Editorial – A Certain Tendency Of The Oscar Trail

The language of my classes is currently informing my vocabulary. As some of you might be aware I lecture on cinema. This term it’s the Nouvelle Vague, my ultimate passion in cinema and the area that was a launching ground for my discovery of a number of my heroes, some of them (Godard) connected with the movement, and others whose presence I discovered due to their association with the Cahiers filmmakers (Bazin, Bresson). I’m quite militant in my definition as to what constitutes a part of the new wave: only the core five of Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Éric Rohmer and François Truffaut count, while the likes of Resnais and Varda are peripheral figures (although that isn’t to infringe upon their achievements), and others such as Louis Malle and Jean-Pierre Melville came to the fore prior to the Cahiers crowd. In terms of time period I begin with 1958 (Le Beau Serge) and end in the mid-1960s.

But anyway, I digress. While what constitutes a part of the New Wave occasionally differs from scholar to scholar, the importance of Truffaut’s 1954 essay on the subject of the auteur theory Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français is commonly held in agreement. Eagle eyed readers will no doubt have spotted a good natured retort directed at Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables in yesterday’s in-depth review of the film that riffs on Truffaut’s despair at the “cinema du papa”, with my musings on the current trend of, to use another Truffaut-ism “quality cinema” aimed at the middle-aged, middle classes. While the films in question might not be for me (other films deserving of a mention include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Life Of Pi) it’s impossible and short-sighted to turn a blind eye to them, if not only for the sake of the box office receipts of any independent cinema that chooses to screen them (I know of at least two independent cinemas at which a strong run with The King’s Speech two years ago subsidised eleven months worth of unrelated viewing). It’s no different a principal to the manner in which the big-hitting blockbusters subsidise the whole film industry. 

Speaking of Les Misérables (and you have my word, I’ll stop doing that very soon. I’m fully aware that it’s of no good use to any of us) Oscar talk has dominated much of the discourse in the last week. A general rejection of Les Misérables is endemic of a number of big hitters that were expected to rear their heads at this years honours that were passed by the wayside in place of a couple of surprising outsiders. Although to be clear, a surprising outsider in Oscar terms is about as surprising an outsider as [insert none-film related outsider metaphor here – I don’t know any]. So Benh Zeitlin stands where Kathryn Bigelow was once expected to, while Ben Affleck will have to make do with just the 7 Oscar nominations for the actually-rather-flawed-if-not-rather-entertaining Argo. And you know what? I like it this way. Yes, The Master not being nominated in anything other than the acting categories is a genuine befuddlement (cinematographers don’t like innovative cinematography, who’d a thunk it?), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see it coming, and besides, it cements my theory on the film anyway. Ultimately we’re left with an Academy Awards that for the first time in a long time carries with it a sense of uncertainty and, yes, actual excitement. Sure, they’re arbitrary, and it’s uncool to be swept along in the hype, but like it or not it exists as one of the core mainstream events in the annual cinema calendar, and it provokes some debate on the movies, and at the end of the day isn’t that a good thing?

I spent much of the post-Oscar nomination hour defending this year’s whipping boy, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Plybook, a film which I liked very much but which was catastrophically undersold in a terrible marketing campaign that attempted to make the film look as cliché ridden and dull as every rom-com ever made. If the Oscar nomination convinces a handful of people to see the film that wouldn’t ordinarily have done so then I’ll be happy. Yes, the selection of films could be better, yes they could be bolder in their choices, but this is the Oscars we’re talking about, we all know how they work by now and I think it’s worth adapting to the rules of the playground for the sake of the debate. And at least Tom Hooper isn’t nominated.

Adam Batty – Editor-In-Chief

Further Reading

Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français. François Truffaut’s landmark essay in full and online. 

The Full List Of Oscar Nominees

If Critics Picked The Oscars – Matt Singer over at Criticwire has aggregated the numbers to see how the Oscar nominations stand next to the critical reaction. 

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