The Academy Awards (a.k.a. “the Oscar’s”) are more than a celebration of Hollywood films and filmmakers. They are irreversibly tied to American politics and culture. As such, they are also connected to the international political and cultural sphere. Current ideologies and social views affect who is nominated and who wins. In turn, this selection process can impact how society views itself.
For example, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won 11 Oscar’s including Best Picture in 2003, it was acknowledging that Hollywood had become increasingly decentralized and more international. It resulted in dramatic changes to the film and tourism industries in New Zealand. The Best Picture nominees for 2012 are particularly interesting for what they each signify. Let’s take a look at my openly biased opinions.
Amour – A co-production from Austria, France, and Germany, this could be the third non-Hollywood film to win Best Picture. As the film’s dialogue is in French, Amour is the ninth foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture, but could be the first to win! While I have not seen this film myself, from what I have read, its story takes one particular stance towards old age, death, and euthanasia. A win for this film could indicate a shared sentiment towards suffering, if enough people watch it (probably not). This film is more likely to win Best Foreign Language Film since it is also nominated in that category.
Argo – While this film was praised by many critics as an effective thriller with comedic elements, one has to consider the larger framework. It is an attempt to recreate history from the American perspective. Most Iranian characters are portrayed negatively. The U.S. and Iran aren’t on particularly great terms right now. Will selecting this film as the winner, thus drawing more attention to it, have an effect on international relations? With Ben Affleck not nominated for Best Director, I don’t see this film winning. But it is possible.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – I predict this film will be the winner. Or perhaps I just hope that it will win. This film came out of nowhere (no big names involved) and tells a unique story. The main actress (Quvenzhané Wallis) is the youngest person ever to be nominated (age 9) for Best Actress and she is brilliant in the film. It deals with real issues of hurricanes, rising sea levels, erosion, alcoholism, poverty, and the challenges of being a single parent. But it addresses these issues from an interesting perspective: a strong little girl with a big imagination, living in an isolated community. A win for this film is a win for all independent filmmakers, and would make me very happy for them.
Django Unchained – In the context of the other nominees, this film stands for those who don’t wish to learn more about the real history of slaves or confront modern political issues. A win for this says, “Bring on the gory popcorn blockbusters! Don’t ever change, Tarantino! We need more films like yours!” As if we don’t already have enough Tarantino imitators…
Les Misérables – While the director is not nominated, this film has a good chance of winning. It received a lot of critical and media attention, and a full-blooded musical hasn’t won since Chicago – 2005. Many of the actors in the film are already beloved by the Academy. But it is a British film, and the Brit’s won in 2010 with The King’s Speech. So I am going to predict it wins Best Original Song or an acting role instead. A win for this film would say: “We like French history, but we prefer the English language. Take that, Amour!”
Life of Pi – A win for this film would be a delayed award for Ang Lee’s previous film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Sometimes the Oscar’s work that way. Not to say that this film isn’t worthy, only that it wouldn’t be the sole factor for its win. I think this would excite a broader audience of people in terms of demographics, and would be a smart move for the Academy. It is the most accessible of all the films nominated. It might also result in increased co-productions with India. But with Slumdog Millionaire winning in 2008, I don’t think this will be the winner.
Lincoln – This would be a predictable win: an established director, well-known actors, and history that’s old enough not to be controversial. It would be a boring win, signifying that Hollywood has little desire for change. (Apologies to all of the ardent Lincoln fans out there for my lack of enthusiasm, if any of you even read this).
Silver Linings Playbook – This would be a surprise. Politics are absent from this film, and it deals very personal psychological issues, but in a warm and affectionate way. If this film were to win, we might see more character-driven indie films released. But this film hasn’t generated enough media buzz, except for the leads’ performances. It is more likely to win in the acting categories.
Zero Dark Thirty – Like Argo, this film is a political thriller, but it has generated greater controversy (both domestic and abroad). A win for this film will emphasize the patriotism of the Academy Awards, and perhaps distance international audiences. It could also result in more copycat movies where Osama Bin Laden is the villain, instead of Hollywood’s go-to bad guy: Hitler. The Hurt Locker already won in 2009, and the Academy seems to play a game where the same filmmakers don’t usually win rapidly in succession. So I don’t think this will win.
Who do you think will win? Let’s see what happens!