There are cynics among you who will say that the Oscars are pointless, and that awards should not be given out for art. I kind of agree with the latter part, but as for the Oscars themselves ... well yes, they are pointless. But I like to go into them relatively well-informed. This will not be one of those years, being that I've seen about 3 movies this year, none of which will be considered for the Academy Award.
Why has your humble cineaste fallen so behind in his moviegoing? Well, going to the movies is on the expensive side, and it's hard to find someone to go with me. Also, let's face it, for the most part in the last 5 years or so, movies have ... well, completely sucked ass.
Gone is the scintillating era of the mid-1990s, where even Pulp Fiction ripoffs were fun and exciting. (And if you have to copy a movie, I'd rather have they do it with Pulp Fiction than these goddamn Sons of Saw III.) From about 1989 to about 1998, there was a torrent of innovative and well-crafted films, that also happened to be popular. Look at the list: Boogie Nights, Fargo, L.A. Confidential, sex lies & videotape, GoodFellas, The Usual Suspects, Glengarry Glen Ross, just to name a few. While not perfect, these films were a testament to storytelling innovation, outstanding dialogue, and most importantly, SUBTEXT.
Subtext is sorely lacking in modern cinema. We have movies like Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Million Dollar Baby, Babel, and Ray (again examples) that bat you over the noggin with exactly what they want you to know about their movies. They don't challenge like they once did. And even when the films of the 1990s were not challenging you with their meanings, they were usually challenging you in other ways, such as structure and conflicted characters.
Right now we are in a period that is similar to the 1979 to 1987 period in cinema, where precious little interesting or innovative films were being made. It's why we are seeing two major phenomena: big-time movie actors having their films go straight -- or at least very quickly -- to DVD (Nicholas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Al Pacino, Matthew McConaughey); and established movie actors going to TV (Laurence Fishburne, Tim Roth, Kyra Sedgwick, Gary Sinese, Alec Baldwin).
For the latter, it's not that actors are slumming it; they are smart. TV is better now than it's probably ever been, and movies are at their nadir. So why wouldn't an actor get a job with steady work on shows that are far better written than most of the movie crap that comes out. Compare the writing of shows like "The Wire," "The Sopranos" (even with all its flaws), "30 Rock," "The Office," "Mad Men," "Battlestar Galactica" and the like to Uwe Boll's latest reel of cinematic excrement.
Anyway, that is all neither here nor there. Since movies have been so shitty lately, I have naturally become nostalgic for the last two decades of films, waiting for the next great wave of moviemakers to come along. And I'm going to do something rather revolutionary. I am going to correctly predict all five of the Academy Award Nominees this year, before they are announced.
There is a methodology to my madness, and it is this: every Academy Award nominee of the last 20 ceremonies fall into one of ten categories. They are...
- Feel-Good Movie: This is a movie that has a happy, uplifting ending. It forces you to leave the theater with a grin on your grill and a song in your heart. (Examples: It Could Happen To You, Muriel's Wedding, A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life.)
- Quirky: It's a little offbeat, and a little strange. It might have weird camera angles, wacky characters or some kind of goofy voiceover. It is usually slightly funny, often in a twisted or macabre way. (Examples: Spanking the Monkey, Buffalo '66, Barton Fink, Boogie Nights, Citizen Ruth, Harold and Maude, Fight Club.)
- Period Piece: No, it's not about a teenage girl, it's a movie that takes place in a different time, and sometimes in a different country. It harkens back to a more romantic era, and is usually hinged upon a romance. (Examples: Chinatown, Amadeus, Avalon, Ragtime, The Great Gatsby)
- "Message" Film: It tells gives you a lesson at the end, hopefully one you will take with you when you leave theater. Sure it entertains you, but it also makes you think!!!! Often takes the shape of a courtroom drama. (Examples: 12 Angry Men, To Kill A Mockingbird, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Long Walk Home, The Best Years of Our Lives, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)
- Liberal Agenda: Different from a message film in that it pushes forth a liberal agenda, rather than one of universal truth. Not always strictly liberal; sometimes just hippy-ish. (Examples: The Contender, A Few Good Men, The American President, Coming Home, Easy Rider, The Ghosts of Mississippi, Dances With Wolves, Amistad, The Cider House Rules.)
- Epic: By definition, longer than two-and-a-half hours, but often with the scope of several years or decades. (Examples: Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With the Wind, Heaven's Gate, The Godfather.)
- Inspirational: Makes you want to stand up and cheer for he who faced the odds and beat them! (Examples: The Shawshank Redemption, My Left Foot, The Pianist, Hotel Rwanda, A Beautiful Mind.)
- Weepie: If you walk out of this one without a tear in your eye, you haven't a heart in your chest. (Examples: The Color Purple, Old Yeller, Love Story, City Lights, Sophie's Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer.)
- Gritty: Raw, sometimes violent. Doesn't blink or let you off the hook. (Examples: GoodFellas, Narc, Saving Private Ryan, Reservoir Dogs, Se7en, Mean Streets, American History X, Requiem for a Dream.)
- Surprise Hit: This is a movie that no one expected to be this good or this popular, and therefore warrants a spot on the list. (Examples: Pirates of the Carribean, Moulin Rouge, The Sixth Sense, Babe, Little Miss Sunshine.)
Now, if you are interested in how the last 20 Oscar races have come out, HERE IS THE SPREADSHEET. It breaks each of the five nominees down into their categories -- and sometimes more than one -- for 1988-2007. That is 20 years of research. The numbers don't lie!
But based on that, here are what the five Oscar nominees WILL BE this year:
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (aka the Epic/The Weepie)
- Frost/Nixon (aka the Period Piece)
- Revolutionary Road (aka the Message Movie/Period Piece)
- Slumdog Millionaire (aka the Surprise Hit/Feel-Good Movie)
- Vicki Cristina Barcelona (aka the Quirky Comedy)
This WILL BE the list. Mark it down now and bet the house on it.
Wow, I blew that one. Three out of Five (The Reader and Milk instead of Vicki Cristina and Revolution Road.) But I'll get 4/5 next year. Write it down and bet the house on it!]