The Academy Awards are not the be all and end all of cinema. Considered the most prestigious awards show on Earth, due in fact to longevity rather than merit, the Oscars were created to shine a light on films that not only challenge the way we perceive cinema as an art form, but also how viewing those films changes or enhances our personal lives as well as our world view.
The Oscars, at their best, are more than just a self-indulgent night of rowdy, jewel encrusted circle jerking. In receiving a nomination, be it for best picture or best supporting actress, a film has the opportunity to get more press therefore, in theory, a wider audience and a greater chance of making an impression on any given person.
In recent years, however, this simple idea of allowing truly inspiring and thought provoking feats of cinema to be seen by more people has been trumped by celebrity orientated culture and a public thirst for being comfortable in the movie theaters, rather than challenged. 2011, as in no other, offers the best example of this sudden divergence from masterful works of art to hokey, trite pieces of fluff that will be forgotten before the year is out.
Films like Shame and Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, both highly touted yet ignored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, offered glimpses into the sexually and psychologically disturbing yet emotionally churning realities of the world we live in, all the while creating masterworks unlike any other of the year. Both films featured timeless performances, thought provoking material and a steady direction unequaled by most films of this or any year.
So why are they ignored in favor of star-studded bashes that offer no new insight into the realm of filmmaking or the trials of being human? The answer, nor the blame, falls on the Academy but rather the more than 6,000 individuals who make up the Academy, which seems strange considering every member of the Academy is somehow involved in filmmaking.
Film is the utmost form of escapism so the justification behind ignoring thought provoking films could be as simple as not wanting to be reminded of the trial and tribulations of the world outside the cinema. Maybe people see too much of themselves inside characters that are real and do not have super powers. Maybe people just want to be entertained, which is not only understandable but totally acceptable as well.
The problem arises, however, when pop corn flicks and star-studded spectacles begin to overshadow the films that want to do more than kill a few hours with explosions and quick cuts. There is certainly room for both, but again the solution to the problem falls to the audience. A theater’s bookings are based on many things, some of it bureaucratic and based on preferences, but most of it stems from the wants of the audience.
People want to see superheroes and pirates and cars that turn into walking-talking machines. They don’t want a portal into the mind of a man with an unbridled sex addiction, nor are they interested in the tale of an emotionally damaged young woman who has just escaped from a cult. So the same should be expected from the 6,000 members designated to spotlight the best films of the year.
But what of the future? What of the films that will not fade away in a year and instead, will stand proudly for the next twenty as the apex of that year? The question relies now on the audience. If there is a demand for films that break the mold then theaters will provide them. The business is based around the audience and if the audience is there, so is the material.
So it comes down to people, as most of this life does, and are ability, or more importantly our want to not settle, but rather be moved and challenged and changed by the emotional complexities and infinite visual brilliance of filmmaking. The reflections these films offer is unrivaled and therefore necessary for the growth of not only art, but life as well.