It is always difficult to judge – and to honour – an artistic creation. How, for instance, in the world of ours are we going to decide that one painting is superior to the other? How, for example, are we going to judge two very different kinds of sculpture? Can we dare say that Michelangelo’s David is a shade better than the Statue of Liberty or some of the majestic images of Buddha?
Similarly, it is never easy to assess the artistic merits of a movie. And this is something which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences realised after their first awards in 1929. There were two important prizes – for Best Picture and for Outstanding Picture. The second went to Wings, a World War I saga and box-office smasher. The first was given to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a silent era melodrama that was at once hailed as a masterpiece. Even today it is considered so.
This compartmentalisation conveyed how hard it was to pit one genre against another, and this is a question which continues to baffle juries across the world. How can you let a drama compete with a comedy? How can you allow a biopic of an author vie with an action adventure?
Well, the Academy dropped this distinction – Best Picture and Outstanding Picture – the very next year, that is 1930. Nonethesless, the struggle among the Academy jurors continues, the struggle to decide the Best Picture from the several in the basket (nine this year), with them falling into different genres.
Let us look at three films racing to clinch the coveted Best Picture Oscar. While McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is a hard-hitting drama about brutality and bondage in an America hurtling towards a civil war, Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey, Gravity, is a 3D canvas of mesmeric photography. On the other hand, David O Russell’s American Hustle is an engaging comedy of sorts.
So which of the three (we are not taking the other six into account) should the Academy venerate? Can the jury ignore something as historically important as 12 Year A Slave? Or will the Academy be impelled to declare Gravity for its innovative technology? Or American Hustle for its great wit?
It is quite possible that McQueen’s work will be the Best Picture, while Cuaron will go home with the Best Director trophy.
And this is a division I do not agree with. How can the man who helms the Best Picture not be the Best Director? And can the Best Director not have created the Best Picture?
The huge number of Academy voters must have grappled with these questions and probably spent many sleepless nights debating how to resolve issues as slippery as these.
Anyway, we would know the result of their dilemmas on March 2, when the Oscars would pop out of the white envelopes.