I’m an old-timer with the Oscars. I was invited in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences writers’ branch nearly three decades ago, so I have had a long time to be blasé about the whole thing. And I am, more or less.
You can pretend not to care, but there are less than 6000 voting members and only a few more than two hundred in the writers’ branch, so, unless you’re Woody Allen, you have to feel at least slightly honored to be part of it.
Earlier this year, the L.A. Times attempted to stir up controversy by pointing out the Academy was 94% Caucasian and 77% male. They didn’t give the percentage that are liberals (not their narrative), but I would guess that is somewhere around 80%, give or take a Clint Eastwood and a Robert Duvall or two.
This year, for the first time, we are voting online. This is no mean trick since the median age is 62 and I have a suspicion a serious number of geezer members are, shall we say, technologically challenged. (Evidently the powers that be are nervous, given the detailed explanatory emails we have been getting.) This particular voter, who has been running an online media company for seven years, even had minor problems when voting today that were taken care of speedily with a quick call to a 24-hour support line.
The votes I cast today were in the nominating process. All members can nominate for the five best picture slots. Members of each branch also nominate in their specific areas of expertise. Hence I got to nominate as many as five each for best screenplay and best adapted screenplay. All the members vote in all categories in the finals in February.
For the nomination process, I rarely vote for the full five, even for best picture. I guess I’m just one of those persnickety types who is hard to impress. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies. Whatever the case, I’d be a lousy film critic because I’d give too many pans and make everyone think I was a grouch, which maybe I am. Also, the studios would hate me.
Nevertheless, I don’t think 2012 was a bad year for films. I quite liked two movies and enjoyed several others. (I won’t tell you whether I voted for them — that’s against Academy rules. But I’ll leave you to extrapolate, Sherlock.)
The two I most admired were Amour, the film by Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke that won all the prizes in Europe, and Silver Linings Playbook by the talented American writer/director David O. Russell.
Amour was as close to a perfect film as you can find, although its subject matter — love in the face of death — is not exactly an upper. Still, the performances of the now octogenarian Jean-Louis Trintignant (remember A Man and a Woman?) and Emmanuelle Riva (remember Hiroshima, Mon Amour?) are exquisite and actually uplifting. I predict this movie will be watched many years from now and become something of an austere classic.
Silver Linings Playbook is not nearly as perfect but it is an original and surprisingly affecting love story between two highly disturbed individuals, reminiscent in some ways of the Oscar winner As Good As It Gets. The performances here by Bradley Cooper and, especially, Jennifer Lawrence are also exceptional.
Other movies I liked this year were the sentimental Quartet – director (this time) Dustin Hoffman and writer Ron Harwood’s bagatelle about life at a British home for retired musicians – and Argo – Ben Affleck’s telling of the escape from Khomeini’s Iran by some of the 1979 hostages. Affleck has a couple of obligatory liberal tropes in his film, but I’ll excuse him. His heart and his filmmaking skills are clearly in the right place.
Two big Oscar contenders I did not admire were Les Miserables (it’s always been a mystery to me how this tuneless musical was a success in the first place) and the “hunt for bin Laden” thriller Zero Dark Thirty whose plotting (as Lionel Chetwynd and I discussed on Poliwood) is an unfathomable hodge-podge.
Of course, those are just my opinions and worth no more than yours – even if I get to vote in the Oscars [insert smiley here]. I have always noticed you can argue with someone as long as you wish – and as well as you can – about why they should like a film but you can rarely get them to change their real reaction to it. We each have our own experiences of art, which work on deeper emotional levels than we can easily explain or, for that matter, argue. We all bring our own histories to stories and our own lives — and they are and should be inviolable. Art (the art of film, in this case) is its own form of dialogue. At its best, it speaks to the unconscious.
Which leads me back to my title. I have noticed – how could I not – how much conservatives despise Hollywood. Many refuse to go to the movies altogether and say they don’t care who wins the Oscars. (I don’t blame them for that!) But they abandon the culture at their peril.
Despise Oliver Stone and Sean Penn all you want, but don’t cede the playing field to them. They are telling the stories your children are watching. Such story telling is a natural process, as old as Homer, indeed older. It’s part of human development actually.
And turning off the television set won’t help. It will only make things worse because other peoples’ children – far, far more of them, I assure you – are still watching. Your children are going to have to share the world with them. Don’t give up the culture. Take it over.