But if there's a third guarantee, after death and taxes, it's that the Oscar's will let you down. It seems as if the almighty powers of nostalgia are just too great. Which is why I question whether it's even worth getting mildly disgruntled about.
Unfortunately I'm stuck with a love for movies and Mad Max is one of the only Hollywood movies to come around in recent memory that got me excited about the medium and all its potentials. It made me giddy about movies again by tapping into all the reasons I fell in love with movies in the first place: the wild creativity, a sense of wonder and amazement at seeing someone manifesting their dreams - it is audacious.
Now I know everyone didn't fall in love with movies for these reasons and this is by no means the only reason I love movies. And I also know that we can't help which movie it was that left that some important imprint on us, what we may consider an ideal movie or perhaps a Best Picture.
|Notice how visually interesting a movie about the newspaper business can be?|
You can't knock anyone who might look at the great film All the President's Men, see a kind of picture that should be made more often, and therefore cast a vote for Spotlight. But here's where a movie like Spotlight (and The Revenant for that matter) differs from Mad Max: it simply excels at being a type of movie. It doesn't have any ambitions beyond telling its story effectively, which it does entirely through a good script and solid performances by its actors.
Yes, Mad Max: Fury Road excels at being an action movie but it also creates and immerses you in a wholly unique and thoroughly realized world filled with subversive and thought-provoking themes. It does this by expertly using every single facet of the filmmaking toolkit and what you end up with isn't just good storytelling but also an ambitious technological marvel that pushes the boundaries of the medium forward.
You can make an argument for The Revenant getting close to this level of filmmaking but at its core it comes up far shorter in the story department. There's nothing new or memorable in a tale of a man keeping himself alive to exact revenge. In reading interviews with Tom Hardy where he talked about his perspective on his character, it's easy to think of the flip-side to The Revenant as being a much more interesting movie. We've seen far fewer movies follow and try to get inside the head of the doomed target of revenge. As it is, the only interesting thing about the movie is its cinematography, technological wizardry and the crazy story behind the making of the movie.
So why did Spotlight win Best Picture? Did Mad Max and The Revenant split the vote? Or does it come down to nostalgia?
The Oscars are more often than not steeped in nostalgia. These events often have a theme that will enable the ceremony to look back and honor past glories and contain more than one touching montage-style highlight reel. And this is largely unavoidable since movies are inherently suited to evoke and take advantage of the immense powers of nostalgia.
No one is immune to these powers. It's easy to be like Max from Kicking and Screaming and be despairingly nostalgic for conversations you had yesterday. And it's even easier to let nostalgia blind you when it comes to judging the quality of a movie.
So, in a way it makes perfect sense the most nostalgic movie nominated for Best Picture would win. The Oscars often honor non-threatening movies and what's more comforting than Spotlight? The movie could easily be mistaken for being made at any point in the last 30 years, if it weren't for some passing references to the internet.
I made this point last week, but Spotlight makes it even more obvious: When it comes to the Best Picture, the Oscar's aren't interested in change, forward thinking or making advancements in filmmaking. Perhaps the members save that kind of thinking for the technical awards and it doesn't even enter into the criteria for Best Picture. But, man, is it dispiriting.
I get excited when I hear people like William Friedkin and David Byrne talking about not having a nostalgic bone in their body. Maybe these two guys aren't the most relevant people in popular culture nowadays but at least they continue to move forward. They know nostalgia is a creative killer. The worst thing any industry or art form can do is nurture thoughts about how better things used to be back in the good old days.
Yes, nostalgia is an unavoidable part of human nature but so is being unimaginative and unoriginal - which is what nostalgia can lead to in any art form unless you're extremely clever about it. What we can try to do is fight these tendencies as best we can. Certainly, we can also try to award movies that fight these tendencies and represent imaginative and original voices.
Spotlight isn't a bad movie, but its win is bad for movies just as Leo's win is perhaps bad for acting. You can hope that wining an Oscar for Best Picture might increase attention for the need of good investigative journalism and change in how the Catholic church operates. But the irony is that it will likely have very little effect because when movies like Spotlight win Best Picture, the honor just keeps losing its value.