Cinema Chatter #7 – Resonance

I considered going through a fairly standard analysis of the Academy Award nominees and predicting the winners. I even started something, though it quickly read off as a list cementing The Artist’s dominance on the awards circuit - it all comes to a head on February 26 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces it as the Best Picture of 2011. And while The Artist will etch its place in cinematic history, I really do have to wonder if the picture will extend beyond that.

Take 2009’s winner, Slumdog Millionaire. Has it stood any sort of longevity test? It was a zeitgeist picture that came and went – frankly, I strain my memory to recall its most basic plotting. Similarly, last year’s winner, The King’s Speech, a film that I admired upon viewing, has left me with the slightest lasting impression. It was a film that I found touching, though nothing out of the ordinary. At the same time, David Fincher’s The Social Network continues to linger in my consciousness as the sort of picture that extends beyond contemporary gravitas and speaks to a larger culture. It’s been well over a year since I’ve last seen it, but its icy and precise structure echoes clearly in my memory.

This doesn’t simply extend to winners and losers either. While many are heralding George Clooney’s performance in The Descendants as being the best performance of his career, those same people seem to be forgetting his far superior performance in 2010’s The American. It’s a film that came and went, but its lingering affect is remarkable. I frequently look back on it fondly, and it’s a picture that seems to seep into my viewings of other films (Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive being the clearest example).  It’s the sort of film that does resonate as you step away from it, a quality that a lot of recent Best Picture winners have been lacking.

The general feeling I get out of films like The Artist, The Help, and War Horse is in their very blatant way at tugging at your heartstrings. They’re effective in that manage to lob that softball of emotions, but there’s something so terribly artificial about their structure. Regardless, they are films that work for a larger consensus. Just like Slumdog Millionaire or The King’s Speech – they’re simply films that audiences can gravitate toward for a light cinematic experience. Films like The Tree of Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Take Shelter, Drive and the aforementioned The American don’t lay out the emotional groundwork for all to see – they’re enigmatic and require a bit of deciphering. They’re emotionally messy and blur moral lines that force viewers to question what they viewed.

I guess a big problem with these awards ceremonies in general is the hastiness involved in it all. People are quick to make that top ten list (I know I was) or label a particular film “the best of the year” without allowing the picture to sit for a while in their consciousness. It explains why a film like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nominated over other critically acclaimed pictures – it was the final picture that was screened to audiences and voters. It’s the last thing that made an impression and therefore stood strongest in people’s memories. There is a reason why “Oscar” films get released at the end of the year, wherein being the last one out of the gate bodes well for securing a nomination.

Obviously, like with any viewer, I’ll champion my favorites. The Artist is not a favorite of mine. Nor was The King’s Speech, or The Hurt Locker before it, or Slumdog Millionaire. And I’m not looking for validation for my taste. Rather, it would just be nice to see my favorite films and filmmakers receive recognition from a broader audience. Winning and losing these awards don’t do much beyond short-term recognition. And as we remove ourselves from 2011’s offerings, I’d think films like The Tree of Life and Drive will discussed far more than The Artist or The Help.  I guess the trick is not minding for the time being.