This year I’ve written less about the Oscars than ever before. I wondered if the reason for this lack of enthusiasm to cover the 2015 race had to do with personally being overwhelmed by other obligations. After seeing all of the nominees and dwelling on the Academy’s choices, I’ve determined that’s not the case.
No, the reason for less coverage has to do with how painfully mundane the selections are for this year’s ceremony. We awards watchers have been given a treat in not fully knowing with certainty what will come out on top this Sunday evening. A clear case can be made for either “Birdman” or “Boyhood” taking Best Picture. An alternative claim to some last-minute contender – like “American Sniper” – becoming victorious can be wagered, as well.
Regardless of what words are belted out during the final envelope reading, I’m not really sure I care. This year’s nominees, even by bad cinematic year standards, are dreadfully by-the-books. I’ve never seen such a cavalcade of contenders tailor-made to win trophies.
Don’t get me wrong; “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Selma” – they’re all fine films. They tell relevant stories, are beautifully shot and well acted. Solid productions all around. They lack that “it-factor,” though, a trait that carries your film out of the realm of standard release and into the category of legendary work. They’re reminiscent of “Lincoln,” that true bore of a contender from 2012 we were all told we were “obligated to like.” They’re more like a visual history book than art, and after this year, they’ll be put back on the shelf.
Other contenders like frontrunners “Boyhood” and “Birdman” strive to be more original, and perhaps that’s why they’re at the top of pile. Still, it’s hard to imagine returning to either at a later time. They both offer snapshots of the current lives of American actors and boys who face their struggles. Nothing more, nothing less.
The theme you’ll notice in all of this year’s nominees is an element that transcends story: a lack of risk. For a group that nominated anti-war films as the Iraq War saw strong support and chose “Brokeback Mountain” as a nominee the year after America firmly rejected same-sex marriage at the polls, the Academy seems to have lost the will to search for contenders that push the envelope.
One of the reasons “Birdman” is so beloved this awards season is it’s an anti-superhero movie. Its actors preach about how they are artists, not the CGI-created stars they are displayed as in posters and in stores. It’s the type of “our purpose is greater” fodder the actor’s branch would love. Further intensified by the lack of a nod in Animated Feature for “The Lego Movie,” the Academy’s message this year was clear: we’re not a superhero or toy factory. We’re artists.
The irony in all this is just like the corporate filmmaking world of Marvel and major toy manufacturers they seemed to be condemning, the rest of Hollywood has embraced no-risk-taking cinema, as well. This year’s Best Picture line-up is predominantly filled with biopics on war, civil rights, gay rights and people overcoming adversity.
In other words, the same factory of ideas they’ve been nominating for decades. The only difference is these themes have been crafted by better filmmakers into better works already, and now all we’re left with is secondhand stories studios are churning out in hopes of getting some honors that can add more words to their future film descriptions on Netflix.
So what wins Sunday night? At this point, my best guess is “Birdman.” Regardless of what comes out on top, I think we the viewers lose. If this year’s group of nominees is any indication, Hollywood has gone from a town with at least a few big dreamers left to a city wholly dominated by dollar-makers. We always knew the blockbuster scene would eventually be overtaken by corporate interests, but it appears now even the holy stage of Oscar has succumb to the theory of guaranteed profit over risk taking.