The 86th Academy Awards could be the most important of their rich and extensive heritage, so much so that just my memories of Sunday nights glitzy bash have my gold statue standing to attention.
You see, not only has the quality of these nominated films proven their prowess over years gone by, blowing away both audiences and critics the world over, but also the expanse of this year’s slate, and possible winners, has been utterly, utterly mesmerising. So many productions of epic direction, perfected portrayals and enlightening content were left off the stage, out of the speeches and possibly even excluded from the nominees list, unable to penetrate this years Oscar magnificence, brilliant though these ‘fringe’ films are. However, this notion of excellence in entertainment is nothing but bloody beneficial, and more specifically to the industry of filmmaking as an all-encompassing entity. Yes this acknowledgement has been deserved by the directors, actors, cinematographers, effects artists, distributors and producers, but above everything, these films have been admired by their audiences.
But despite all this magic and wonder, the above mentioned is not what makes this years Oscars the most outstanding in its history and a beacon of shining hope for the future, at least not in the grand scheme of what’s been accomplished. Rather this ovation and praise goes to the progress we witnessed on Sunday night, a progress the academy cast a gleaming light of gold over, celebrating the past and laying the foundations for a promising future, empowering film as an art form, with all 6000 members holding a united middle finger up to the inflated budgets of studio pictures.
For me, Dallas Buyers Club is the highlight of what films can be, at least in terms of where independent features now stand. As Matthew McConaughey famously stated, ‘it was turned down 86 times’ and thus he was right in labelling it a true underdog. But that is just it. This is a lesson to independent producers who believe a big name is what it takes to make a successful film. That is bollocks. It does not take a Cruise, a Hanks, a Smith or even an Oscar-less DiCaprio. Instead, the truth is, if you have a promising project and you believe in it, if everyone involved believes in it, well then the limitations and worries aforementioned vanish completely. Dallas Buyers Club was made for $5.5M, using a laughing stock actor of yesteryears RomComs and a nonchalant rockstar from 30 Seconds To Mars as it leading talent, confirming its self-belief with three Oscars and over $31 million in ticket sales.
Yet there is a reason why independent films overshadow studio movies at awards. They have heart. Undeniable heart and teams who embody true grit. 12 Years A Slave cost $20 million,Blue Valentine $18 million, Philomena $12 million, Nebraska $13 million and Inside Llewyn Davis $11 million. Between them they have grossed almost $400 million and have an accumulated total of 30 Oscar nominations and 7 wins. These films are not just spectacular in execution and as films, but proof independent features can receive the highest of accolades and take home big bucks from the box office. I’m not saying this will encourage the studio’s to reinstate their former independent arm’s, but it is a step towards a level playing field and subsequent greatness where greatness is deserved.
However, even this inspiring and impressive victory for filmmakers (a victory that has my lower jaw dragging itself across the future stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame) is not where the skip in my step and Cheshire cat grin on my face stems from. Instead, it is the progress of pressing issues that has me both emotionally joyous and ethically aroused, for the academy’s recognition of this years nominations is a monumental step forward, applauding adversity in terms of both the content of these films and the realities that are currently endured.
America the brave finally seems ready to address is appalling history; praising a film that shames its past, as 12 Years a Slave ensures with its saddening perspective and viscous veracity. Yes, the cold facts and numbers are harmful to those ethnic minorities deserving lead roles, but progress now has a firm foundation from which to build, and promotion of this must not be ignored. And this argument goes hand in hand with the hot topic of women’s place in film, a topic that warrants action and only concludes with the fact too few leading roles are given to women and too many male executives ignore the truths of what women can achieve in these leading roles.
Cate Blanchett won best actress for her performance in Blue Jasmine, a film produced for $18 million and one that has proven women driven films are adored by the audience and able to bring in cash rewards, with Blue Jasmine so far taking $94 million at the box office. Women are irresistibly fantastic in these roles and, in my opinion, are able to deliver the film’s message with precision in its meaning and beyond that of men. Jessica Chastain’s Zero Dark Thirty took $132 million at the box office last year, Naomi Watts’ The Impossible landed $180 million. Coincide this with wins for Steve McQueen and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as the critical success both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi have received, and the future looks brighter than ever for equality in films.
The performances of this years men, women, blacks, whites and everyone regardless of their backgrounds and circumstances, have been flawless in delivery and faultless in performance, and the recognition from the highest of bodies is what I find professionally endearing and morally beautiful to witness. Yes, there is work to be done and progress to be fought tooth and nail for, but as we build on a magnificent future, there is no denying that the 86th Academy Awards have been the most important of their time. Period.