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Oscar Predictions of the Third Kind

February 2, 2006
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Well, since the Oscar nominations have been announced, many predictions have been made. I will make my own, of which I am almost 100% certain:

This year’s Academy Awards show will be the least-watched in Oscar history.

Even I, a certified movie freak, have not seen many of the top nominees, and — more tellingly — have no real desire to see them. Why is that? Because they are all what screenwriter William Goldman famously labels “medicinal movies.” These are movies made by well-meaning liberals (using that word descriptively, God bless ’em) that we should see because they are “good for us.” It’s not just that pretty much ALL the most popular films of the year were largely ignored — I mean, not even a visual effects nomination for Revenge of the Sith? No, forget box office — possibly the two best-reviewed flicks of the year, Walk the Line and Cinderella Man (horrible title, fine film) were passed over in key categories. What distinguishes them from those hallowed by the Academy this year? Neither was political.

Especially egregious for me was the neglect of WALK THE LINE. This was probably my fave flick of 2005, with a beautifully crafted script in one of the hardest of all genres, the biopic. But nope, it got nudged out of best director, writer and picture categories because… well, maybe because its timeless themes of self-expression, love and redemption just weren’t as medicinal, not as “relevant” (read: left wing, agenda-driven), and therefore just not as good for us as the Best Picture nominees.

As so many times in the past, though, it won’t really matter. The great movies will be kept alive by the viewers who love them, while the medicinal movies will largely fade from memory. It’s just that this year, through some strange confluence of events (coincidence that most of these politically-driven films were greenlit about 2 years ago, right after Bush won his 2nd term?), the Academy has never been so tightly sealed within its own echo chamber, so agenda-driven as to make its awards so thoroughly not matter.

And, no offense to the man’s talent, but who outside of the big American cities has even heard of this year’s host, Jon Stewart? Lay down money on it: worst Oscar TV ratings ever. Second prediction: In the next-day analysis in trade journals like Variety, when Industry bigwigs are interviewed, several will blame the Bush administration for the low ratings. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Any takers?

UPDATE: The Count adds that Libertas has an excellent piece on the virtues of entertaining, rather than edifying, filmmaking. The best fimmaking is humanistic, not political. And now Oscar doesn’t look like the Buddha in a funhouse mirror.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rufus T. Flinger (timmyc) permalink
    February 2, 2006 9:50 pm

    Duke Ray:

    $15 bucks, but both predictions have to come true!

    (not that I’d seen any of this years main nominee’s either, but I blame that on my two year old)

    So if they both happen, I’ll toss another $15 in the strangemonkeydoll tip jar, if not, you have to take Laura and I to a showing of “Walk the Line” or some other non-medicinal movie!

    (Which I say is long overdue anyway!)

    2 Questions:
    One: Which examples of either “medicinal” or overtly “political” (or especially both) movies that you think have stood the test of time and mattered?

    Strangelove? Lawrence? All the President’s Men? Wag the Dog? Bannanas? Mr Smith goes to Washington?

    For me, Richard Attenborough’s “Ghandi,” literally started a chain of events that led me to Christ (medicinal indeed!)

    But my fav political and truly medicinal movie would be Marx’s (the Brothers not Karl) “Duck Soup.”

    Question 2: Assuming you have some examples of political/medicinal movies that you think have proven their deeper influence and worth — what distinguished them from this years crop to you?

    Hail, Freedonia, Land of the Brave and Free!

    Rufus T. Flinger

  2. Duke_Ray permalink
    February 3, 2006 4:27 pm

    Dear Rufus,

    Excellent questions, and I am agreed on the overdue double date.

    I may be lapsing into total solipsism here, but it strikes me that several of the titles you named may be political or “message movies” in some ways, but that they are not necessarily “medicinal,” if I understand Goldman’s term right.

    LAWRENCE OF ARABIA has political themes, but surely it is foremost a grand adventure and powerful tragedy. ALL THE PRES. MEN, written by Goldman, is about a political subject, but works first as a piece of history turned into a paranoid thriller.

    Also, look at how many comedies you list: Strangelove, Bananas, Duck Soup… if these are “medicinal,” it’s certainly with a heaping spoonful of sugar. I mean, who says, “Jeez, I really should see that Marx Bros movie, ’cause it looks like it shines light on a relevant issue that I need to be exposed to”?

    Compare this to say, NORTH COUNTRY, that absolutely dreary-looking picture for which Charlize Theron was nominated as one of the most gorgeous women in the universe covered in a thick layer of coal mining dust.

    In contrast, a favorite pick in 2005 for a nomination was Claire Danes in SHOPGIRL. That movie was in many ways about the issue of class in contemporary urban America, and yet it was wrapped in the package of a relationship comedy-drama. But that’s not good enough, and so no nom for Ms. Danes, here ya go Ms. Theron, thanks for washing off the coal dust before you come to the party in your Chanel gown…

    Really, though, sarky comments aside, my larger point is not that there is no place in the world for “important” movies — for instance Ghandhi, Lawrence of Arabia, Passion of the Christ were biographical fiction about world figures that in my mind have an inherent substance to make their stories worthy of the term “important.” My point about this year’s Oscar noms is how stunningly, overwhelmingly little room there was for movies that were NOT “important/medicinal/political,” and how there was no room for any pictures from a remotely conservative/traditionalist perspective. And that all of these medicinal movies are NOT being seen by the larger public, who doesn’t go to the movies for castor oil or to have a finger wagged in their face.

    We’ve simply never seen the disconnect between Hollywood and the general public so starkly illustrated as this by this year’s list of Oscar noms. This year’s Oscars has been framed as a cliqueish, insider, “liberal elite” party… the average moviegoer has not been invited, and few will crash.

    So, Timmy C, you’re on — but I do think that $15 vs. 2 movie tickets is a rather unbalanced bet…! You’re creating 2:1 odds! 😉

    Thanks for the good challenge!

  3. Rufus T. Flinger (Timmy C) permalink
    February 3, 2006 6:31 pm

    Interesting…

    You get where I was going: asking what would make for instance a “Syriana” a less “substantial” movie than say a political thriller like “Three Days of the Condor?”

    (Assuming Syriana is in fact a lesser movie, I hadn’t seen it.)

    What I hear you say — and I think Goldman too– is that as always it comes down to telling honest and truthful stories, not stacking the deck to tell dramatically to tell an “important” message.” Not trying too hard. Working to create honest depictions of human experiences, or even working hard to create well crafted farce (“Duck Soup” “Strangelove”) but letting any intended “message” take a deciededly back seat.

    Here was Goldman ahead of the 2004 Oscars:

    “But what makes me sad is I will be stunned if more than two of my selections get into the race. They will be swamped, I fear, by that old devil of the Oscars: medicinal [explitive deleted].

    I don’t believe that movies are supposed to make us better moral people. They are supposed to provide memories, memories that thrill us and make us laugh — make us, if we’re skillful enough, cry legitimate tears. I believe it’s our parents’ job to make us better people; our teachers’, too…”

    It might be interesting if Christians in the arts learn from that lesson also. That the purpose of the — movie, song, novel — is the art itself, depicting as close as can be an honest look at life and not as “a hidden delivery system” for the 4 Spiritual Laws, or some other Important Message.

    Even when Jesus was teching using parables, clearly a preaching tool in one sense, many of his parables seem purposefully open ended designed to spark questions as much as answers… “Bad propaganda” in that sense.

    You wrote:

    “So, Timmy C, you’re on — but I do think that $15 vs. 2 movie tickets is a rather unbalanced bet…! You’re creating 2:1 odds! ;)”

    Fair enough, we’ll make it a Saturday matinee!

  4. Rufus T. Flinger permalink
    February 4, 2006 1:34 pm

    So what was the lowest rated Oscar’s to date? What do we have to beat?

    The closest I could google was 2002
    http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,9710,00.html

    25.4 rating

    Is that still the worst ever?

    And are we defining the bet by ratings share share or by total numbers of viewers?

    Flinger

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