Saturday, 23 January 2010

The BAH!scars #1: Setting My Phaser to "Pissed Off"

Let me state the obvious. It’s Oscar season. I’m a (fledgling) pop culture blogger (not too fledgling if you count two years of column writing though). I’m going to be writing in excess about the Oscars. Might as well start now.

[Oh, by the way, I fully acknowledge the irony that I will continually call the Academy every iteration of "stupid" and "worthless" and yet still get infuriated by their every action. Just should put that out on the table early.]

This past June, the Academy created quite the buzz when they announced that there would be not five, but ten Best Picture nominees. Granted, I think this revelation ignited more sensation than it really warranted. Let’s face the truth (Hi, Truth!), even if ten are nominated, the race is still almost always between two or three films anyway. This superficial vicissitude only means an increase in token films that have as little of a chance of winning as a red shirt has of surviving a voyage to Deygon-7. Now, instead of simply the token “Little Indie That Could” (The Little Miss Juno Award), there will also be the token “Comedy” and “Animated Movie” and the like.

Before we go on, let’s just mention that this has now rendered the already questionable “Best Animated Picture” (The Pixar Award) to the status of utterly worthless (“Hmm…I wonder if the one animated picture nominated for Best Picture will win”). Hopefully it will just disappear. Let’s face it – all it ever did was fail to appease the people who were noticing that Pixar continually got overlooked for Best Picture. We doing that? Good. Oh, and anyone thinking they’ll dare nominate two animated films (like, let’s say The Fantastic Mr. Fox along with Up instead of just Up)…please check up on your idea of reality. Though I do indeed hope I have to eat my words on that last statement.

However, there is another genre of film that the querulous masses lament is constantly overlooked come Oscar time: the action film. Ever since the Academy made its proclamation, nerds nationwide have been in a constant rejoice over the fact that there may now be an action film among the best picture nominees. And what has been the favorite these past seven or so months? Star Trek.

It was mentioned when the press release first journeyed from the computer screen to the pupils of every geek in the world. Speculation over three films: Star Trek, Up, and The Hangover finally getting nominated. The first two have persisted as favorites all the way up to speculation over the ten in the past month. The third lost steam…though its Golden Globe may help it recover some. Now, I can’t comment on The Hangover. I haven’t seen it. I know, I know, I’m a pop culture blogger…but this ain’t a full time job. If any of you wish to change that so I may see The Hangover and weigh in quicker, I am more than willing to take you up on your lucrative and exceedingly generous offer. As it is, let me say that Up certainly deserves a nomination and is currently my runner-up for picture of the year (which I gave to Inglourious Basterds).

Then there’s Star Trek. I admit, I took a while to get to the meat of this entry. It’s like the first hour of Deer Hunter. Anyway, Star Trek. For a while, I’ve tried to deny it. I would think, “That’s just wishful thinking! Of course, they’re not going to nominate Star Trek!” But every day it seems that more and more critics are predicting it. And, to be honest, I’m beginning to think they’re right.

Star Trek
in no way deserves to be considered as even a candidate (despite how token such candidancy may be) for Best Picture. It was fun, yes. It was enjoyable, had some humorous moments, and the acting was good. It was a solid summer blockbuster. Solid summer blockbuster does not translate into great cinema. Granted, I’m not ruling out such a possibility that an action film can be deep and meaningful or even simply just use the camera brilliantly or whatever prerequisite for a nomination. The Matrix certainly should have been among 1999’s candidates. Hell, I’d have to give 2002 another look, but I wouldn’t automatically rule out X2: XMen United being among ten nominees. But Star Trek? Just because a movie delivers a few thrills and somehow combines premiering in 80-degree weather with not turning my brain into Jujy Fruits doesn’t mean it’s among the year’s best films.

So Star Trek delivers a solid sci-fi romp. Good for it. I gave it a good review when it came out and even defended it against people who wanted a more traditional Star Trek film. Hell, I defended its summer-blockbuster-ness. It does accomplish what it sets out to do. That does merit praise. That does not automatically merit this type of praise. Jennifer’s Body (a wrongfully maligned film from this year) also accomplishes its intended purpose. It also felt like a worthwhile use of two hours of my time. Jennifer’s Body is thankfully not in consideration for the ten nominees. Not every film that fails to screw-up is automatically a laudable landmark of cinema.

Essentially, Star Trek being considered for such honors feels a bit like high school. The attractive, successful jock, the guy with all the girls and popularity and good looks, is not completely destitute in the smarts department. He doesn’t ace his algebra test. But he gets a B. He may have some plot holes and a predictable story line and some cheesy dialogue and – oops, back to my analogy. Suddenly, he’s a Renaissance man! Not only is he an Olympian Adonis, but his lack of flunking makes him a disciple of Athena as well! Helios be praised!

Are our expectations for summer movies really so low? Does a little quality in one suddenly make us desire to crown it with every laurel in sight? Or are we (and probably the Academy) so likely to rally around Star Trek because of another scorned son?

Now, any of you who know me personally or read my column back in the old days (P.S. I love you, new readers!) know I have nothing but contempt for Dark Knight. I was quite relieved to find it did not receive a Best Picture nomination last year. However, I also will freely admit that it did not get the nomination for the wrong reasons. What do I mean? Dark Knight was terrible, but it was also cheated. The Academy still apotheosized Heath Ledger. And, to be perfectly honest, of the five best picture nominees, one was worse than Dark Knight (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), one was only a little better (The Reader), and two weren’t exactly stellar (Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon). Dark Knight was not nominated, but for the wrong reason – it was an action film. A summer blockbuster. (And yes, Gladiator won early this decade, but that’s because it was sword-and-sandal epic and that has a history, etc.)

Ironically, if Star Trek is nominated, it will be for the exact same reason: because it’s a summer blockbuster. And now the Academy owes a summer blockbuster some love. Yes, this film lacks the pretentions of Dark Knight, the Introduction to Ethics speeches, and the dead actor…all the things that would have been perfectly Academic reasons for Dark Knight to be nominated and all the things that deluded a people into believing it to be the second coming of Kane. For better or for worse, it’s a more run-of-the-mill action movie. It aims lower, but it hits its mark. Star Trek was just a good action movie and, aside from a few genuinely great movies, probably the best thing to come out in the four month span of mind-mush. But allow me to reiterate, that’s all folks.

But I suppose the time has come for awards to be more democratic. Good is the new great. Let’s more evenly disperse accolades among seasons, genres, and qualities. About time we keep the masses happy. I mean, it’s not like the actual film nerds were ever all that happy with the Oscar picks anyway.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, in this case, I guess my advice would be, “If it’s broke, please don’t take a mallet to it and bang on it repeatedly until it’s pulverized to mere atoms.”

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