the standard award show drinking game to liven up the night, if all else fails. What are your picks for the Oscars? Any nominees you absolutely must see win (or lose)? Let us know in the comments.