Academy of One: Best Picture 2013

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I need to address a massive elephant in the room and this is the first year where I have a chance to do it. Let’s talk about the cognitive dissonance of the “Art vs. Artist” mentality.

First, for those not in the know, art vs. artist is a practice in which the individual, viewer in this case, takes a piece of art and lets it stand on its own regardless of the artists intentions, influences, history, or personality.

It’s really a way for people to praise someone’s work while ignoring a dark piece of their past. “If the art is great, who cares what the artist does?”

The terms and debate have been in the recent news as the transcripts from Birth of a Nation director and star Nate Parker’s 1999 rape trial have resurfaced, which have definitely hurt his chances for awards season laurels for 2016.

I bring this up now as one of the contenders in 2013′s race for awards glory is Blue Jasmine a film by Woody Allen who has been accused of child molestation.

I used to be a big proponent of the art vs. artist philosophy. I wore my cognitive dissonance proudly as I heard the rumors of various directors, actors and writers’ misdeeds. It all changed when a letter by Mia Farrow’s daughter, Dylan, appeared and while I dismissed it at first, I reread it and it affected me deeply. The next year, Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan, penned another letter and I couldn’t ignore the way we’ve ignored a family’s pain for a few hours of entertainment anymore. I won’t be watching any new Woody Allen projects in the future, which is a step toward closing my self off to certain voices and filmmakers so that I don’t ignore those victims who are lost behind men of power.

All that said, I will be discussing Blue Jasmine and other Woody Allen films in the future as I delve through the past. The year 2013 is when I can say I stopped being ignorant of the accusations and thus, the last year of any posts post 2016, I will put Allen in contention for anything. The same will be said of Roman Polanski. I was only made aware of his past after 2002 (I was just turning 15 and cutting my teeth in non-blockbuster films at the time of The Pianist’s release). So, anything before that is fair game.

This is my new cognitive dissonance and it’s not perfect. It’s really not even satisfactory, so I understand if you’ll want to skip future editions of these postings that include discussions of these men. The likely years will be 2011, 2008, 2005, 2002, 1986, 1979, 1977, 1974, and 1968 to the best of my recollection.

Now, let’s get down to business. I’d like to just dive in without much more introduction. Here are the nominees as they stand now.

  • American Hustle

  • Captain Phillips

  • Dallas Buyer’s Club

  • Gravity

  • Her

  • Nebraska

  • Philomena

  • 12 Years a Slave

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

Unlike the years I’ve covered so far, 2013 boasted nine nominees in this category. Could there have been ten? Of course their could have. Here I propose some films that could easily fit within this list.

  • All Is Lost

  • Frozen

  • Fruitvale Station

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Short Term 12

Films about one person’s quest for survival aren’t new, but what is refreshing here is that All Is Lost does so without a lot of needless monologue. It gets quiet and lets the audience figure things out from non-verbal cues in a compelling narrative.

More often than not, the best animated films are left off the Best Picture list and we’re told to… let it go (couldn’t resist), but it really doesn’t make sense that the Best Picture race can’t invite the best of all genres. Frozen is a film that is surprising, mesmerizing, full of ridiculously catchy songs, and wholly deserving of a place on this list.

Contemporary dramas based on real events, especially as events like the one depicted in Fruitvale Station continue to happen, are desperate to cover all sides of a situation. Fruitvale Station is more intimate focusing instead on the last few hours of Oscar Grant III’s life and his want to turn his life into something better than it is. It’s a heart-breaking and beautiful portrait.

The smoky, Bohemian atmosphere of the Coen brothers Inside Llewyn Davis is like a texture on the screen that you also hear in the rasp of several of our characters. The typical Coen panache is sprinkled throughout and of course there’s that stellar final song that will leave you in tears.

Movies about kids struggling through things are tough. Movies about adults who were struggling through things as kids and now try and help kids who are struggling through things are even tougher. Short Term 12 balances immense heart, kindness, tough love, and heart break. It’s a film that reminds us all to seek out our support system in times of trouble wherever we may find it because there are those who care more than we know.

Now that I’ve got a good list of contenders, I have one open spot to bring the total to ten nominees, but I feel there’s more than one I need to bring over. Here’s that original list again.

  • American Hustle

  • Captain Phillips

  • Dallas Buyer’s Club

  • Gravity

  • Her

  • Nebraska

  • Philomena

  • 12 Years a Slave

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

I have three movies in mind to make room for on this list, so I need to remove two in order to make the total ten and I have just the two.

The first to remove is Nebraska. It’s a nice, little, quirky story which has a lot of ridiculous and funny scenes, but for the most part its slow pace is a detriment. It takes a long time for it to get where its going and it doesn’t mind dragging us along one inch at a time.

The bittersweet resolution, the one we, the audience, can predict from the opening scenes is satisfying at least. I would write something about the journey being more fulfilling than where it ends up, but when the journey is often tedious it’s quite a bit less fulfilling.

For the next film on the chopping block, I choose Philomena. This is another movie about a journey, but perhaps a little more reluctant of a journey. The ending is far more fulfilling than Nebraska, but I still find the trappings of it a bit stale.

Apart from the story beats that are specific details, this story is very conventional. It hits every beat that its supposed to, the charming older person discovering things we all already know, the embarrassed, then emboldened savior, and the happy ending, of sorts.

It’s structure is stale and cliched while it’s story is fascinating, so it’s a hard one to sit through and not roll your eyes over the pitfalls of traditional storytelling.

O.K., so with those subtractions, here are the films I’ve got as additions to the list.

  • Frozen

  • Fruitvale Station

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

With my additions, let’s see what the new list of contenders is like.

  • American Hustle

  • Captain Phillips

  • Dallas Buyer’s Club

  • Frozen

  • Fruitvale Station

  • Gravity

  • Her

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

  • 12 Years a Slave

  • The Wolf of Wall Street

The real question now is can any other contender beat the original winner, 12 Years a Slave? Short answer, no.

While I think American Hustle and Gravity are stunningly superior films in their own rights, the cinematic masterpiece that is 12 Years a Slave is unparalleled.

There hasn’t been an American slave narrative quite like this one. Solomon Northup is a free man, a free American, who is captured and sold. He knows what it’s like outside of the South. He knows what it’s like to be human.

The film is about Solomon’s struggle to regain his humanity in the face of brutality and it’s incredibly compelling. The scenes are remarkable in their juxtaposition of people and objects in the way that the brutality in the background is almost banal to the people who live it.

I keep thinking of the scene where as punishment Solomon is hung by his neck, his hands behind his back, while his feet barely touch the ground. In the background, his fellow slaves go about their daily tasks as he struggles for breath. The shot holds for a long time before someone finally comes to Solomon’s aid. The composition of this shot is so masterful and conveys so much to the audience.

12 Years a Slave is hard to watch, but impossible to look away from. There is so much in this film that brings that powerful shame from deep inside about what our ancestors did or at the very least allowed to happen. The film doesn’t hold back from the stark and cruel nature of slave and owner, depicting some of the most brutal aspects of American history. It’s a film that’s meant to be seen, one that’s meant to stay with us and it does that with powerful imagery, masterful directing and staggeringly brilliant acting.

Here are a few other films from 2013 you should check out.

  • About Time

  • Before Midnight

  • Blue is the Warmest Color

  • Enemy

  • Prisoners

  • Side Effects

  • The Spectacular Now

  • This is the End

  • The Way, Way Back

  • The World’s End

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actor in a Leading Role nominees for 2013.

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