First, some obligatory awards season perspective: the Oscars don’t matter to you. You’re allowed to like a movie whether it was nominated for Best Picture or not. You are your own Oscars.
If that’s the case, why do we get so worked up about snubs and surprises and predictions and hopes and dreams? We want to see quality work recognized. The Academy Awards are one of the most common starting points for someone looking at the films of a particular year. If the awards don’t reflect the best movies, they’ll provide an inaccurate reflection of what we thought about film in 2013.
Nonetheless, complaining about the Oscar nominations is futile. It’s better to look at them as a starting point for discussions about the merits of movies. In that spirit, I’ve chosen four nominated-related things that made me happy this morning, and four that made me less than happy. Let’s use this list as a way of talking about movies, not awards.
(For more of my thoughts on the subject, stay tuned for this week’s episode of The M&M Report, in which Devin Mitchell and I will talk in depth about the year in movies.)
When was the last time you saw a movie set in the Midwest?
Think about that question for a minute, and you’ll realize that the answer is, “Quite a long time ago” or “Very rarely.” Even though movies have the freedom to explore every corner of the known world (not to mention the unknown ones), Hollywood productions rarely take up issues of the heartland. And when they do, they often do so in a simplistic, stereotypical way, emphasizing the wackadoo accents and aw-shucks sincerity without searching for some humanity beneath the superficial.
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska doesn’t entirely avoid those stereotypes, nor does it pretend to – its principle actors adopt accents that could only be described as Midwestern. What elevates this film beyond generic depictions of the Midwest is its willingness to see beyond the stereotypes. Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson observe the oddly confining vastness of the “amber waves of grain,” capturing the claustrophobia that comes with being so small in a world so large. At the same time, this is a touching film about relationships between fathers and sons and a grimly amusing commentary on the challenges of timelessness.