Jeffrey M. Anderson on the Golden Globes. Among other things.
This is an old post (twelve days is really old in blog-world), but I had it marked in my feedreader to mention and I’m just getting around to going through some of those. I mentioned in my brief, ranty Golden Globes post that I was surprised by Babel‘s win. Anderson wasn’t, particularly, because as he accurately identifies, it’s an award darling. It’s calculated for awards, in a way that, say, Pan’s Labyrinth is not. Now, I still haven’t seen Babel, so I’ll let Anderson speak to the specifics, but you can see the difference in the trailers. Babel is Important with a capital “I,” while Pan’s Labyrinth is ethereal and mysterious. Anyway, the point is, as Anderson indicates, it’s become distressingly easy to bait the awards, and the same thing happens at the Oscars, except usually more so.
The Oscar nominations for Best Picture are Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima (which I also haven’t seen, but at least it isn’t nominated in the Foreign Language category this time–another thing Anderson rants about the Globes, just as I did), Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen. Of the three I’ve seen, I’d pick The Departed, though the other two are good as well. But Babel has A Message, so it may very likely win. However, I’d put both Children of Men (although I wasn’t as enamored of it as some) and Pan’s Labyrinth above all of them, and Volver above many. The fact that Volver wasn’t even nominated in the foreign category stymies me. Pan’s Labyrinth better win it.
Because honestly, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most beautiful, most moving, most gorgeous, most heartbreaking, most everything films I’ve seen in a long time. It takes place during the Spanish Civil War (also the setting of director Del Toro’s excellent The Devil’s Backbone), and in fact, the “realistic” sections dealing with the war take up substantially more screen time than the “fantastic” parts, despite what the trailer might lead you to believe. The main character, Ofelia, moves with her mother to a military outpost when her mother marries a captain there (her father is long dead); her mother is very pregnant. The captain is a brutish man, only interested in having a son to carry on his name, and focused on routing the rebels up in the hills above the camp. Hating him, Ofelia’s only escape is into a fairy world, where she may be a long-lost princess–if only she can carry out the three tasks that the faun Pan gives her. But the fairy world isn’t a safe retreat; it’s just as dangerous and scary as the real world. But it’s a world where she has a place, where she has a role and a purpose–unlike the real world, where her step-father would just as soon she disappear entirely. Is there a message? Well, yes. The importance of self-sacrifice and doing the right thing, even when it’s dangerous. But the message is woven into the action of the story; you have to tease out the meaning yourself, as you sit in the theatre and quietly cry while the credits roll. Or maybe that was just me.
The thing is, award-winning films hit you over the head with their messages. That’s probably why Children of Men didn’t get anywhere in the awards, either, despite being critically acclaimed from nearly all quarters. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a single, pithy message in the film. Love people? Care about them? Do all you can to help them? Fight against despair? Oppose fascist governments? The thing that made Children of Men great for me wasn’t WHAT it said, but the WAY it portrayed the world of the not-very-distant future. The care in the set design. The perfect camera set-ups. It was able to show the complete devastation of a world thrown into terror and confusion because of a plague with an unknown cause that led to worldwide sterility, without ever needing any of the characters to describe what was going on. It’s one of the most perfectly designed films I’ve ever, ever seen. But “perfectly designed” doesn’t hit as hard with the awards people as “Has a Really Obvious and Laudable Message.”
I should really stop ranting about awards. Everything I write about awards turns into a rant. I should just resign myself to the fact that awards are dumb and rarely get it right and just go on about my business of watching good films. So ignore the rant portions of this post and take to heart my advice to see Children of Men and especially Pan’s Labyrinth if you can. Do note both are violent, so don’t take the kids.