By Akshay Seth, Daily Film Columnist
Published September 17, 2013
Print out your ballots, throw on your fancy clothes and start sending really presumptuous texts to your friends about how much the Oscars suck because, guys, it’s that time of year again!
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We’re still a few months away, but by March, the Huffington Post (when a website is simultaneously synthesizing data from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Intrade, Betfair and Hollywood Stock Exchange, the sound of that white flag billowing in the wind starts to feel monotonous) will have published much better articles about the awards season and you’ll have no reason to watch me make a “bloviating pundit” out of myself. So, as the Joker would put it, “I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
But Akshay! Halt! You haven’t seen the slew of movies that are going to be released between now and Christmas, the sanctified patch of time studios quarter away specifically to showcase the stuff they deem artsy. In the three months remaining until the official date by which a film has to be screened in Los Angeles to be eligible for an Oscar run, traditional heavyweights such as “12 Years A Slave,” “Gravity,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Mandela” will each have their shot at prancing around in front of critics. In that time, we’ll collectively nod, exclaim phrases like “excellent direction!” and hoist up a predetermined collection of movies we’re supposed to think deserve golden statuettes.
There will be snubs. There will be outrage. But ultimately, most of those snubs will just be lonely, excluded members of The Collection. So what about shtick released earlier in the year that doesn’t fit the archetypal mold of typical Oscar fodder? What about all those hours of cinema that are going to be swept under the rug and ignored as people lose their shit over Idris Elba’s award-worthy South African accent?
The only solution is to look at 2013 more holistically, and we’re at the perfect time of the year to do so — the lull that comes between summer movie season and the labored buildup toward Oscar night.
The first thing to do is not be disheartened by a film’s overall gross. Many movies, like last year’s “Killer Joe,” featuring a notoriously overlooked performance by Juno Temple, fell by the wayside because it could only muster a measly $3 million at the box office on a budget of ten. Critics and audience alike were quick to label the flick a financial failure — which it was — and spent more time discussing why it made no money as opposed to its actual merits or lack thereof. The most obvious reason thrown up, understandably, was the film’s NC-17 rating and reliance on explicit violence.
Violence is a turnoff, pure and simple. It spawns bad word-of-mouth, something the Academy hates, and gives the film a sleazy reputation. It doesn’t help if the ending leaves most people emotionally scarred for a good two to three weeks. But, the thing is, I want movies to leave me emotionally scarred. It means that what I’ve just invested two hours of my life watching is impactful to me as a person. And eventually, that’s what all good cinema is meant to do: connect with an intended audience. If connection means stabbing with violence, so be it. But “Killer Joe” did so by showing some dude beat another dude half to death with a can of soup. From there, putting butts in seats became kind of tough. And here lies our real problem: If no one’s watched the movie, how can we judge it fairly?
Another case in point: “Bernie,” in which Jack Black gave the best performance of 2011. Jean Dujardin can shove it, because the schlubby asshole from “School of Rock” took hold of my attention in a way no other actor that year ever could.