The Oscar for Best Picture does not confer greatness on its own. Few would argue that Crash is a better film than Brokeback Mountain, or that Forrest Gump has had more of an impact on pop culture and films than Pulp Fiction. However there is still a sense of disappointment when a truly great film is ignored, a feeling of waste as the Academy chooses the predictable and the mundane over something truly interesting, picking the films with the largest hype machines or the biggest names.
Certainly the roll call of those that missed out is impressive: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was Jim Carrey’s best performance, but was ignored by the selectors. Heath Ledger’s Joker also couldn’t give his film success in the Best Picture category, with the majority of attention (perhaps rightly) focused on his individual performance ahead of Christopher Nolan’s entire project.
The biggest blunders from the Academy come when they fail to see where films are heading though. Toy Story heralded a new era of animated films and wider acceptance of children’s films as serious art, one which saw later sequels nominated for the gong. British films have also been overlooked, despite The King’s Speech winning last year. Trainspotting wowed critics and defined a particular era of British culture but was overlooked in the American awards show, although the English Patient was a worthy winner ahead of Ewan McGregor’s star turn.
This year The Master joins the long line of great films not to be nominated for the golden statue, ignored by the Academy despite nominations for Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. The snub is particularly grating given what has been shortlisted – Life of Pi is defined by its (admittedly impressive) effects, Les Misérables is based on an already successful stage play with a stellar cast and Lincoln is unashamedly patriotic, to the point where you feel the prime audience of the film is the Academy selectors.
The problem is that The Master is a truly special film, one which explores the medium in every aspect, from the expertly crafted cut scenes to the script that played with time and images. Anderson even made sure the texture of the film he used suited his vision, the 70mm widescreen film perfectly matching the film’s longing for a golden age that never quite looks as good in reality as in theory.
How many of the nominated films are that well-crafted? Aside from Tarantino no mainstream Hollywood director has put that much effort into realising their vision this year, yet somehow Anderson’s film has been snubbed not only in the Best Picture category but also in Best Cinematography. It’s as though film is no longer seen as a medium for experimentation. The ‘best’ pictures are those which fit into the traditions and techniques of modern American film, not those which realise their vision in a unique or interesting way.
If Hollywood is to finally recreate the golden age of the 1970s then more emphasis on the art of films and filmmaking in awards nomination is necessary. Certainly the choice of The Artist last year and the nomination of Amour hint at a change in focus from Beverly Hills to Europe and a wider choice of winners.