Thursday, February 23, 2017

Movie Nerd Complaint

I've been watching the Oscar nominees this week and have come to a real, troubling conclusion: they're coming based on moments, perhaps moments used to submit a performance for nomination. Mahershala Ali is likely to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight, which is very good. However, he's barely in the movie - like ten minutes of screen time, tops - and he gives a far better performance in Hidden Figures in an equally small (albeit, less important) role. However, he gives the best performance in one scene, when he has to tell an impoverished young black boy, to whom he's become a surrogate father, 1) that it's ok if he's gay, 2) that yes, his mom is on drugs, and 3) yes, he (Ali's character, Juan) is the drug dealer who's supplying her. His emotion is palpable, deep, and real. It's an incredible scene and, by far, the best three minutes of acting by any actor in any movie this year.

Is one scene enough to get an Oscar, though?

I hope not. But it's a trend. Viola Davis is going to win Best Supporting Actress (for a lead role, no less) - and she's fantastic. She's an American treasure and worthy of whatever awards she wins. However, she also has one fantastic scene in Fences, in which she stands outside telling her husband exactly what she thinks about her years of suffering under his imperfections and that while she's willing to raise the child of his dead mistress as her own, she is unwilling to continue being his wife. Again, tremendous, and likely the best single scene for any actress this entire year. I'm not sure the whole movie performance is better than the collective effort from Taraji P Henson, for example, who carries a ham-handedly directed Hidden Figures to incredible heights.

This can really be a problem, at some point. It's going to encourage more movies to go for the "Oscar moment," which is a Hollywood cliche, but one people generally understand. I feel that most of the Best Picture nominees are not necessarily great movies. They're good, for sure, excellent, for the most part, but when you look at every facet of moviemaking, they all have flaws. It could just be one of those years, but it feels more that these films are getting nominated because they're incredible in one area, with the overall quality overlooked.

Maybe I'm just wrong. Maybe this is like voting on MVP in baseball, where people endlessly disagree whether it should be the actual 'most valuable' or just the best player. I'm willing to just be on one side of a real divide. However, I'm hopeful other movie fans are concerned about this. It just feels like we're lowering the bar, in some sense.

I'd also like to find a way to recognize those moments - scenes of great brilliance where people stand up and take notice. If the Oscars are looking for a way to expand their audience a bit, maybe adding a couple non-traditional awards would be a way to do it. You could give out best scene and have men and women competing for Acting, Directing, Writing, and Cinematography in that category. Four new awards that could excite the masses and recognize great work. I don't want the Oscars to be the Grammys, where 100 people get trophies every year and the greatest industry shame is being introduced as "Grammy Nominee Brian McKnight (or whoever).

I don't want to give everyone a trophy, but I'd like to think we can recognize amazing scenes without having to sacrifice incredible performances, maintained over months, in some cases. That's important... and that's my movie nerd complaint.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

The same could be said for Casey Affleck, he gives a very good restrained performance, but it's really one moment that has made him the front runner.

We disagree about Viola being a lead performance, but I agree on the rest of it.