I am strongly tempted each year to think
that, on the morning following the Oscars, I’m smarter than
the average bear. It seems at times that my Oscar prescience
improves annually and that with every passing ceremony I become a
more surefire predictor of who will take home what statuette.
Usually, though, after a little reflection on the ceremony, the
pride-deflating reality of the situation becomes clear: I’m
not the only one.

Beth Dykstra

Indeed, the Oscars, in this epoch reigned by big-studio epics,
have become less and less suspenseful and more and more
unsurprising. The results may in many cases be appropriate, but
certain contenders and eventual winners are studio-bred for success
and emerge from the pack sometimes before they even emerge from
production.

Take Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain,” for
example. The film garnered much-deserved critical acclaim and was a
rather well-told and sublimely portrayed Civil War love story. The
elements for Oscar success, however, were evident even in the
film’s previews.

It boasts, to accompany Oscar-familiar director Minghella
(“The English Patient”), a cast including, in
significant roles, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and René
Zellweger (who took home gold); This isn’t to mention that
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland played minor, hardly
important roles.

Zellweger, as mentioned, was the only major player in the film
to take home a trophy. The consensus on “Cold
Mountain,” though, seemed to be that you almost had to like
it: There were too many savory ingredients, regardless of how they
were thrown together, to discount it.

Many of these truths hold for Peter Jackson’s “The
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” as well. The
trilogy’s first two installments both were unable to win the
coveted Best Picture prize. Many, however, complain that “The
Return of the King” can’t get enough of itself: It
drags on purposelessly. Jackson and his team couldn’t bear to
conclude their precious creation. Nonetheless, the film took home
timely Best Picture and Best Director statuettes that were
certainly rewarding the trilogy as a whole more than its concluding
element.

The result of this predictable favoring of big-studio
productions is the tragic snubbing of many worthwhile pictures.
Sofia Coppolla’s “Lost in Translation” is a
beautifully wry comedy that utilizes Bill Murray’s talent in
an absolutely triumphant but previously untested way. It was able
to earn a Best Screenplay award, but unfortunately, was otherwise
sadly ignored (at least in meaningful categories).

“Lost in Translation” is a tragic paradigm of this
general, depressing trend in modern Oscar ceremonies. It’s a
deeply lovable and deserving film that alas lacks the epic clout or
big-studio drive to garner the praise it deserves from the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As long as great films like it
fail to win, though, I’ll at least have some sorrow to
counteract the hubris that I get from predicting the winners.

 

— Zach Mabee is still disappointed that
“Gigli” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.
Console him at
“mailto:mabeez@umich.edu”>mabeez@umich.edu

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