The American media make much of the fact that an overwhelmingly large proportion of the top Oscars went to non-Americans this year — as if that by itself was the terrible surprise. The most notable aspect of the 80th Academy Awards really was, however, the other fact that the good old art of story-telling ruled supreme according to the tastebuds of the jury. An inkling that 2008 was going to be a great ‘Story Year’ became clear when three films adapted from novels — the Cohen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, and Joe Wright’s Atonement based on Ian McEwan’s novel — pretty much swept the nominations in various categories. No Country For Old Men went on to win four Oscars, with the Paul Greengrass directed The Bourne Ultimatum, loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name, trailing with three.
Of course, there’s nothing novel about Oscar-winning movies springing from books. After all, the Academy Awards — sweeping Lord of the Rings series — like the yet-to-be-exhausted Harry Potter one — did come from the J.R.R. Tolkien treasure trove. But it is the treatment of films that have won the ‘Golden Boy’ that seems to signify a different kind of bumper crop this year. The story as in words and that in film is bound to differ not only in form but also in style. The success of the ‘transmutation’ from pages to celluloid isn’t dependent on how faithful it is to the ‘original’. If that were the case, The Godfather would have made one clunky trilogy movie indeed.
The cinema, lest it be forgotten, is a visual medium. The Oscars have had a reputation of not even being too tasteful in this department. How else can one explain the boxing flick Rocky winning the Best Film award in 1977 (over Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver)? The trick, of course, is to make a greatly popular movie that is also great. For that, the Academy has got the story and the script right this year.