Jan 5, 2009

A good year to be an American

A great piece in the NYT about the fact that Oscars don't go to the best films: they go to the most Oscar-worthy films, which is to say, the films that allow Hollywood the most pleasing reflection of itself:—
Most famously there was the banner year of 1941, for which John Ford’s magnificent “How Green Was My Valley” was named what the academy then termed “outstanding motion picture” while Orson Welles’s game-changing “Citizen Kane” went home with only the original screenplay award.... By selecting “Cavalcade” — a numbing historical pageant, derived from a Noël Coward play, about a wealthy couple (Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook) stiff-upper-lipping their way through 40 years of English history — the members of the academy distanced themselves from the racy entertainments that then dominated the box office... For most of the ’30s the academy whipsawed between popular entertainments (“It Happened One Night,” 1934) and prestigious literary adaptations (“Mutiny on the Bounty,” 1935) meant to assure would-be censors that Hollywood was a dignified, pipe-smoking kind of place, tirelessly working for the moral improvement of American audiences. During World War II priorities shifted from moral development to patriotic fervor. The “outstanding motion picture” of 1942 was determined to be William Wyler’s portrait of a middle-class British couple enduring the Blitz, “Mrs. Miniver”... By the mid -’70s, the basic elements of an Oscarizable film were fixed in place: literary value, social criticism, grand spectacle and mature content, to be mixed and matched at will.
My gut tells me that the winner this year will be something with big box office and little violence — a reaction against the last two indie-winners The Departed and No Country for Old Men. Also that it's a bad year to be a Brit and a good year to be an American: the biggest feelgood spectacle of the year was the election. On Oscar night, the confetti from the Inaugeration will be just days old. Hollywood will want to throw the after-party party. One more reason to favour Penn and Hathaway.

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