Is It Personal? No One Ever Likes the Best Picture Winner Anymore
by Alex Billington
February 3, 2012
Earlier today I got into a huge discussion on twitter about 3D, gimmicks, and how bad The Artist is (except that I love The Artist) and how much better Hugo is. It all started because @KrisTapley posed the question: "Which film will you remember more a year from now? The Artist or Hugo?" While I am not an awards blogger, I follow the awards season closely, and root for my faves. I'm on the side of The Artist this year, mainly because I really adore the film, but I've started to realize that no one really likes the Best Picture winner (for now I should say frontrunner) anymore. No one is ever happy, it's never the right film. Why?
I do not think this is a question that can be answered easily, but the first thought that comes to my mind is how personal the Best Picture winner is. I've heard from many people nowadays who claim they hate the Academy Awards, they don't like the nominees or winners or the show at all, they don't care about them. I don't believe them. If these individuals grew up watching the Oscars year after year, like me, they have a special connection to it. It's like the winners who talk about how it was a "dream" to one day be standing up there, because they've been watching the Oscars in their pajamas every year since they were a kid. It's true, we all have/had that dream, but since we're not up there, we all have to rant about who we wanted to win instead. And it's personal, it really is, you want your favorite film to win Best Picture no matter what it is.
I believe moviegoing is a very personal experience overall, not only with how subjective everything is, but in how much we connect with certain films for certain personal reasons. From the way you were raised, to the films you were shown growing up, to the kind of subject matter or stories that appeal to you. And when it comes to Best Picture, the ultimate best-film-of-the-year-that-everyone-knows prize, it's a very big, famous award, you want your favorite to win because it would justify why it's your favorite and why you think it's so much better than the ~300 other films released throughout a year. But that's the problem, it's too personal.
This whole backlash idea really picked up steam last year, when The King's Speech won over The Social Network. I was rooting for The King's Speech (the one everyone loved to hate) because I saw it before the buzz got out of control and totally loved it, it's a wonderful film (just like The Artist). Obviously I am not alone in thinking this or it wouldn't have won in the end. The most common complaint I was hearing was that The Social Network represented an achievement in capturing this time in history and would last longer and be remembered for that, while The King's Speech wasn't anything new and would be quickly forgotten. Now I'm hearing literally the exact same argument regarding The Artist vs. Hugo for Best Picture this year.
Honestly, none of this should matter in the end. Best Picture is just Best Picture. One of hundreds of awards given each and every year. The film you love, whether it's The Social Network or Hugo or Drive or Warrior, will still exist on DVD/Blu-Ray, viewable whenever you want. Your opinion is not going to be altered by who wins, you're still going to love the film (and prefer it over whatever does win). And if you're a journalist or blogger, you can still write a glowing piece about it and tell the world how great it is. But there's always that inherent, personal connection with Best Picture, the clout the award carries, that makes people want to lash out against it unless it's exactly the movie that they want or think deserves to win. And I think that's the root of this backlash. Movie bloggers, a very vocal group, seem pissed off that Hugo might lose to The Artist.
The most rational response to all this hoopla is that the "Best Picture" represents the highest honor given to any film in a year, and represents the best of film in that year, in every way. My point is that even this is subjective, even though some may think that is Hugo, others (and most importantly The Academy) likely thinks that is The Artist. Instead of backlashing against one film or another (for not being good enough), my suggestion is to take a step back and ask: why? Is there something in one film you're not seeing in the other? Or is it just your personal taste, or the way you perceive it and its impact on cinema? Maybe it's as simple as not liking the "easy" Oscar bait kind of films, preferring those that push cinema technology, like 3D, in new ways. Though if that were actually the reality, Christopher Nolan would have won something by now.
But again, why does that matter? The Artist is still a wonderful film. Just because it's not in 3D and uses its own "gimmicks" to entertain doesn't mean it's bad; and Hugo isn't a bad film either. In fact, I think both are deserving of Best Picture, but I'm rooting for Artist because I had a tremendous experience with it, and found more flaws in Hugo (pacing, story changing up midway through). But we always get back to that connection, and if you didn't connect with The Artist for whatever reasons, maybe because you've already seen enough B&W movies in your life and can't stand another one or thought the characters were dull, then it's really going to upset you when/if it wins. So be it. Is it really that bad? Or do you just think something else should win because it's not good enough, and Hugo had the Georges Méliès story, so why not that?
To sum up why I love Artist and why I think it deserves to (and likely will) win, from my Cannes review:
"There was just something truly magical about seeing Hazanavicius attempt, and succeed, at recreating a silent film that not only follows the same technique, but brings us deep into the world of Hollywood at the time. It's light and comical, and at times corny, but ceaselessly charming and entertaining to watch. I felt so many magnificent emotions, from delight to sadness to pure joy, and I never stopped smiling from start to finish. The Artist has a kind of wonderful, classic feeling that all cinephiles can and should love that also gives us the opportunity to revel in a time and place that we really don't see much of on screen nowadays."
Best Picture is truly the award of awards, and I recognize that opinionated cinephiles do want the best film of the year to be acknowledged. But as I've said time and time again, cinema is subjective, it's personal, and The Academy gets to vote, too. And if they choose The Artist, it's because they loved it fair and square; it's not a bad film, it's not cheating, in fact it's a great film, even if you don't agree yourself. But if it doesn't win, and Hugo does, I'm fine with that, too. I'm not going to complain that Hugo is terrible because I preferred The Artist. I think the film has some issues, and 3D is still somewhat of a gimmick, but I'll accept it anyway. Just like I have for the last 20 years I've been watching the Oscars, rooting for my favorites every year.
Those who claim that they don't care about the Oscars and who wins, then turn around and rant about how Hugo is better than The Artist, are taking it way too personally. What we will forget about years from now is who won Best Picture, because the films that truly last are the ones that had an impact and connection with audiences no matter what awards they took home. And if that's Hugo, it's Hugo. If that's War Horse, it's War Horse. If that's The Social Network, or There Will Be Blood, or American Beauty, so be it. Those films will last anyway (I could go on naming films that have lasted through history, but didn't win, and vice versa, winners we've forgotten). But just because it didn't win Best Picture doesn't mean it's the end of the world and The Academy sucks, it means you liked a different film more. Though a majority of The Academy didn't.
On the other hand, if The Descendants wins, I will be upset. Now that is a film that I, personally, believe is rather mediocre and doesn't deserve to win. However, as always, I am wrong, because obviously someone out there loved it, or it wouldn't have even been nominated to begin with. What else can I do besides sit here and hope for the best? In the end, the greatest films will live on in history no matter what, no matter the complaints, no matter what awards they win. Because no one ever likes the Best Picture winner anymore.