Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

The predictable, ‘It’s-About-Time’ Oscars

I honestly wasn’t looking forward to the Academy Awards this year. Too many exceptional films (especially foreign films) went ignored by the Academy. Most of the films nominated resembled the cookie-cutter epics of the late ’90s and early 2000s –– films like “Titanic,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Aviator.” Not terribly appealing, I’d say. When I sat down and watched films like “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men” win top awards last year, I thought, for once, that the Academy might have changed its outlook on film: opting for creativity and impression over homogeneity and mediocrity. Unfortunately, it hasn’t: for the most part.

The enjoyable exception this year was “Slumdog Millionaire,” which took home a whopping eight awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its win, however, was entirely predictable and represents a category of Oscars this year that I call the Its-About-Time Oscars. Danny Boyle’s darling feature about a love story stemming from the slums of Mumbai was the favorite (and deservingly so given the other nominees) for most of its nominations coming into the Oscars: The movie recently dominated both the Golden Globes and the BAFTA awards.  

But it wasn’t, by far, this year’s best picture.  

It was a bit unbelievable and lacked insight into the nature of something –– be it into the nearly-trite ‘human condition,’ or any other so-called condition. “Slumdog” only really has two levels: the love-story, game show level and the color-aesthetic, meta-critical Indian level. If it were a great movie, it would’ve possessed a third: the nature level: the revealing of that something that is only achievable through motion picture. The only movies nominated this year that reached that plateau were “The Visitor,” “Rachel Getting Married,” and “Waltz with Bashir” (I have not yet seen “The Class,” which, I expect, should be included in this list).

Then you have Kate Winslet winning Best Actress for her role in “The Reader.” After five previous Oscar nominations, it was about time that she got her first win. But, this career achievement Oscar should not have come at the expense of a much better performance by Anne Hathaway in a much better movie, “Rachel Getting Married” or an exceptional performance, equal to Hathaway’s, from Michelle Williams in “Wendy and Lucy.”

Then there is Sean Penn. He won his second Oscar in an equally unfulfilling role as the first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk. It’s about time that this film came out and it’s about time that a more political movie than “Brokeback Mountain” regarding homosexuality win a top award. According to director Gus Van Sant, the film been 14 years in the making: or, at least, that’s how long the screenplay has been floating around. Now, I accept that Penn’s performance was ‘inspiring’ and ‘uplifting,’ but I was expecting much more than just another feel-good biopic. This film’s only redeeming quality is that it persuaded more people than normal to see a movie about gay rights and the gay movement.   That is wonderful, but it is a poor film. Honestly, I was expecting much more from director Gus Van Sant, whose ‘Death Trilogy’ (“Gerry,” “Elephant” and “Last Days”) is one of the greatest cinematic feats of the last two decades.  

“Milk” would’ve been something special had it resembled the creative, nonlinear narrative of “Last Days,” his cinematic case study of Kirk Cobain’s death. Unfortunately, it did not resemble that film and, consequently, we will soon forget it.

The Academy did not reward subtlety or creativity this year. Instead, it rewarded ostentatious, artificial and, at times, annoying performances by actors and actresses who might have done a better job had their movies not attempted to be epics. The contrast between “The Visitor” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” could not be more obvious. The former does not bog itself down in technicalities. It presents a simple story that reveals much more about love and relationships than the latter, its antithesis. While movies like “The Curious Case…” may move cinema forward technically, it is movies like “The Visitor” that move cinema forward intellectually, narratively and, above all, artistically.  

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