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Oscars, ‘other’ considerations

Avatar did not get the trophies for either direction or Best Picture as there was something cold and stiff about the film with all these aliens crisscrossing a faraway planet, writes Gautaman Bhaskaran.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2010 17:31 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran

Oscar TrophyNow that the envelopes have been ripped open and the winners have finally popped out of them, it is time for some soul searching. Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, had a great quote to offer to the media. "I think the Academy voters did what they do. You and I might disagree with one thing or another. But they did what they needed to do", he quipped.

I have no idea about “You”, but I am clear about what I wanted out of this year’s Oscars.

I have, in my long years of reporting and commenting, found that juries often honour men and their creations for reasons other than talent or merit. A classic example of this was Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, an extremely harsh look at the George Bush presidency in America. That year, American cult director, Quentin Tarantino, chaired the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, where Fahrenheit 9/11 competed. Despite several other great movies the vied for the Palm d’Or, including those by Emir Kusturica, Walter Salles and the Coen Brothers among others, Moore’s documentary won the top prize. Everybody knew that this was a political decision spearheaded by Bush bashers. Tarantino was certainly one among them.

Now, coming to the Oscars, I am glad that James Cameron’s 3D animated Avatar did not get the trophies for either direction or Best Picture. In spite of its humane love story, there was something cold and stiff about the film with all these aliens crisscrossing a faraway planet.

Admittedly, Katheryne Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which won both the Best Picture and Best Direction Oscars, is a profound look at the utter futility of war. Set in Iraq (though shot in Jordan), it is well made, well helmed and well performed. Perhaps, the Academy thought it was about time a woman was put on the pedestal.

(Bigelow is not the first woman to be nominated for Direction. Italy's Lina Wertmuller was the first, for directing the 1975 Seven Beauties. Jane Campion got a nod for The Piano in 1994 and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2004.)

Be that as it may, I would have given the Best Picture and Direction statuettes to Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, nominated in both categories. His genius struck and disarmed me. A pure Jewish fantasy – about netting all the top Nazi guns at one place and finishing them off – it takes place in the closing years of World War II. The movie has stayed with me. Wonderfully crafted, marvellously acted out and deeply touching at many places, Inglorious Basterds reminds me of a cinema that was personal and intimate. Remember the scene where the French dairy farmer silently weeps after he is forced to “sacrifice” a whole family to the Jew Hunter, or that where Shosanna kisses her black boyfriend adieu in what she knows will be their last meeting, or that where Hans Landa (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, Best Oscar for a supporting role) finds in the end that for once he is not on the top.

Gautaman Bhaskaran

Gautaman Bhaskaran

And, I just could not help comparing Landa with another great character from Casablanca, which incidentally stole the show at the 1943 Oscars. That was the last year when there were 10 Best Picture nominees. Till the list was expanded this time. The character was Louis Renault (exceptionally essayed by Claude Rains). Rains deftly portrays a French officer in Vichy France -- humorous and a bit of a villain with a cruel streak. Landa is far more brutal, almost sadistically so, but he has his wit in place. Unforgettable, these two men are.

Finally, nobody can deny that Meryl Streep is extraordinary as a television chef in Julie and Julie. She has had 16 Oscar nods, but just one win in 1983. Yet, the Academy chose to overlook her, probably taking her for granted. Oh, she would be around the next time and the next and the next as well! So, a great performance was not recognised.

In comparison, Sandra Bullock’s part in The Blind Side - as a rich housewife, but with her heart in the right place who gives a home to a black boy, encouraging him to become a football legend - is good, not great. Certainly not. Yet, the Academy must have been moved by her empty basket: she has never been nominated before, and at age 45 she may never get another Oscar-worthy movie. So, the vote of sympathy was cast for Bullock, completely dismaying me. Here sinks another talent, I said to myself.

Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on the Oscars for many years