I experienced something this year after reading the Oscar nominees that I haven’t experienced since I don’t remember when: concurrence. For as long as I’ve been (perhaps foolishly) watching the Oscars, I can’t remember a year in which my response was so even-keeled, so contemplative and – dare I say it? – so agreeable with what the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences had arbitrarily decreed as the highest quality cinema to have been released in 2012.
Those of us who self-flagellate every year courtesy of the whims of the nebulous yet geriatrically-skewed Academy know that the only thing consistent about their picks year after year is that they’re sure to cause irrationally acerbic responses to the nominations in both their snubs (Children of Men, Zodiac, Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross) and their selections (The Blind Side, Doctor Dolittle, Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman). As much fun as it is to complain about these seemingly out of touch electorates, perhaps a small dose of pity is in order for a governing that will perpetually be caught in a lose-lose situation. There are so many films that come out every year and so many millions of people who go to see them that there is absolutely a 0% chance they’ll satisfy everyone. At best, AMPAS could only hope to achieve a slice in the pie chart of public approval and yet this year – be it because of changing times, an openness to their critics, or just simple awareness of a strong year of cinema – they seem to have finally done something right – or, at the very least, the most broadly acceptable – in what they’ve declared to be the year’s best work in film.
You may not see your personal favorite film or actor/actress if you think at this year’s Oscar nominees (for me, I can’t help but notice the absence of Compliance), but one thing you have to at least admit is that from Amour to Zero Dark Thirty, AMPAS seems to at least be showing an appreciation for, if not the best films, the best swath of films that this year had to offer.
2012 has been declared by some to be one of the best years of movies since 1999 and the range of diversity reflected in the Best Picture nominees reflects that. Academy members are still celebrating the best that Hollywood has to offer (Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln), but they’re also recognizing films that take chances (Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Mis, Django Unchained) and films to which Average Joe and Jane Moviegoer wouldn’t otherwise be exposed (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour). Some of you may make cases for Moonrise Kingdom or Cloud Atlas or and while the debate over what could/should be included in the absentee 10th Best Picture spot could be endless, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying there isn’t a title on that list that has no business being included there. Does Silver Linings Playbook have any realistic chance of winning? Absolutely not, but even it, along with every other nominated film, had its time in spotlight where the consensus seemed to be leaning toward it.
Most of the films nominated for Best Picture don’t need to have their praises sung or to be showered with gold statues – everyone knows Spielberg would have to try his hardest to make a bad film and it’s no secret that Bigelow’s return to the Middle East conflict also returns her work to the spotlight. But then there’s Life of Pi, a bold risk of a film that has the visual splendor to match its ambitions; there’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, the little indie with the precocious protagonist that attempts to show us the same world in a new light; and there’s Amour, the foreign film that dares to raise questions about an emotion that Hollywood almost exclusively views through rose colored glasses. This close to the ceremony, it becomes clear what film or films become the clear frontrunners to take home the gold and yet by even nominating those 3 films, the Academy has declared in a loud voice that the folks of Middle America should seek out that which they might otherwise ignore and it seems to be working – just last week I overheard a man behind me in Amour optimistically say, “it was nominated for Best Picture, so it must be good.”
I suppose one could argue that with such a strong year, the Academy could cast a wide net and still manage to reel in something good, but even if this year’s nominees contain an element of accident, how encouraging is it to know that 2012 was so strong in both accolades and box office (5 of the nominees grossed over $100 million domestically, 2 more over $50 million) that a random sampling would still feature such great output? Granted, mass appeal does not constitute success, but when so many of the films showing up on Best of lists are also being validated with ticket sales, I would wonder what else someone would need if they said they’re still looking for something more.
For the studios, movies are a business and we can only hope that they provide us with the highest quality output along the way to lining their pockets. For 2012, it seems at least like we have a win-win situation on our hands. Am I wrong for thinking the Academy finally got it right?