Monday, February 25, 2008

No Country For Gold Men

Some years ago, I was asked by my editor to compose a pre-Oscar write-up. She thought she was getting the usual shit about predictions and speculations - who's going to win what, who will be wearing what. She ended up with a 2,000-word rant against the Oscars. Of course, I was never assigned again to write about the Oscars.

That's how revered this American awards show is where I work. There's the inevitable Oscar Pool, and people wasting company time surfing the Net for the latest Oscar scoops. Then there's a silly bunch who go out to get the DVDs of all the nominated films (even if the film got a nod for Best Nail Polish or Best Visible Panty Line or whatever) and watch them before the awards are given out. It's such a big deal that it was no wonder my published rant got quite some response, even via internal email.

Then, on the morning of the show, a big group would be huddled in front of the TV, neglecting work completely until four hours later. No, make that five, since they all go out for an extended lunch to discuss the results.

The Oscars has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of films. Quite simply, it's an event full of self-congratulatory, self-aggrandising crap, where America tries to tell the rest of the world what's good for them and what's not. It's merely another form of hegemony, after the fact that American movies are already a dominating force everywhere. Perhaps 40 years ago, the Oscars still held some meaning, because Hollywood was still making quality films. But now ...

I don't believe there are any other film awards quite like the Oscars, from the point of view that there's a Best Foreign Language Film category, the nominees of which sometimes make it into the Best Film or Best Director category. You might like to take the view that this is a positive inclusion. Sure. But this is an American awards show, and it smacks of a certain smugness when films from other countries are placed within the same judging criteria as for American films.

Even more ridiculous are the criteria for eligibility in the Foreign Language Film category. There must be a certain amount of a foreign language used in the film (ie. any languages other than English). In some countries, like Singapore and Malaysia, English is the second language and used almost all of the time everywhere on all occasions. It's easy to take the view that this is yet another form of the perception of Otherness. But I suspect there's something much more complex at work here.

Then there's the increasing smugness and incongruity of the whole affair. Actors come on stage, make some prerequisite vapid jokes about something or other, somehow able to turn even a scripted exercise into a self-conscious affair. But then again, it's all about the self anyway. The glitz, the glamour, the smart-alecky remarks, by both host and guests, and the really rojak judgement on what's the best of the year.

One film this year tore all the competition to shreds. It's not American, it's not made in Hollywood, it hasn't got a budget the size of a small nation's GDP, and it doesn't feature any fancy special effects. It's made in Japan, has incredible acting, a moving storyline, is simple yet effective. It's called Love And Honour, by the great Japanese veteran Yoji Yamada. It's the best foreign-language film and easily the best among everything in the Oscars list.

If only it had been released in the US and eligible for nominations.

But even if it had, the Oscars isn't known for recognising quality.

Glitz and glamour. That's all there is. That's why some international film festivals, especially the top-tier ones, immediately draw criticism once they seem headed towards the same direction, with more focus on flashy Hollywood stars rather than what the art of filmmaking really is about.

I had the TV on this morning, but wasn't really watching the show. But one thing caught my eye though. Joel Coen's expression when the brothers won Best Film for No Country For Old Men. I thought Joel wore a tired-looking expression that seems to be saying "Well, it's about fucking time!"

Well, it is indeed about fucking time. And it's not even for the best work in their filmography.

During the post-screening discussion at the Berlin Film Festival last year, everyone was noting how poor an opening film Oliver Dahan's La Vie En Rose was, no less because of Marion Coutillard's terribly overwrought histrionics. "She is saying 'Give me the award! Give me the award!" one guy was saying in between laughter. I remember telling everyone that this is the kind of film that wins Oscars. And my prediction just came true.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts