TORONTO (CUP) – As we near March, so too comes that sacred time of year for film students and entertainment junkies alike: the Oscars. Nominations are in and the Golden Globes are over. As entertaining as it is, however, to make our predictions for best supporting actress, best visual effects and the holy grail of them all, best picture, let us pause to reflect on what lies ahead in 2010.
Now, it is no secret that in the past the Oscars have been transformed into a venue for discussing social issues. In 1973, Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for The Godfather, citing the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film. Likewise, Michael Moore’s acceptance speech in 2002 for Bowling for Columbine evoked shouts and boos when he criticized the war in Iraq. Although these individual outbursts and protests are rare, the Oscars’ ceremony is the time for Hollywood to speak up about social issues. This can be seen even so simply in the films they choose to recognize.
Traditionally, the best actor/actress and best picture recipients have been tied to performances and films that address hot-button issues of the day. George Clooney mused in his 2006 best supporting actor acceptance speech for Syriana that Hollywood is unafraid of engaging subjects outside of mainstream discourse. “We’re the ones who [talked] about AIDS when it was just being whispered,” he said. Indeed 1993’s Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks as a homosexual man stricken with HIV, was seen by critics as a bold step and earned Hanks an Oscar. Some argued however, that Hanks’s recognition had much to do with soothing the tempers of gay rights activists over negative stereotypes in the previous year’s best picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs.
It seems that, especially in recent years, each Oscar telecast has a social justice theme. This was perhaps most exemplified in 2007 when former United States vice-president Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth took not only the best documentary feature award, but also claimed best original song 8212; a first for a documentary. In addition to being invited on stage by the director, Gore’s presence was ambient throughout the entire award show as he continually appeared onstage to support his stance on global climate change.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio proudly announced early in the 2007 telecast that this was the first “green” Oscar show and echoed Gore’s sentiment that climate change is “not a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” Of course, this remark came after a gushing DiCaprio begged Gore to run for U.S. president in 2008. Not a political issue indeed.
What theme will be most prevalent at the Oscars in 2010? For that we usually can take a cue from the Oscar’s junior predecessor, the Golden Globes. If we are to put any stock in the decisions made by this smaller gala, it’s looking to become an even better year for Ontario-born Avatar director, James Cameron.
With both he and his record-smashing two-and-a-half hour 3-D spectacle claiming the top prizes at the Globes, it should not be a big surprise if we see a repeat of Titanic’s near-clean sweep in 1998. It’s difficult to extrapolate what particular theme Avatar will fulfill, as it is a film jammed-packed with as many ideas as eye-popping effects.
Will this year harken back to 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, with the themes of relocation and genocide as envisioned in James Cameron’s blue-skinned natives, or will anti-war sentiments over the occupation of a sovereign territory (or planet) for a natural resource win out?
It’s my hope that Avatar, a film that populated ideas so big it doesn’t know how to effectively address them, does not overshadow other more focused and socially conscious, films from this year. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the underdog Precious, a film about an innocent 16-year-old girl growing up in Harlem who struggles to overcome some of the most brutal and squirm-inducing emotional abuse ever committed to film.
Regrettably, this piece seems to have raised more questions than it had sought to answer 8212; a common hazard when one tries to read too much into entertainment. It is probably a good thing that we try to keep it in perspective. The Oscars are an annual celebration of the newest films. So as we pitch in on our Oscar pools and tune in next month, if nothing else, we know we will be entertained. Hopefully as the awards are handed out and the long-running speeches are cut off by the orchestra, Hollywood will remember that’s why we keep going to the movies in the first place.