In a special Thanksgiving-themed edition of this series, Indiewire senior writer Peter Knegt and regular columnist Matthew Hammett Knott face off about awards season..
It's almost Thanksgiving weekend, a perennial time for gratitude. Unless you're British or Canadian, as we are, and bound by no such tradition. So while we're happy to appropriate the Thanksgiving tradition of making wishes in this month's Oscar bitch fest, we regret to say we've given it our own, far-from-grateful twist.
November is about the last point where one can still get away with fantasizing wildly about Oscar possibilities. So long as there are still unseen contenders out there, it seems a legitimate exercise. Not that these wishes have any basis in reality, as you will rapidly see. It's just an excuse for imagining a few juicy ways of turning a traditionally conservative and predictable race firmly on its head. Par example:
"Monuments Men" is ready after all
Knegt: You hear all the time that George Clooney is such a trickster, and his greatest trick of all is that "The Monuments Men" is actually in the can and a complete and utter masterpiece. Just as "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" screen and we assume the race is all but called, Clooney holds surprise screenings of "Monuments Men" and then releases it in 3,000 theaters across America the next day. It wins every single Oscar it’s eligible for, and the game is forever re-written.
“The Butler” becomes the new front-runner
Knott: The game might be re-written, but you’d still have a classic ‘white men save the day’ narrative, as was ever thus. Now I know people are saying that both this year’s frontrunners ("Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave") challenge that norm, but I genuinely don't think either threaten white hegemony as much as "The Butler." People have compared it to "Forrest Gump," but that film has such a conservative approach, especially in regard to the art of protest. Everyone is calling "The Butler" gentle and bland, but I would say calm and fair-handed is a more generous description. It gives a lot of time to both sides of the great 20th century black dilemma of whether to assimilate or dissent. But its conclusion is clearly in favor of the latter, which sends a quiet message to its audience that although deferring to authority has its benefits, nothing really happens until you get rowdy. That’s nothing to be sniffed at, especially when you consider the risible racial insight of films like "Crash." I know "The Butler" is in other ways saccharine and bloated, but hello? We're talking about the Oscars.
All films with a triple digit running time are disqualified
Knegt: Yes, and the only problem with "The Butler" winning is that it still fits the Oscar tradition of rewarding films with insane running times. Do people really expect us to sit through all 114 minutes of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"? That's 14 minutes too many. I suggest the Academy does everyone a favor and draws up a last minute rule change that limits Oscar nominees to only films that run under 100 minutes. Then from here on in anybody who wants an Oscar (which is basically everyone except Joaquin Phoenix and Maggie Smith) will be forced to cut things down to lengths more suitable for the vast majority of us that suffer with severe internet-influenced ADD. And even though it's sort of unfair this year's crop were not aware of the new rule before releasing their films, it will make for a much less bloated Oscar night as well. Ellen DeGeneres can just come on stage, tell a few jokes and then tell the entire cast and crew of "Gravity" to come up and accept their awards (except Sandra Bullock, who'd still lose to Cate Blanchett).
“All is Lost” banned on a technicality
Knott: I like your strategy, but mostly because it removes from contention what I found to be one of the most overrated films of the year, "All Is Lost." It is supposedly this humanist ode to the survival instinct, or something, but those narrative restrictions (no dialogue! No cutaways! No CGI tigers!) seemed so wilfully imposed, and well, restrictive. Basically it felt like an exercise in showing off. And if you make people gather round to watch you wank into a cup for two hours, they will probably applaud at the end, but more through obligation than desire. Plus I genuinely wasn’t particularly impressed by Robert Redford, and I certainly don’t feel sad that he’s never won an acting Oscar. Put Annette Bening on that boat, then I’ll feel sad. I do think there’s something interesting to be said about the fact that all that wind-in-your-hair, being an adventurer on the high seas is ultimately an expensive and potentially selfish passion that tends to be the preserve of wealthy white men. And tearing away that privilege could be fascinating dramatically. But not in this case.
Stories of people in boats are banned from the Oscars altogether
Knegt: I'll admit I'm a much bigger fan of "All Is Lost" than you, Matt, but I for one am still totally sick of these movies about boats winning so many Oscars. How many times have you been on a boat? Seriously? I woke up on a gay cruise once but that's about it. But here we are again, with "All Is Lost" and "Captain Phillips" both in contention and the boating demographic totally overrepresented. Didn't they feel satisfied enough when "Titanic" swept? Or when "Life of Pi" won best director last year? No, they had to get greedy. And at whose expense? Ask the people behind "Rush." They were all but a sure thing for about 18 seconds back in September, and now yet again there will be no car-driven films being represented at the Oscars.