Once upon a time in Hollywood, Oscar nominations struck awe amongst movie buffs. This time around, there’s been no such moment. Call it a tectonic shift in cinema, but those larger than life Hollywood movies that made magic either don’t get made these days or turn to superheroes and alternate galaxies. The Oscar list, if anything, is definitely underwhelming.
It is also a year when the typical Hollywood setup-mammoth studio as producer, established star-director and big bossy starry actors-got a wake-up call. The two most nominated films, Roma and The Favourite, are the best of the new wave mainstream-meets-content cinema. Filmmakers who happen to not be rooted in the Hollywood system have delivered these off the cuff movies. Alfonso Cuaron has a vivid, diverse filmography like none other, ranging from Children of Men, to Ye Tu Mama Tambien and now, the masterpiece, Roma. Yorgos Lanthimos, the maverick and surprising filmmaker from Greece, made The Favourite, a script that has been floating around since the 1990s, into a tragicomedy that has taken awards by storm this year. The Academy also saw fit to honour the director of Cold War, Poland’s official entry to the foreign language film category, with a Best Director nomination, for Pawel Pawlikowski. With the stupendous success for Roma, wherein it has been nominated in the Best Film and Best Foreign Language Film categories simultaneously, and acceptance of Cold War as a top contender, the Academy has also officially opened the floodgates for films produced by streaming giants- distinctly different from powerful studios. Amazon Studios produced Cold War and Netflix backed Roma, both non-English films that have received recognition in mainstream categories at the Oscars.
Change is also the new constant at the Oscars. With Pawlikowski’s nomination in the Best Director race, the Academy has stirred chatter around Bradley Cooper. While he has landed a Best Actor nomination, the snub lies in not giving him a directorial nomination for A Star is Born. Yet, if one were to look beyond the hype, this film- an adaptation of a classic by the same name, one that did win many awards in its time- is not exactly great cinema. One could accuse the author of a grandiose cinema bias. But if one looks closely at the line up of this year- Green Book, A Star is Born, Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody- each one made for an entertaining story. Neither quite made the cut for a grand cinematic experience, one that rode on a strong story, fabulous filmmaking technique or cinematic wizardry. That each one also courted controversy is now in the past. What one misses with these films is the sheer impact that a Steven Spielberg or James Cameron film creates. It almost makes one nostalgic for the era of benchmark setting films like Schindlers List, Avatar, Lincoln or even The Hurt Locker. The age of larger than life, masterful cinema seems to be coming to be finally coming to a close. How else does one explain the fact that Roma, the only film that shows an entirely new way of delivering a unique cinematic experience, one that uses film technology masterfully to enhance a simple story, is funded by a streaming giant?
One almost tends to pay serious attention to a remark that Chris Evans repeatedly made while promoting the second Avengers ensemble film- why is it that superhero films don’t get validation from awards, especially the Oscars? Why don’t they get taken seriously despite their global appeal and entertaining, universally engaging stories? Perhaps it’s the sheer expense that makes those in the business of making and judging serious cinema feel guilty. That Black Panther has been nominated for Best Film shows that some concessions to the popular cinema are being made. It is only fair that this be done, for these films do have an impact globally, unlike most of the Oscars top picks this year. Whether it wins the award, is another matter altogether.
It is also a telling fact that this is a year when two films that at heart, are comedies with a populist flair, have become amongst top nominated films. The Favourite, a royal dramedy based in historical England, and Green Book, also a dramedy set in the United States’ race-conscious past, have won top nominations. Indirectly, this indicated that powerful, intense dramas are not a studios’ priority anymore; not even to cultivate films for the prestigious Oscars race.
As the Academy proved last year, it aspires to strike a balance to a nebulous, undefined but powerful global public opinion with its active incorporation of the #MeToo movement. This year, the Academy has clearly acknowledged that global talent, global stories and international cinema are the current flavours in content. Will the eye-popping grand, picture perfect and intensely performed Hollywood film become a thing of the past forever? Here’s hoping that some of Hollywood’s great filmmakers make this change with their classic cinematic stories next year.