Timely Or Timeless?

Dear Vinny & Don,

Let me preface this post by saying as a whole, despite the dip in ticket sales and box office grosses, 2011 was a great year for film. A lot of material challenged me as a moviegoer, and as contentious as some people feel about The Help, placing it in context with the other surprise box office hit of the year, Bridesmaids, it was a fantastic year for women in cinema.

I certainly did not expect that two female-driven films on opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum–one, a period film that managed to present racial issues in a widely palatable, almost frivolous manner and the other a riotous comedic exercise overflowing (no pun intended) with toilet humor–would create the kind of impact that they have. If either of these films are any indication of the risks that movie producers and audiences are willing to take, then I’m actually quite optimistic about what cinema will bring in the near future.

"Mmm-hmm...You know that Oscar's mine"

Yes, the Oscar nominations included the usual predictable choices that we all saw coming, and only a handful that didn’t (and as Don pointed out, one that seemed hardly deserving if we’re to judge its performance at the other guild awards). I have never read, nor do I plan to read, the source material for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but I must admit that I am all the more curious to see Stephen Daldry’s film adaptation given its nomination for Best Picture. I remember that until this film, Daldry previously held the distinction of being a director who was nominated every single time that he had a film released during the eligibility period. Does his lack of a nomination rob the film of its merits? I have yet to find out. Does its lackluster reception by critics automatically mean that it’s devoid of any redeeming value? I don’t know. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. After all, the Academy isn’t made up of film critics, but filmmakers. These people understand the creative process of making films, which is why it’s always baffled me why we, as an audience, feel we can determine what is deserving and what isn’t. Yet I also understand that while this is their show, the Oscars has been a reliable barometer for the current climate of popular culture.

Don, while your assumption that Scott Rudin “has definitely sucked some huge Oscar dick to get it nominated” is an amusing insight, I would have to agree more with the idea that it mines a “touching” issue. The Oscars are an American institution, and this year saw the American people commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that still haunts their collective psyche. Couple that with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death last May and you have the ingredients for a timely picture that probably reflects a wholly American sentiment. More than anything, that’s why I believe Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has snuck its way into the race. I’ll reserve my criticism of its inclusion until I’ve actually experienced the film for myself. A film’s timeliness, and not necessarily its timelessness sometimes overrides the decision-making of Oscar voters.

In relation to that, Vinny, I share your lack of enthusiasm over The Artist‘s front runner status in the coming race. I appreciate the merits of such a film being made in a movie-making climate saturated with “surefire” blockbuster franchises, and safe film adaptations that already have a built-in audience waiting for it to come to life on the silver screen, and in various merchandising material. Yes, The Artist seems like such a novelty now. Yet I too was left a little cold by the characters who I was supposed to be rooting for. I honestly felt at one point that George Valentin didn’t deserve all the help that Peppy Miller was extending him, a man who refused to conform to the changing times. But again, I understand the Academy’s love affair with nostalgia. Much like Owen Wilson’s Gil and Marion Cotillard’s Adriana in Midnight in Paris, maybe Oscar voters are just pining for the past, believing their Golden Age to have long been forgotten, in need of being revisited and relived by the current generation of filmmakers and filmgoers. Why else would there only be three out of the nine Best Picture nominees set solely in the 2000s?

Some of the films that I was most entertained by this year, “contemporary” fare like Drive, just aren’t a majority of Academy voters’ cup of tea. I have long made peace with that. For this same reason, I always feel a greater love for the Academy when they choose to acknowledge less conventional choices (by their standards) like Rooney Mara’s performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or to go a couple of years back, Ellen Burstyn’s in Requiem For A Dream. It means that more people will actually be drawn to see films like that because they’re singled out for even just a lone performance, or for whatever reason. I also know that if it weren’t for a lot of the Academy’s choices and exclusions, however sometimes questionable, I would never have come to appreciate smaller films that I count among the most memorable releases of 2011. Films like the hypnotically contemplative Another Earth, or the surprisingly overwhelming Warrior–the two films that, off the top of my head, reduced me to a tearful mess for different, yet strangely parallelistic reasons.

While films like The Tree of Life are important pieces that push us to approach our existence (and the very medium of film) on an intellectual and even spiritual level, I’ve always been more drawn to material that creates a ripple effect in me emotionally. Those are the films that have true staying power. And each film has a different effect on each individual for different reasons at different times.

After all, aren’t our reactions to movies, or any creative output for that matter, ultimately informed by our individual and/or collective frame of mind at a given time?

 

-Jay

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