Friday, January 23, 2009
The Five Best Best Pictures (And How They Could Have Been Even Bester!)
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The latest Academy Award nominations, as you know, came out yesterday, and people expressed the usual surprise and/or lack of surprise -- depending on how cool the person was trying to be -- at the usual inclusion/exclusion of a movie that everyone thought/didn't think would be on the list of Best Picture nominees.
Not me, though. I wasn't surprised/wasn't not surprised at all, since I don't pay much attention to what gets nominated for Best Picture. I never cared much in the first place, and I started drifting further and further from caring as, each year, it became more and more apparent to me that the "Best Pictures" weren't all that great and weren't, in general, picked because they were "The Best."
The first hit was from the fact that "Pulp Fiction" wasn't selected as Best Picture. A movie that spawned an entirely new style of movie making and energized movies for years to come wasn't selected as the "Best Picture" in 1994? Is there some criteria of "Best" that the Academy uses that is not used anywhere else in the entire world for any purpose whatsoever, some criteria that has nothing to do with originality, caliber of talent acting and directing, dialogue, storytelling, innovation, and the other great qualities exhibited by that movie?
In a word, yes. That year was the first year I realized that Hollywood was not selecting movies based on being "The Best" at all; they were selecting them based on arbitrary or happenstance criteria, spur-of-the-moment decisions backed by flimsy rationalization, as we'll see. Look through a list of "Best Picture" recipients, and you'll see a whole lot of terrible movies that nobody liked in the first place, and that nobody likes now. The English Patient? The Last Emperor? Dances With Wolves? Really?
By the way, did you know that from 1962-2002, the award for the "Best Movie" was actually titled "Best Picture," but then, in 2003, the Academy changed it to "Best Motion Picture," apparently to prevent confusion on the part of people who were tuning in hoping that Red Yellow Blue might finally get the recognition it deserved? (That change, of course, was prompted by the scandal that erupted when, in 2002, the Academy accidentally gave the "Best Picture" award to this drawing by Steven Spielberg's daughter:)
A little trivia about that picture: After his daughter showed it to him, Spielberg optioned the rights for $40,000,000. His daughter now runs her own production company through a tax shelter in Germany.
After "Pulp Fiction" was bypassed, the Academy continued taking steps that only I, and Robert Downey, Jr.'s "Tropic Thunder" character, recognized as being designed to continue to reward pictures based on the exacting criteria of "Whatever is On The Academy's Mind At The Moment," instead of "Actually Being The Best Motion Picture Released That Year." They created the category of "Best Animated Feature," to make very clear that animated movies aren't "real" movies and could never be recognized as such. They bypassed entirely the movie "The Matrix" even though the effect that movie had on the movie industry was the cinematic equivalent of the effect Columbus' discovery of the New World had on Western civilization. They nominated and rewarded only "The Return of The King," out of that trilogy (in obvious recognition that the first two in the series were absolute crud but somehow Peter Jackson pulled it all together at the end, right?) and they also gave a "Best Picture" award to "The Aviator" even though nobody, to this day, has ever sat all the way through that movie.
So with that in mind, I didn't worry that The Dark Knight wasn't nominated for Best Motion Picture this year; it was obvious that the Academy only refused to nominate it because they didn't want the Oscar ceremony overrun with sweaty fat guys, pale from sitting in their mother's basements watching The Dark Knight With Director's Commentary on their Blue-Ray/Plasma hookups, lining the red carpet in hopes of touching Christian Bale, or, barring that, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Picture this on Oscar Night, 2009:
Besides which, the Academy had to make room to recognize movies about things that they happened to be thinking about that day, right? So, Slumdog Millionaire: Isn't that about India or something, and wasn't India in the news a while ago for something great or terrible? We'd better recognize it. And Benjamin Button: If we nominate that, Brad might finally have enough money to finish rebuilding New Orleans, after which the NFL won't have to feel guilty about relocating the Saints to Los Angeles. And Milk: That's what we poured on our cereal this morning, right? I liked it this morning, I'll like it in February!
But despite the Academy's vigilant efforts, a few actually good movies slipped through and were-- surprise! -- named "The Best Picture," or "The Best Motion Picture," or, in 2010, "The Best Motion Picture You Saw In A Theater, Thereby Keeping Our Jobs Going One More Year Before That Internet Thing Manages To Tear Open The Movie Industry Entirely."
And while those movies were pretty good, they each could have been better. Given that the Academy didn't nominate them based on quality in the first place, it may be spitting in the wind, but I'm still going to do what I can to give some tips on how those movies could have been better, because I don't care what the Academy nominates. I just want to see good movies, and maybe some of you do, too. So consider this my gift to movie lovers:
The Best Best Pictures (And How They Could Have Been Even Bester!)
[SPOILER ALERT! UNLIKE THE PEOPLE WHO PUT 'LOST' SPOILERS ALL OVER THE INTERNET IN THE PAST FEW DAYS WITHOUT BOTHERING TO WONDER WHETHER THERE ARE PEOPLE, LIKE ME, WHO HAVE NOT YET FINISHED WATCHING SEASON 3 ON DVD, I WILL WARN YOU, I AM ACTUALLY CONCERNED ABOUT SPOILING THINGS FOR YOU, SO:] There Are Spoilers Throughout This!
1. No Country For Old Men: (2008 Winner): Plot: A hit man searches for money and kills everyone in his path, including Tommy Lee Jones (thereby doing what Harrison Ford should have years ago instead of just running.)(And Ashley Judd, for that matter.)(Have there been any Tommy Lee Jones' movies in which he wasn't chasing after a fugitive? He even did that in Men In Black!)
Why The Academy Actually Picked It: "No Country" was seen as an allegory for our times -- the violent new society taking over the old society of laws and rules, with the storyline a carefully-layered, nuanced diatribe against such power-grabbing measures as the Patriot Act and military tribunals. The Academy hoped to send a message to the Bush Administration and the American people, warning them where they were headed.
Ha, ha! Had you, didn't I? The Academy didn't even watch the movie! They were told it was a Michael Moore documentary trying to get Dick Cheney to move abroad.
One Reason It Was Great: That scene with the service station and coin flip? We all wanted to just run away, and we were sitting in our houses on our couch holding our Skittles, but we still thought maybe Javier Bardem was going to actually kill that guy for real.
How It Could Have Been Bester: Seven word: Tommy Lee Jones. Javier Bardem. Fist fight.
2. Platoon. (1986 winner.) Plot: A guy goes to Vietnam and a lot of people die, plus Tom Berenger is creepy.
Why the Academy Actually Picked It: Actual quote from one voter, summing up the thinking that went into this selection: "That's Martin Sheen's boy, isn't it? He seems like a nice boy who will never do anything to embarrass Hollywood."
One Reason It Was Great: "Platoon" was among the first of the very-realistic war movies of the modern era, clearing the way for filmmakers to say war is hell and then prove it. In the past, war was reputed to be hell but it actually looked kind of fun. (Note: that sentenced is based entirely on viewing a 2 minute clip of "Gomer Pyle, USMC.")
How It Could Have Been Bester: Add into the plot Robin Williams' character from Good Morning, Vietnam; have him immolated by napalm.
3. Titanic: (1997 winner.) Plot: You don't actually have to be told this, do you? Not only has everyone in the history of creation seen this movie so far, but they've seen it so often that the storyline has been embedded into the human DNA. Future generations will be able to act out this movie using only their instincts.
Why The Academy Picked It: They liked Kate Winslet's boobs.
One Reason It Was Great: Aside from Kate Winslet's boobs? How about that scene where the old man and old woman cling to each other and decide to go down together, in love? How about when the band decided to play as the ship went down. How about when Jack slipped away into the water... aw, jeez, now I'm crying onto my keyboard. It's just dust in the air. Leave me alone a minute, will you?
How It Could Have Been Bester: Did we really need the Bill Paxton framing device and the little question about what happened to the Heart of the Sea? And weren't there about a zillion better choices to sing that song than Celine Dion? It was letting her do that song, after all, that is responsible for her still having a career. So everytime you see her imitating a robot on Rachael Ray and think My god, why do we let her go on existing?, you have the producers of Titanic to thank.
4. Rain Man: (1988 winner.) Plot: A selfish man learns to love by kidnapping his autistic brother and using him to try to become rich. (Seriously!)
Why The Academy Picked It: Thought Tom Cruise was Charlie Sheen and thought Dustin Hoffman was Robert de Niro, voted on this picture to try to anoint a new era of Hollywood royalty.
One Reason It Was Great: It portrayed in a very human, realistic, sympathetic but honest way, an unusual and debilitating mental condition in such a way as to make it seem more like a loveable personality quirk. To this day, if you say "fifteen minutes to Wapner," people will chuckle and repeat it and be completely unaware that they are making fun of a mentally disabled person whose condition afflicts millions. Remember that the next time you're tempted to say "K-Mart sucks."
How It Could Have Been Bester: We were all a little uncomfortable when Susanna kissed him, weren't we? I think that technically what she did was a crime in almost every state.
5. The Departed: (2006 winner.) [EXTRA SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ THIS DESCRIPTION IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE; JUST GO RENT IT AND WATCH AND THEN COME BACK BECAUSE IT WON'T BE THE SAME AT ALL IF YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. IN FACT, I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU THE PLOT, AT ALL.]
Why The Academy Picked It: They didn't realize that Leonardo diCaprio was in it, thereby accidentally breaking their vow to never, ever give him any recognition of any sort until he tells them where the fountain of youth is. I mean, come on! The guy is what, forty? And he looks 16? Plus he's rich? And probably funny? I bet he's funny in person, too. Talented, funny, rich, good-looking and he also never ages. God's got some explaining to do.
One Reason It Was Great: Have you seen this movie? It's impossible to pick just one reason. But I'll try. Here goes: The scene when Leo smashes a glass on a guy's head? That's the most realistic sound of a glass breaking in a film, ever. It's exactly what I always imagined what it would sound like, and it put to shame all the scenes of glasses breaking on people's heads that had come before it.
How It Could Have Been Bester: Actually, it couldn't have been. There is not one way that this movie could have been any better than it actually was. It was perfect. Well, okay, maybe it could have had a little more of Kate Winslet's boobs. It did great even without that, but isn't everything a little Bester with Kate Winslet's boobs in it?
I certainly think so.
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