By Jack Ryan, For The Miami Student
At the beginning of the Oscars, an important question was in my mind. Is the biggest night in the film industry becoming one of the least meaningful? This year's prestigious ceremony featured the conclusion of award sweeps for J.K. Simmons in his role as an abusive instructor in "Whiplash," Patricia Arquette as a troubled mother in "Boyhood," and Julianne Moore as a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's in "Still Alice." Anyone with even minor knowledge of this past awards season could have told you how tonight was going to end in many respects, leaving only a few questionable categories, such as Best Picture and Best Actor.
While these categories were up in the air, they were a contest between two frontrunners: Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne for Actor, "Birdman" and "Boyhood" for Picture. There were dark horses in each, Cooper and "The Imitation Game," but in the end, a five-person nomination class gets boiled down to a one-on-one fight, or a blowout. What does this mean of the other spots? It seems they become either respectful hat tips (see: Meryl Streep) or attempted make-ups for previous snubs (see: Robert Duvall).
Does this mean that we should increase nomination classes? No, that would just expand this gray area between true appreciation and simple courtesy and potentially decrease the meaning behind these already ambiguous awards. Do we create more specificity amongst these awards, like the Golden Globes' split between Comedy/Musical and Drama? No, that'll create more argument for movies that transcend genre, like "Birdman" Perhaps, we need to create a separate prize for dedication, as Richard Linklater's apparent lock for "Boyhood" was mainly inherent of the film's 12-year time frame.
Then, as I was pondering possible changes, Linklater lost the Best Director trophy in an upset to "Birdman" director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Initially, I was shocked, but as I slowly calmed down, speculation for this apparent snub began. By not recognizing the enormous commitment Linklater made to his film, the Academy seemed to be saying that gimmicks or offscreen dedication don't produce golden statues. This was exciting. It could mean the end of awards for notorious method actors, for decidedly okay films with one or two strong attributes, for "Oscar bait" films as we know them.
And then, Redmayne won Best Actor for his role as Stephen Hawking in the dull romance "The Theory of Everything," trumping, in my opinion, a superior Keaton. This victory marked yet another win for physical acting in recent years, following Matthew McConaughey's ridiculous weight drop for "Dallas Buyers Club." But, why does it matter? The realization of the strange, paradoxical nature of the Oscars began to set in.
Films like "The Grand Budapest Hotel" can win multiple Oscars concerning their production or design, but because of nomination-to-win ratios or the specific prizes they win, appear to be failures. "Selma" can be shunned from all but two nominations and one win, but have a song performance that moves an entire audience to tears. "Boyhood" can redefine what cinema can do, but be looked down on for losing competitions to a satire. Moore's, Simmons', and Arquette's trophies seem to have much less meaning because they were favored to win. In our current world of film "awards," you win when you lose, and lose when you win. What's the point of decorations if their significance is compromised?
At the conclusion of the night, as the "Birdman" cast and crew flooded onto the stage following their Best Picture win, I was reminded of a quote from the film. A quote that sits against it's main character's mirror, always in his view in moments of self-observation: "A thing is a thing, not what is said of a thing." For passionate movie lovers and casual onlookers alike, this is imperative to remember. The impending Oscar symbol on a "Birdman" case means no more than the figurative Weinstein seal of approval on "The Imitation Game" or the box office records broken by "American Sniper." Film is a subjective medium; you simply can't win art.