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Adam and Judah talk about the Oscars because of social expectation

Monday 10th March 2014

Film bloggers Adam Goodall and Judah Finnigan begin their rundown of the 2014 Oscars.

Adam: Let’s kick this off with a CHALLENGING, ICONOCLASTIC THOUGHT: The Oscars aren't all that.

You know why – it’s a money-go-round that shuts out small indie filmmakers, co-opts foreign artists for appearance's sake and treats the idea of excellence in filmmaking with the same respect it gives trailers and viral marketing. Monday's Oscars were more of the same, best summed up by a montage to ‘Cinema Heroes’ presented by Chris Evans. The idea was fine, but the actual montage? An extended Marvel/DC Comics/Will Smith advertisement, topped off with the inclusion of the expressly nonheroic Ethan Edwards, racist patriarch and lead character of The Searchers. The Oscars feel like a love letter to the Hollywood machine at the expense of cinema as an art form; this begs the question, if the Hollywood machine’s most high-profile celebration of cinema is really about blowing their own trumpet, why should we care?

I guess we care because we embrace the horse race while dismissing the cultishness, idiocy and hats tied up in it. And that horse race is fun, and discussing it is a cool way to bring in new contributor and The State of Things' new co-author Judah Finnigan. Judah?

Judah: Hi Adam. Hi all.

Yeah, I'd agree with most of that. Salon's Andrew O' Hehir pretty much nailed it with his suggestion that Ellen DeGeneres' star-crammed, record-breaking Selfie, intentionally or otherwise, offered a fitting metaphor for the ceremony itself and I'm not sure I could sum up the vanity, self-congratulation and feigned enjoyment of the event much better than that. The Oscars have come to represent a rather outdated sensibility over recent years, and I guess the string of younger, fresher hosts (Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, that nightmarish Hathaway-Franco tag-team) and millennial-conscious insta-memes like that Selfie are pretty indicative of the kind of relevance anxiety the Academy has been trying to offset. But, to quote Adam above, if one consciously ignores the pageantry and focuses on the actual movies we're supposedly celebrating, this really has been a stacked year for contenders. If the results inevitably proved predictable, I can only really argue against a few of them.

  • The Technical Awards

Judah: I guess to recap results, we should start on the technical end and work our way up, but there's not really all that much to comment on after an unsurprising but not at all undeserving sweep for Gravity. There's a little corner of my soul that feels a pensive pang every time master cinematographer Roger Deakins goes home empty-handed (the crisp, brooding lensing of Prisoners marking his 11th loss), but that particular category was unreasonably flush with brilliance this year and I think few will be genuinely pissed off with a victory for Emmanuel Lubezki's staggering, weightless work with Cuaron. Adam, I'm aware you have some gripes in this field, particularly in the Hair and Makeup Category?

Adam: BOY, DO I EVER.

So, I quite enjoy the Make-up and Hairstyling section. Its nominees are often the most audacious; without this category, we wouldn't be able to call films like Harry and the HendersonsThe Nutty Professor and Men in Black'Academy Award winners' (and that's not even touching on nominees likeNorbitClick, the 2002 adaptation of The Time Machine, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). The technical categories given less coverage by the press tend to be the ones that display less anxiety about industry perception and ‘going with the flow’, and Make-up and Hairstyling was always the most visible reminder of that. That's what made this year’s nominees so great. The widely-derided box-office bomb The Lone RangerDallas Buyers' Club, which had a $250 make-up budget! And Jackass: Bad Grandpa!

Dallas Buyers' Club won, and good for them. But what Bad Grandpa was doing left them in the dust - its complex prosthetics not only needed to look good on film, it needed to fool people on the street long enough that an entire scene could be shot without it becoming apparent that the old man in front of them was just Johnny Knoxville, underneath all the silicone. Dan Kois at Slate provides a good explanation of why Stephen Prouty’s loss in the category was a bit of a travesty.    Regardless of the reasons for it – whether it was to keep up appearances, whether it was because Bad Grandpa's gross-out comedy was seen as 'below' the Academy, whether not enough people saw the film – it's a stark reminder that we're probably not going to see a win like The Nutty Professor's for a while yet.

Other than that, I was happy for the Gravity sweep, though I would’ve preferred it if Bruno Delbonnel's wintry work in Inside Llewyn Davis had taken the Cinematography Oscar. But if we move on to Documentary and Animated Feature, maybe we'll find some more contentious ground. What are your thoughts, Judah?

  • Documentary and Animated Features

Judah: Ironically, I caught both winners of the Documentary and Animated feature awards in the last couple of days before the ceremony (I actually exited 20 Feet From Stardom to discover it had won), and while I wouldn't quite call them 'contentious' victories, both were predictably safe selections that suffer more by contrast than by any particularly glaring faults. I can't really kick up too much of a fuss regarding the Animated Category as I've only seen two of the nominees: I've already reserved a personal top spot for Hayao Miyazaki's swan-song The Wind Rises (based on his impossibly spotless track record thus far) and would rather endure being beaten senselessly across the skull with a caveman-style club than sit through The Croods. So given that the gentle, water-coloured delights of Ernest and Celestine never stood much of a chance against Disney's Progressive Princess Powerhouse, my investment in this category was only ever as deep as my investment in Frozen itself. Adam dug the film a hell of a lot more than I did, so he can weigh in and warrant the triumph if he wants to, but I could only take so much of those shrill, excessively sticky musical numbers.

Jehane Noujaim's The Square was the only entry I hadn't caught up with in the Documentary category, so I had a bit more stock in that race. 20 Feet From Stardom is probably the least remarkable entry nominated, but it's not exactly a stretch to see how an infectious crowd-pleaser about unsung vocal talent succeeded over movies on questionable foreign policy or Indonesian death-squads. It was the latter – Joshua Oppenheimer's gruelling, surreal exploration of evil The Act of Killing – that I think Adam and I both agree should have been the film honoured, even though I myself have had trouble recommending it to people. It's indeed an incredibly tough sit, but a milestone in documenting the human capacity for violence, and given how readily the Academy acknowledged the reprehensible history of 12 Years A Slave, I had fingers crossed that there might be room for two statements on recent histories of unspeakable oppression this year. But I guess the way Oppenheimer quite specifically addresses Hollywood and its role in these atrocities (much of the film deals with the replication of stylised murders that the killers saw in American movies) might have been a bit of a turn-off for Hollywood’s biggest fans. Your thoughts, Adam?

Adam: Because I love torpedoing my credibility, I too have only seen two of the Animated Feature nominees, because there is no way Despicable Me 2and The Croods were getting my money and we're still a couple of months out from a theatrical release of The Wind Rises. And while my love of Ernest & Celestine is well-documented, I'm okay with Frozen's very predictable victory. It's by no means unimpeachable – the third act undermines some of its real-world resonance and criminally abandons the musical conceit – but, in contrast to Judah, I found its tale of women finding power in autonomy and unity surprisingly coherent and progressive from a studio that's never been crash-hot with feminism (low standards, but you take it where you can). Also, it's a lot of fun and looks beautiful (Elsa's ice castle is a standard-bearer for lighting in animation).

I can't add much more to the discussion Documentary-wise than to emphasise how utterly important The Act of Killing was and how disappointing its loss is, but I can add something to the Foreign Picture discussion.

  • Foreign Picture

Adam: As with Ernest & Celestine, my appreciation of The Great Beauty has been documented on this site before. It's a shame the film didn't pull off an Amour-style nomination coup so I had a dark horse to cheer on with a smug, self-absorbed grin on my face, but it's good to see the establishment starting to wake up to Paolo Sorrentino, one of the most offbeat and visually audacious filmmakers currently about. I can only hope it'll buy him the chance to go deeper into his idiosyncracies.

Judah: I too was thrilled with the Sorrentino love. The Great Beauty might have been my favourite film of the year passed - sumptuous, ravishing and actually about something - so it was immensely satisfying to see post-ceremony snaps of Sorrentino drunkenly swaggering down Hollywood Blvd. with his golden statuette in hand.

To be continued tomorrow.

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When he isn't writing about film or television, Judah avidly watches it, discusses it and attempts to pen his own for the screen. He graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Media Studies, and has yet to adjust his lifestyle.
Adam makes a living at the Dunedin District Court, but makes a life as a playwright, director and writer. He writes The State of Things with Judah Finnigan.
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