I’m sure we’ve all had our respective reservations about the much maligned Academy and their choices, either for nominees or winners. We all go ‘hey, why didn’t ‘The Shithead’ get a nomination at Least?’ I know this because I perennially have something against the Academy, they always mess something up in my eyes.

I reveled in my probable ignorance until I saw “Arrival”, a movie fundamentally about alien invasion — a clichéd idea — but actually about much more than that. A typical Hollywood movie about alien invasion is usually apocalyptic; someone gets whisked from his gone to assist the cause; someone loses his family and gets angry; a whole country gets razed to the ground — usually Russia or some country in South-east Asia; dystopia ensues/confusion abounds; the human race wins and two people fall in dysfunctional love often times than not. Sounds familiar?

“Arrival” is nothing of the sort. For one, it opens quite unlike other alien invasion movies, with the tale of a woman dealing with love, loss, PTSD and sadness, accompanied by the spectacular Max Ritcher Score — I fell in love.

As it progressed, I noticed there were no bombings, no guns and no dystopia really, except those sectarian heathens who burnt down their homes thinking Jesus had come. It was more about procedural professionalism, brilliance, intelligence, selflessness, passion, forensics, knowledge, kindness, focus and bravery. It progressed further into systematic problem solving and other humane themes good movies usually focus on, while using the central genre/theme as cannon fodder or at least a foil to deliver alien invasion, with a twist.

While watching, it dawned on me this movie caught the attention of the Academy; it was about a familiar idea but with properties of a great movie — hidden themes and it’s not just about the Picture, Cinematography or Script. This made me realize why some movies get Oscar’s and others don’t; a great story that isn’t really about its plot or genre or central theme, but about its relevance to fundamental human themes — good or bad — that separate us from inanimate objects and quite simply, makes us who we are individually and collectively; out strengths, our weaknesses, our darkness and our light. It’s not really about biopics or any shit like that. Took me a while, but I’m finally here.

Just like I razed hell on my twitter account when it became apparent that Birth of a Nation wasn’t going to get major award season recognition, I’ve always been cynical towards the major recognition No Country for Old Men got as well as the Best Supporting Actor it won Javier Bardem.

While I am still cynical towards the latter, I now belatedly realize why it garnered so much recognition; it was primarily about stolen money but then it developed into a story of survival amidst a chase by a vicious dude with an erratic fixation, determined to get his man — determination. While some might perceive negativity, I highlighted the positive reasons why both the runner and the chaser displayed those features of survival and determination as material facets towards their respective fulfillment.

That’s not so ‘un-human’ because as human beings, we’re always chasing something, be it a degree or a business or money or a relationship and they’re all geared towards a sense of fulfillment. That doesn’t leave out the Militant in Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, planning his latest kidnapping escapade, in other to extort money either. It’s all about fulfillment that we all crave as human beings and that’s why some movies get Oscar nominations and others don’t.

As for Birth of a Nation, it ticked all these boxes of emotional awareness and humanity, maybe more so than any movie in 2016 but it failed the test of brilliance of sequential story-telling unfolding to the ease of the audience — I almost fell asleep during the first hour of the movie. A good plot doesn’t a good movie make; like me, most people should realize this.

Granted, the best movies usually unfold after the first hour, but there was a sense of sporadic sparsity and unnecessary haste to the scenes and scripting of Birth of a Nation. Two instances come to mind;

  1. The wedding scene — of Gabrielle Union’s character — that was quite unnecessary to the movie.
  2. The subpar depiction of the Love between Nate Turner and his wife. They rushed those scenes a little too much.

Most of the scenes in the movie were fleeting. You get that “let me settle into this scene” feeling only for that scene to be taken away faster than you can say Jackie-o.

We all might want to neglect these issues, but the big awards are about excellence of filmmaking as they are about excellence of storytelling and excellence of acting.

The other project that comes to mind is the much maligned Silver Linings Playbook and the Best Actress Oscar win for Jennifer Lawrence. Personally, I never quite understood the cynicism because I loved the movie, but after hearing some very compelling analogies for a long time, I started getting swayed.

While you might understand them, you have to praise the picture in this aforementioned movie and the near perfect acting both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. It was a primarily a romantic comedy (with themes of a black comedy), it opened with the story of a kidadult living with his crazy parents, not of his own volition. It then proceeded to a young woman in mourning — notice certain similarities? Then, it suddenly evolved to winning competition — a bet and a dance. Notice the inspirational facets? I do.

We might malign the Academy sometimes but we have to understand that some of their choices are well examined and professionally made — I for one need to learn that.

That however does not mean they are absolved of any criticisms because they’re only human beings and the criteria for picking movies were created by human beings, not a Godhead. Those criteria shouldn’t be sine qua non — they are just a model to judge excellence, created by a culture. For example, Ballet is deemed the greatest piece of dancing and its techniques have inspired other dance techniques and styles, but does it mean those rules should be sine qua non? No. It’s not even enjoyed by everyone. I’m a dissident; a cynic; or in Nico’s words; a practicing stoic, and by nature I feel things that have gained credence over years of accepted usage should not be the sacrosanct modern test of excellence, that means I’m the quintessential peddler of unpopular opinions because we should retain our freedom of judgement.

However, I realize that we’re unique to each other, and that means what we deem excellence differs from each other. Even though I wish I everyone could be more like me and kick against lazy conventions, I believe freewill should take center stage in judging any phenomena.

In the meantime, I would be cutting The Academy some slack while I sit back and hope to not have another rant on my twitter account when the nominees for 2018 Oscars get rolled out on the 28th day of January next year.

By PennedMusingsNG for UrbanCentral follow him on twitter @Weird_Liberal.

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