What Does It Mean for a Film to “Deserve” to Win Best Picture?


Argo posterOver at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir has written an article headlined “Argo doesn’t deserve the Oscar“. His reasons include that he believes it’s a “non-great film” that rewrites history and turns the incident at the center of the story into a “familiar action-adventure flick about American heroism”.

O’Hehir begins to boils it all down with this:

[Argo] turns a fascinating and complicated true story into a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue, leaving us with an image of the stoical American hero (or the Mexican-American hero played by a white guy, anyway) framed in a doorway with a blonde in his arms and the flag flapping behind him.

He continues by adding, “[Director Ben Affleck] and [screenwriter Chris Terrio] are spinning a fanciful tale designed to make us feel better about the decrepit, xenophobic and belligerent Cold War America of 1980 as it toppled toward the abyss of Reaganism, and that’s a more outrageous lie than any of the contested historical points in Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty.”

I guess he’s suggesting Frederick Douglass really didn’t deserve a place in Lincoln, though I’m sure others would disagree. Or do errors of omission not count? As for Zero Dark… well I think we (and everyone else on the Internet) have discussed that issue more than enough, but does being deserving of an Oscar depend on how jingoistic your film is or isn’t or how many times you take dramatic license in your “based on a true story” movie?

At what point do we stop looking for truth and start evaluating the movie? Are only films “based on a true story” held to these standards? What of Django Unchained or Beasts of the Southern Wild? I guess it’s a good thing The Dark Knight and WALL•E weren’t nominated back in 2008, sources tell me there’s nothing real about those films.

However, I don’t really want to tackle the argument of which film distorts the truth more than the other, though that sure would make for an interesting way of voting on the Oscars wouldn’t it?

What I’m more interested in is this idea of a film “deserving” to win Best Picture. What does that even mean? Who decides what is and isn’t deserving? The Academy? Audiences? Critics? 30 people who deem themselves more worthy of deciding a film’s worth over others? Who?

I have long stopped worrying about what film the Academy determines is the Best Picture of the year in terms of whether it truly was the “best”. I can respect the passion some have for the films they write about and put on a pedestal, but determining whether or not a film deserves to win or not, isn’t a realistic conversation to have.

The best way to look at the Oscars, is to relish in their celebration of movies. Granted, your favorite films may not win or even be nominated, but at least the conversation is carried on somewhere and, at the very least, some kind of bar exists in a world of cinema that could just as easily be destroyed by endless Transformers knock-offs.

From where I sit the most deserving Best Picture candidates this year are the nine that were nominated. Now all I care about is predicting which one of those nine will win, because when it comes to breaking down the Oscar race, predicting the most winners is the only way of being “right”.

SIDE NOTE: I loved Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty (both made my top ten), and even respect Argo, but that wasn’t the point of this post.