|Oscar Themes, Past and Present
|By all accounts, “Slumdog Millionaire,” with its 10 nominations, is set to sweep the Oscars this year. In fact, it’s the front-runner to win best picture, which would make it the first film with a significant foreign language component to take the title.
“This year definitely has a more global, more international flavor,” Entertainment Weekly Oscar expert Dave Karger said. “But it’s also a very upbeat film. Both those elements are sort of a sign of the times, I think, with the ushering in of the Obama regime and people hoping to maintain an optimism because of the change he hopes to bring with him.”
“It’s interesting to note that the first award ‘Slumdog’ won was the audience award at the Toronto film festival. That’s not a critics prize — that was a regular folks audience award,” Karger said. “It’s a magical, upbeat movie, a real crowd-pleaser.”
Do Oscar trends really reflect the mood of the nation? UCLA professor Richard Walter said he doesn’t see pattern in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ picks.
“There are no trends,” said Walter. “These are just things that happened in an arbitrary sequence with no rhyme or reason. We project upon the circumstances some sort of order because it’s what we crave, but it simply doesn’t apply. We can find some sort of ‘meaning’ in all of this, but it’s an illusion.”
But Karger, who’s been studying the academy’s annual decision-making for more than a decade, said he disagrees.
“Whether it’s intentional or not, the best picture nominees oftentimes do reflect the mood of the country,” Karger said. “In the last two years, with ‘The Departed’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’ winning, you really were noticing these films that were meditations on violence. So it’s no coincidence that we were in a time where people were very frustrated with the wars we were fighting.”
“This year, I don’t think it’s pushing it to say that you are seeing a glimmer of hope,” he said. “‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Milk’ have that underlying upbeat thing happening at the end — upswings of hope. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
Below, read up on the trend dominating this year’s ceremony, and ones that reigned in years past.
2009: The Year of the Director
Every film nominated for best picture this year is also nominated for best director.
“This is only the fifth time ever that has happened,” said Karger, who writes the OscarWatch blog for EW.com. “I do think in the last couple of years, the Oscars have been about the directors. Two years ago, it was all about Martin Scorsese; last year it was all about the Coen Brothers. This year it’s the Danny Boyle year. And assuming ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ wins best picture — which it will — the last three years’ winners were really director-oriented movies.”
Karger also points out that this year the category expanded to include some directors who had never been acknowledged by the academy — including “Slumdog” helmer Boyle and David Fincher, who’s nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
“So as much as it seems that the academy is locked in its ways,” Karger said, “they are being a bit more open to talent they’ve neglected in the past.”
2008: Villains Rule
“There was one shocking thing about the Oscars last year,” said Tom O’Neil, who runs the Los Angeles Times blog TheEnvelope.com. “And that is that three of the four acting awards went to villains. It’s very rare that you ever see a villainous role win, like Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’ or Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs.'”
Three of the best acting trophies went to villainous characters — Tilda Swinton scored best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” Javier Bardem scored best supporting actor for “No Country for Old Men” and Daniel Day Lewis scored best actor for “There Will Be Blood.
“For them to all win for these creepy, nasty roles was fascinating and highly unusual,” O’Neil said. “And the movies were downbeat, too. They were all small movies that were dark and psychologically scary.”
Considering the times, O’Neil sees the trend continuing.
“I think it peaked with Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight,’ which earned him a nomination this year,” he said. “We’re reinventing villains — they’re not predictable Freddie Kruger slashers anymore. These aren’t standard-issue villains straight from Central Casting. Look at Heath Ledger’s complete reinvention of the Joker. And ‘No Country for Old Men’ was a slasher flick but in a very different way. There were new, inventive twists in a more inventive cinema.”
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