The real point, surely, of any awards ceremony is to provide everyone the opportunity to be utterly irate about how their particular favourite film/ actor/ musician/ type of cumquat has been passed over. The Oscars are no exception. Rather they are the yearly high point for people grumpily complaining about how ridiculous it is that some eastern European arthouse film you’ve never heard of didn’t get nominated, or how Adam Sandler is continuously passed over despite his deeply nuanced performances (Okay, actually maybe not that last one).
Of course, there is also more serious criticism about what the Oscars ignore. Not just in terms of its very specific taste in films- cast Meryl Streep as a schizophrenic helping underprivileged kids through the magic of cinema and I guarantee a win- but in its discrimination. The Oscars seems to be turning into a yearly celebration of the racism and sexism within the film industry.
With all that in mind, it seems only fair to take part in the annual tradition of moaning about the Oscar nominations and proposing an alternative (and clearly superior) list of winners from among the many actors and films who haven’t been nominated.
Like all such lists it is, of course, highly subjective. For me, for example, nothing could possibly beat Emma Thompson for best supporting actress in The Legend of Barney Thompson, playing the mother to the titular Barney. Almost completely unrecognisable and with a convincing Glaswegian accent she is utterly hilarious but also rather menacing, somehow managing to keep a frequently ridiculous character believable. Despite all this though, I recognise it is unreasonable to expect a small Scottish film, for which most academy members would probably require subtitles, to get nominated.
I was far more surprised my best supporting actor didn’t get nominated: Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. He brings a magnetic aura to the role. Someone less accomplished might have portrayed the character as another mad or evil scientist playing god by creating an AI; Isaac however, makes him a joy to watch (and I hear he’s also one hell of a pilot). A similarly compelling portrayal of a morally corrupt figure is Idris Elba as the commandant in Beasts of No Nation. Elba was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe for best supporting actor for this, despite it arguably being a leading role. His presence dominates the film, driving it forward, and it is his relationship with the boy soldier Agu which the film centres on. However, if you want a more definitive “leading role” I’d suggest Ian McKellen in Mr Holmes. He manages to keep the character of Holmes recognisable, but convincingly changed by time and age. McKellen’s character’s relationship with his child co-star is also, it goes without saying, far less manipulative and disturbing.
The performance I loved most this year, however, was Dame Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van. Whilst outwardly appearing as a very gentle, very English odd couple comedy, it ends up being so much more. Maggie Smith’s character is enigmatic, insufferable yet utterly charming; blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. The Lady in the Van could have been so easily been an overly romanticised, saccharine film but it always manages to undercut itself just when it needs to, thanks largely to Smith. So much for the Oscar snubs in front of the camera.
Scottish director John Maclean is a newcomer to directing feature films, beginning last year with Slow West. It’s a very different sort of Western – as the title points out it is slower than most – but it was one of the best directed films I saw last year. Every scene is beautiful, the story-telling is inventive and the performances which Maclean gets from his stars, Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-Mcphee, are excellent. You could, admittedly, run a rather successful drinking game based solely around the Christ figure imagery in the film, but that would seem a shame because you would be missing a gem of a film.
Finally – the big one. Best film. By nominating Mad Max: Fury Road the Oscars have rather surprised people by stepping outside of their comfort zone of extremely worthy (if a tad bland) movies. However, there is one film last year which I would never in a million years expect to get the Oscar for best film, yet in a way I feel deserves it. That film is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Surely if the Oscars represent anything it should be that they recognise important moments in film history. This, more than any of the films nominated this year, The Force Awakens is; not because it will probably be the second highest grossing film of all time, or its technical accomplishments, but because of what it means in a wider context.
There have been other major films with female heroes in recent years such as The Hunger Games, Divergent and Frozen, but none which have not been made with one eye on the female consumers as the film’s primary source of income. The Force Awakens instead is a film which is trying to appeal to everyone, yet does not feel that it needs a white man as its lead character to do so. Instead, it puts Rey as the person whose hero’s journey the audience follows, and her two major co-stars are a black man and a Latino man.
In many ways The Force Awakens’ critics, who say that it covered too much old territory may be accurate, but they miss that it also did something very new; something which goes beyond the plot of an individual movie and seems like it will impact on the drive for wider representation in mainstream cinema. There was also just something wonderfully cinematic about it– a wonderfully intangible thing which made so many people go and see it again. I doubt that anyone felt that same sense of childlike wonder when watching The Revenant.
So, as the row at the Oscars continues to spiral outwards, at least Star Wars is providing, you might say, a new hope for representation in cinema.
Image: Davidlohr Bueso; Flickr.com