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Saturday, January 6, 2018

How The Academy Awards Passed Christopher Nolan By

In 2008, five films were nominated for Best Picture. Those films were: Front/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, The Reader, and the winner Slumdog Millionaire. 2008 also saw the rise of one of the greatest films of all time. The film has a 9.0 on and is ranked the #4 film of all time by the site, it has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and, at the time, was the 2nd highest grossing domestic film ever. The film was both a cinematic achievement shaping the way we not only viewed superhero films, but films in general, and a commercial smash. It was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Make Up, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects and it won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing and Heath Ledger won for Best Supporting Actor.

That film is obviously The Dark Knight. Conspicuously, the three major Academy Award nominations the film did not receive was Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and most notably Best Picture. In fact, The Dark Knight's snub in the Best Picture category famously helped paved the way for the Best Picture expansion we see today where up to 10 films can earn a nomination. Since the expansion, we've seen genre and action films like Avatar and Mad Max: Fury Road earn Best Picture nominations (as well as nominations for their directors). We have also seen the rise of genre and actions shows in television awards as well with Game of Thrones sweeping the Emmys in recent years.

Whether you personally enjoy his films or not, Christopher Nolan is the director of a generation. His films like The Dark Knight  trilogy, Memento, and Inception speak to generation of older Millenials the same way that Steven Spielberg helped create the blockbuster Hollywood economy for generations prior. While Spielberg excelled in bringing out our inner child at the cinema, but hasn't had the best track record in making "prestigious" films, Christopher Nolan has found a way to transcend and expand upon the Hollywood blockbuster and marry entertainment with esteem. Further, Nolan helped build his creative and financial reputation before the Marvel boom spiked, so he's one of the few members in Hollywood allowed to make original blockbuster spectacles that aren't based off of a comic book (Ironically, it was a superhero that led him to this point, but that's for another post). This is why it would be a shame to let this opportunity slip and we need to honor Christopher Nolan in 2018 by giving him the Best Director Academy Award.

Shamefully, Christopher Nolan has never even received a Best Director nomination. He's received Oscar nominations for writing Memento and for writing and producing Inception, but never a nod for directing. 2018 seems like Nolan's best chance to not only receive a Best Director nomination for his masterpiece Dunkirk, but also to win it. (As of the writing of this post, has Nolan as the front runner). When Dunkirk was first released in theaters, there was not a shortage of Oscar buzz surrounding it. After years of making films that didn't seem to fit The Academy's taste, Nolan's WWII epic seems like the perfect opportunity to sweep the Academy Awards come March 2018.

However, over the past few years, what The Academy is and what its tastes are have shifted dramatically. Ever since  the #OscarsSoWhite scandal, The Academy had made a conscious effort to expand its membership base to make it younger, more female, and more racial diverse and to expel older members who have not been consistently working in the movie business. This way, we can have Academy Award nominations that more accurately reflect the diversity of this country.

Furthermore, since Dunkirk's theatrical release, we've seen the expulsion of Harvey Weinstein, who was arguably the most powerful person in the business, from the business and the rise of the #MeToo movement. We also live in a political culture that sees our country's most powerful people attack the values of what people in Hollywood hold most dear. The SAG Awards are only going to have female presenters (and are hosted by Kristen Bell) and celebrities will be wearing all Black at the 2018 Golden Globes in protest of the treatment of women and people of color have received over the years and decades.

Winners of Academy Awards are not necessary a determination of what is "good", in part because what is "good" is subjective. The Social Network is excellent among people under the age of 40, but so was the 2010 Best Picture winner The King's Speech among people over the age of 40. In 2005, Crash defeated Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture, because the plurality of Academy voters felt the message that Crash was a better indicator of their values than what Brokeback Mountain would have represented. In 2016, the plurality of Oscar voters felt that what Moonlight represented, a coming-of-age story about a poor, gay, black kid in the South directed by a gay black man, was more important than La La Land, a populus film starring and made by almost exclusively white people fawning over the Golden Age of Hollywood.

So when Christopher Nolan, a cis-gendered white man, makes the umpteenth WWII movie in today's climate, the film has to compete against a gay coming-of-age story (as Jon Lovett joked on Twitter, Gay In Italy), a brilliant social commentary on how White Liberals treat black people in America by a black director, and the best reviewed film of all time that's written, directed, and starring a female, I'm dubious that Dunkirk will win the 2018 Best Picture Oscar. I've seen Get Out three times now and I fucking love the film, and while I haven't seen Lady Bird, from everything I've heard, it's also excellent and worthy of winning Best Picture on its merits. However, it would frustrating to see a repeat of what happened at the 1991 Academy Awards where Dances With Wolves cleaned up leaving Goodfellas in the dust by being too caught up in the moment.

The irony of Christopher Nolan making a film that traditionally fits the ideals of The Academy's tastes is that the notion of what The Academy's tastes are are changing and undefined. A movie like The Danish Girl is what most people would call "Oscar-bait" doesn't earn a Best Picture, Best Screenplay, or Best Director nomination, yet a film like The Big Short, a film that's basically an entertaining economics lesson written and directed by the guy who did Anchorman and Stepbrothers, can be a legitimate Best Picture contender (and earned Adam McKay a win). Furthermore, The Academy is more willing to accept genre and action films, films that helped propel Christopher Nolan to where he is today. In the wake of the 10 nominations and 6 wins that Mad Max: Fury Road earned, The Dark Knight would have cleaned up in today's Oscar culture (maybe still not the bigger awards, but certainly the smaller ones). Two years after The Dark Knight, Inception took home both sound awards, Best Visual Effects, and a prestigious Best Cinematography, and managed what TDK couldn't- a Best Picture nomination.

In recent years, we've seen The Academy more willing to spread the love among many films. Even in 2005, Ang Lee won the Best Director Oscar for directing Brokeback Mountain. Moonlight may have won Best Picture, but La La Land's Damien Chazelle won Best Director. 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture, but Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director. The Academy can honor great filmmakers while also nominating and voting for winners that align with their personal and moral values. It's hard to be upset in a world where Get Out wins Best Picture, Greta Gerwig wins Best Original Screenplay for Lady Bird, and Christopher Nolan wins Best Director for Dunkirk.

Basically, I want to live in world where Christopher Nolan earns his just due and is honored for his years of hard work as the Best Director of my lifetime.