Flipping through the Internet today, I landed upon two things that caught my eye: the first, an article on Flavorwire about how the film adaptations of The Hobbit have gone “horribly awry,” and the second, a Grantland piece about “narratives that doom Oscar movies.”
The Grantland article argues about what the author calls “X” movies—movies with particular, often rather gritty qualities that critics and fans seem to promote as the film most deserving of the Academy Award—and “Y” movies, the pictures that end up winning the Academy Award because “Academy voters have no balls.”
This is something every movie fan has heard before. Even I was annoyed to watch The King’s Speech (a “Y” movie) defeat The Social Network (an “X” movie) in 2010, something the author also complains about because, he writes, “I was more challenged and excited by what The Social Network had to say about our world than I was by what The King’s Speech had to say about somebody else’s.”
I guess that’s a pretty qualified, intellectual reason to preference one thing over another, and the author does not, by any means, claim that one type of film is better than another. He goes as far as to admit that “X” movies typically rally young men more than any other categorical group, and that the qualities that produce a “Y” movie—“more written than directed, more interested in content than in form, humanist, sincere, “relatable,” emotional, often optimistic”—are not at all poor qualities in a film.
What bothered me, though, was the constant assertion that choosing some movies as winners took “balls,” while others simply took their place as the safe, warm-hearted favorites of white-haired old men.
Certainly, as has been argued for “controversial” films like Brokeback Mountain, some films really do push traditional boundaries expected by the majority of filmgoers, but deciding that it might deserve the Oscar more than Crash does not make the voter “brave” or strident toward any grand, new future. Neither does preferring There Will Be Blood over No Country for Old Men, nor The Pianist over Chicago. And while the article itself may be a valid commentary on the Academy Awards themselves, haven’t we always known that the Academy isn’t all that film is about? That there are a thousand reasons why someone might think one movie is the greatest, most inspiring piece of art ever, even compared to a hard-hitter like Pulp Fiction?
I was actually surprised to see the author call Slumdog Millionaire (a winner in 2008) a “Y” film. Even though it did win Best Picture, I’d hardly say that Slumdog Millionaire and the people that voted for it have “no balls.” If I may throw in a personal detail, I more often than not cite Slumdog Millionaire as the film that made me a freak for all film—I thought it was the most magical, most complex, most beautiful, most musical thing I had ever seen at a movie theatre, and I still think that today. Had it been released again year after year, I still would vote it superior to The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, and even 12 Years a Slave, but that has nothing to do with how ballsy I am. And frankly, I completely disagree with the idea that a film containing an optimist ending constitutes a film with “no balls.”
Who is one man to decide when the “wrong movie” has been awarded top prize? How is there such a thing as the “wrong movie,” especially considering how cultural appeals and ideas change through the ages?
On a minor, selfish note, who is one person to decide which films leave a valuable impact? The author of the Flavorwire article attests to the general mess of the Hobbit films thus far, and I do agree that even I—a huge Tolkein fan since I was a little girl—thought the premise of four films for a fairly small novel was overkill. But when I, personally, watch the first two Hobbit films, I absolutely melt. They are perfect, suddenly, because The Hobbit, read aloud by my father when I was small, was the first book that made me cry. The first book that introduced me to danger, to wit, to the beautiful significance of a weak, imperfect underdog saving his friends from the wrath of a terrifying dragon.
And I don’t know. I think that takes some serious balls.