Picture writ large
While the Oscars are considered the highest accolade in filmmaking in the US (and even for international participants), many movie critics believe these nominations also reflect the mood of the country. Take a look at 2004, the year when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won. Along with it, Mystic River, Lost in Translation, Master and Commander and Seabiscuit were nominated. A loose translation of the overarching themes of the movies that made this shortlist reveal the need for overcoming overwhelming odds, and fighting for what is right. The year started with the Iraq war, loss of the space shuttle Columbia, spread of SARS.
Now, a look at the 2005 nominees: The winner, Million Dollar Baby, was accompanied by The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray and Sideways. They won acclaim in a year that saw Bush’s re-election amidst a renewed sharpening of America’s cultural faultlines, the Atlantic hurricane season, Ronald Reagan’s death. It was the year of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The movies were ‘people’ stories putting the individual at their centre.
And if the Oscar nominations do offer clues to what’s on America’s mind, in the next year, 2006, the biggest movies highlighted a new questioning. While Crash exposed racism, Capote dealt with identity, as did Brokeback Mountain though in a different vein, Good Night and Good Luck searched for integrity and courage, and Munich explored the pain and anger in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Themes had shifted from the personal to the societal.
Party in the global village
This year, however, nominees for Best Picture cannot be swept under one rug: The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima.
But the complete list of nominees is far more revealing. 2007 is the most ethnically diverse year in terms of nominations. While there have been African-American winners in the recent past (Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx), this year sees a further opening up. You have Will Smith, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Djimon Hounsou and Forest Whitaker. Although there is some amount of anger and suspicion that Dreamgirls was not nominated for best picture because of an all-black cast, the movie has in fact earned eight nominations.
Hispanics are represented as well, with Penelope Cruz getting a nod for her performance in Volver, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pan’s Labyrinth earning nominations as well as Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s nomination for Babel.
She’s all that
In the past nine years no woman above the age of thirty-five has won the award for best actress. This year could be the difference. Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep have been nominated along with Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet, raising the average age of actors in this category.
Could the Academy be highlighting the new environmental trend that is sweeping America? Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is nominated for best documentary feature.
P.S.: Water has been nominated for best-foreign language film as a Canadian entry. If a section of India had not been so unwelcoming when it was being shot in Varanasi, we could have taken more pride in its success.