Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t the only one who stumbled at this year’s Academy Awards.

The Oscars are an increasingly bizarre display of decadence – corporate capital’s stranglehold over the film industry, having laid waste to competing national cinemas in other “markets” such as Europe, tries in vain to figure out how to attract younger viewers to its sclerotic annual spasm of self-congratulation, opting this year for all-snark, all-the-time, with Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane as host to an event that began with William Shatner (reminding us yet again why the original Star Trek got dumped to the ¹Friday night “death slot” in 1968) and included everything from racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic  humor to Ron Jeremy jokes & a song to actresses’ boobs. Hidden amid all that crap were some awards to a few good people, though not necessarily the best in any given category. It’s a rough night if the only thing to get enthused about is a lifetime achievement award for DA Pennebaker  & why any exec thinks an infinitely tedious routine from a TV show that got dumped 45 years ago will keep younger viewers engaged is beyond me. I kept waiting for an actress – or anyone – to announce that next year there were would be a medley dedicated to MacFarlane’s penis, but that it would be a really short number.

Argot is an efficient little thriller, tho not the sort of film that would have risen to the surface in the good old days of American cinema. Likewise Silver Linings Notebook, a romcom whose premise is that both of the primary characters are damaged. A nice little film but, save for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, barely worth rousing oneself from a two-hour snooze in the theater. Against the excesses of The Miserables or the bloat of Lincoln, however, these two films look pretty darn good. But against cinema that is worth watching – Beasts of the Southern Wild or Amour – why are these films even on the same list? It’s not that the Oscar hasn’t gone to outright dreadful movies over the years – Chicago, Out of Africa, Rocky – but there was a time when such films stood out against the backdrop of a vital, raucous industry being challenged by great films from abroad. Nobody would make Hiroshima, Mon Amour today – Emmanuelle Riva’s first film in 1959. Nobody would distribute it, nobody would see it.

No wonder that Netflix sees an increasingly large slice of its market opting for serious cable dramas – the simple demands of story-telling over one or more seasons forces better writing, better acting, better direction than the movies in 2013 have any desire to deliver.  

¹ I’ve only seen Lawrence be less than spell-binding in one performance, X-Men: First Class, where she plays Raven & looks like she wandered in off a live-action shoot for Shrek.