Starting in 8th grade, I made it my job to see any fall film that I thought would be an Oscar contender. When the awards show was telecast, I wanted to be able to judge for myself who was robbed or not. Some kids were jocks. Some kids were stoners. Some kids were nerds. But I knew what movies were nominated for best picture all through the 1970’s.
I can remember dragging my best friend to see Columbus: The Discovery, assuming that an historical film released in October was a shoe-in for a nomination. The film now has a 7% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. At 17, I even walked several miles to the only theater that was showing Breaking the Waves.
The last Oscar push I tasked myself with, was in the 2002/2003 Oscar season. I would leave my grocery job at 10pm, drive to the nearby theater and fit in films like Gangs of New York, Adaptation, The 25th Hour and Chicago (The only film that I ever walked out of.)
I can’t tell you what films won for best picture after those years. I started to get out more in life, and became tired of getting the potential nominees wrong. Over the years, I’ve waited for their video release, and have enjoyed watching them at home.
Last Oscar video release season (spring of 2015), I managed to sit through only 3 out of roughly 10 Oscar contenders. I saw the first half hour of Foxcatcher and skipped through scenes. I saw all of The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game the same way, but actually got to the ending. I started Selma and American Sniper, but turned it off after a half hour. I saw a half hour of Whiplash and skipped to the ending.
The only films I did sit though were Boyhood and Birdman. I was tempted to turn off Birdman. In fact, the only nominated film to capture my complete attention was Nightcrawler.
This is largely due to my lack of interests in features these days. Documentaries seem to be doing more for me at this point in my life.
Then there’s the fact that these films are artistic ‘drama queens’. They kick and scream, “Don’t you see? I have everything needed for an Oscar. A great cast, a talented director, gorgeous photography and a sparkling script. Just nominate me. That’s all I ask for.”
With the exception of Nightcrawler, I saw little or no edge to those films in the first half hour. Nothing fearless. Nothing raw. Nothing unadulterated. Talented directors just don’t take chances anymore. The Joseph Campbell heroes’ journey arc has infested its way into the Oscar season film.
Leaving Las Vegas, Dead Man Walking, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Wild at Heart. This is what I want my writing to be. A chance that’s been taken.
A lonely teenager might never walk several miles for my book in a digital age, but I want that kid to feel what I felt before I made it to the theater in the fall and winter of the 1990s, “This is what real art is supposed to be. Right? ”