Oscars, post mortem

So I don’t really have much to say about the Oscars, except that I did indeed watch them. Well, most of them. To my recollection, this was only the second time I’ve ever watched them. The more I think about it, the more I realize that probably has more to do with my access to cable than anything else.

The ceremony wasn’t anything special, but then again these things never are. You care when something you like wins, you don’t care otherwise. I think the reason I tuned in this year is because I’d actually watched the two frontrunners, and I enjoyed them both a lot. I also wanted to see if Michael Keaton would win Best Actor. He didn’t, so that was disappointing to me, but it’s hard for me to say that Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve it because he did. The Theory of Everything is a wonderful movie and he makes it so.

I will admit that I was surprised that Birdman won Best Picture, even though that’s exactly what I expected to happen. I think I assumed Boyhood would win and I would be surprised, but instead I was surprised that I wasn’t surprised. I am also not surprised by all the chitty-chatter surrounding the controversial choice that wasn’t actually controversial.

First off, most people kinda knew that Birdman was going to win, because it won most of the awards that act as predictors to the Oscars. I think that’s another reason why awards shows just seem so irrelevant these days: Fivethirtyeight basically tells you what the results will be a week before the ceremony. I get why that can feed into frustration. Like, why can’t the Oscars just be different than the other awards shows? But that’s just how it works. These things are mostly about marketing and timing (which is why some people say Selma lost out) and then a dash of legitimate acclaim.

The other reason I’m not surprised Birdman won is because, despite the fact that I loved Boyhood, I think Birdman is overall just a better movie. In fact, I kind of think that’s obvious. I know that’s rude of me to say, and that means nothing in an actual court of law, but I saw both and was impressed by both and like them both for very different reasons. But if someone were to ask me to weigh them each pound for pound, I can’t personally come up with any good reason why Boyhood should win. Let me explain.

Boyhood is so great. But it has a couple of elephants wandering around. The biggest one is probably the performances. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are wonderful. There is no one else in the entire movie that feels worthy of our time. Which is both the strength and weakness of the film. The film’s protagonist is utterly dull, because this is supposed to be a movie about life coming at you. It’s a great idea well executed, but when you isolate the lead performance it’s hard not to see it was lacking.

The same goes for the script. Isolate the script and there is very little to behold. Which is clearly what Linklater intended. Life, in the frames of Boyhood, move aimlessly. That’s where the film’s magic comes from. The music, the direction, even the editing feel like they are almost accidents, like most events in life.

In other words, it makes a lot of sense to me that ultimately Patricia Arquette was the only person singled out. Her performance was like electricity in a pool of still water.

Birdman, on the other hand, is basically the exact opposite. Boyhood is celebrated because it did something no other film has ever done. Birdman should be celebrated because piece by piece it’s exquisite. Every performance — and the film borders on ensemble —was stellar. The rhythm of the film is perfect. Editing, music, intensity. It’s a messy display of high emotion that takes place over the course of a few days. In so many ways it it’s the antithesis of Linklater’s mystified mundanity.

So, I’m still al little surprised that Boyhood didn’t win, but it also makes a lot of sense to me. Besides the occasional hyperbole, I think it pretty much makes sense to most people.

In fact, lets unpack the most popular hyperbole:

In a piece for Slate, Dan Kois says he likes Birdman but thinks this is the biggest mistake the Oscars have made in twenty years. He goes into kind of silly terri—

You know what, no. I’m not going to do some dumb response to Kois, because he’s just speaking in dumb hyperbole. I will say this though:

The vast majority of filmmakers that I consider great have never won an academy award:

Terrence Malick – Nominated twice. Never won. 

Stanley Kubrick – Four nominations. Never won. 

Paul Thomas Anderson – Nominated four times. Never won.

Peter Weir – Nominated five times. Never won. 

Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West might be the best movie that’s not On the Waterfront) – Never even nominated. 

David Fincher – Nominated twice. Never won.

Akira Kurosawa. Yes, Akira freaking Kurosawa – Nominated once. Never won.

Robert Altman – Nominated five times. Won a lifetime achievement award (that’s it). 

David Gordon Green – Never even nominated

John Cassavetes – One nomination. Zero wins. 

Jeff Nichols – Never even nominated (he’s young yet) 

Richard Linklater is a wonderful director, but everyone I mentioned above is (in my opinion) significantly better, so he’s in great company. Linklater will keep making great movies. In fact, he’s probably going to have a lot more avenues open to him for the future after this. His movie is great. Birdman is better, by some measures. Iñárritu is an amazing, and clearly underrated, director who now has a hard act to follow.

One last thing: Birdman is a surrealist comedy. No matter how much people want to believe that Boyhood was some outlier in a sea of sameness, moviegoers in general have an aversion to surrealism. This was not Dances with Wolves or The King’s Speech. And that narrative that Hollywood loves to award films that critique Hollywood is also unfounded. The last time a film that “critiqued” Hollywood in any direct way won BP was The Artist a few years back. Before that was All About Eve in 1950. So yeah, that’s not a thing. Also it seems like Grand Budapest Hotel and Selma have more reason to be upset than anyone.

Now I’m descending into that thing again where I engage with arguments that no one really needs to care about.

Fin.

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JJ Feinauer

JJ writes stuff occasionally.

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