By the time “Silver Linings Playbook” started to receive Academy Awards buzz last year, I still hadn’t seen the movie. Sure, I was a fan of David O. Russell’s other works, most notably “The Fighter”, but something about “Playbook” didn’t scream “must-see film!” to me. At the time, I added it to my “will rent when available” list, but not to my “rush out to the theater to see this right now!” list. It turns out that I made the right decision. By the time I finally watched “SLP” in early 2013, I had to wonder what all of the fuss was about. Apart from being yet another Hollywood production that glorified mental illness and seemingly turned disturbed individuals into cinematic mini-heroes, I really didn’t think it deserved an Academy Award. To me, it was the sheer essence of mediocre: a relatively weak script, made stronger by a great cast of actors. It wasn’t a horrible movie…but it certainly wasn’t “Citizen Kane”, either.
Yet, for some reason, that is what the Oscars has become: a televised parade of mediocrity. I don’t mean to pig-pile on David O’Russell, but the fact is that he once again finds his latest film nominated this year. And this time, I actually went out to the theater to see it. It’s called “American Hustle”, and though it boasts a great cast (basically a mash-up between the stars of “Playbook” and “The Fighter”), to me, the screenplay left a lot to be desired. And yet, “Hustle” somehow managed to earn itself 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
Might I humbly suggest that a great ensemble cast does not a “Best Picture” make? Sure, I loved the hairpieces, the fantastic 70’s soundtrack, and the unexpected appearance of Louis C.K. … but is this quirky story about Abscam truly the “There Will Be Blood” of this year? To quote my high school English teacher, “Permit me to doubt”. The truth is that I’m right in the targeted age demographic of O’Russell’s movies, and yet, I so often find myself only “in like” with them, when what I really want is to be “in love”, just like everyone else.
But I’m only using “American Hustle” as one example. The truth is, whether we’re talking about “Gravity” or “Captain Phillips” or “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, where is the overwhelming sense of greatness and amazement that once dominated Tinseltown? Is this really the best that they can do? Or, is it simply that the Academy will only recognize the teachers’ pets? Something tells me that it’s the latter, and my advice to them is to keep digging for something better. I refuse to believe that great films are not being made by someone other than the 5 or 6 filmmakers and actors that get nominated year after year. In fact, I know so. And I fear that the more we reward mediocrity, the more mediocrity we will get in return. Perhaps young filmmakers are being inspired to churn out more and more uninspired, weak screenplays simply because that’s what seems to get all the accolades these days. It’s no wonder that all of the great writers and directors seem to be flocking to the small screen, where the achievements of TV dramas like “Breaking Bad” are arguably more enjoyable and rewarding than any of the films we’ve seen in years on the big screen. The stigma of poor quality on serialized television has all but evaporated throughout this post-Sopranos decade…and my suspicion is it’s the very reason audiences are staying home. Maybe binge-watching “Arrested Development” is simply better.
But, to flip the title of another buzzed-about film this year, All Is NOT Lost. Yet.
So, Academy, why not give someone else a shot? I’m sure Tom Hanks and company would be happy to step aside and let someone else have a chance at recognition. It might be argued that most small, unrecognized independent flicks offer little more than mumble-core, but every year, I seem to stumble across at least a few gems that slip below the radar, and it makes me wonder why certain films will never see the light of day at an Oscars ceremony.
And perhaps that’s why American audiences are beginning to let out a collective yawn when it comes to the list of films that are supposed to represent the “best” of the year. Check out this Reuters poll, which would seem to confirm that most movie-goers weren’t too gung-ho about immersing themselves in the Academy’s choices this time around.
What do you think? Are you as underwhelmed with what Hollywood has been serving up lately as I am? Comment below.
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