The Fine Line: How the Oscars subdue controversy by embracing it

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Looking through the latest score of Oscar nominees, it’s difficult not to be a little bit happy. Eight of the nine nominees for Best Picture actually sort of deserve to be there, as do most of the acting nominees.  It’s actually difficult to pinpoint the greatest surprise success, though you’d have a hard time arguing that it’s not either Michael Haneke’s Amour and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Both of these films “stole” Best Director nominees from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck, though we named them as the two best movies of the year.

However, the Oscars have slowly been dwindling further into mediocrity long before the Academy switched their Best Picture policy to, “We’ll nominate however many goddamn movies we feel like” and kept the directing category limited at five nominees.  Looking at the past five years of winners, three of them (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and last year’s The Artist) were the un-upsetting crowd-pleasers of their respective year.  The other two (No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker) were technical masterworks deserving of the kind of pedigree the Oscars are supposed to represent.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Zero Dark Thirty

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Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal (screenplay)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Joel Edgerton

In 2008’s The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal created a searingly suspenseful modern war movie about a bomb diffuser addicted to the rush of potential detonation, which became a history-making Oscar and critical darling in the process. It was a grimy and unsanitized piece of work, more obsessed with masculinity on the edge than serving up an overt political agenda.

Zero Dark Thirty is almost clinical by comparison, if no less nerve-wracking.  In chronicling the obsessive decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, Boal and Bigelow re-examine the American psyche on a much broader scope.  Again they try to keep an agenda out of it and simply dramatize the facts, but the sensitivity and  weight of those findings make it impossible to avoid controversy.

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