Peter Suderman On This Year's Best Picture Nominees in The New York Times


Paramount / Song Pictures International

The 2017 Academy Awards air tonight: La La Land, which picked up 14 nominations, is expected to win the big prize, although there's always a chance that one of the other Best Picture nominees could pull off an upset. It's not likely, but it's certainly possible, especially given the broad strength of the field. The nine films up for Best Picture represent the best crop of nominees in years, and Moonlight, Arrival, and Hell or High Water, in particular, are truly excellent films. You can't go wrong watching any of this year's Best Picture movies.

One thing that stands out about this year's crop, though, is the lack of sweeping epics: Sure, Arrival is a movie about a global alien invasion, but compared to most films in the category, it's modestly budgeted (the production budget was under $50 million) and relatively small in scope. The movie mostly about a pair of scientists trying to work out an alien language. The same goes for Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge, a war film with an even smaller budget that is focused on a single act of battlefield heroism.

So is the era of the Oscar epic over? In today's New York Times, I look at how the Academy Awards has moved away from epics that attempt to capture the national character in a single sweeping film. Instead, this year's Best Picture nominees offer a variety of individual stories that, taken together, reflect the nation's identity — or, really, identities — as well as any single film. Indeed, I think the narrower and more personal focus, on specific individuals and cultural identities, is part of what makes this year's crop so excellent:

From the piece:

For years, the Academy Awards reliably recognized movies that attempted to capture the sweep of the American idea — in earnest films like "Forrest Gump" and "Saving Private Ryan" as well as more scorching efforts like "There Will Be Blood" — that seemed to want to define the country, and its people, all at once.

If you wanted a shot at a best-picture Oscar in that era, an ambitious statement film that tried to tell Americans who they really are was a good bet.

But in this decade, the Oscars have turned inward, eschewing ambitious epics and grand statements about the national character in favor of anxious self-reflection, bestowing the Academy's highest honors on films like "The Artist" and "Argo" that flattered Hollywood's self-image. True, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a handful of movies tried to channel the country's mood ("The Wolf of Wall Street" and "American Hustle") or critique its historic self-conception ("12 Years a Slave"). But by and large, Hollywood went from examining the national character to examining its own.

This year's crop has some of that. A top contender, "La La Land," a technically proficient love letter to old Hollywood musicals, is set in Los Angeles, of course.

Yet the nine films nominated for the Academy's highest honor manage to present a vision not of the American identity, but of the variety of American identities — a collage of very different American lives that, taken together, provide as strong a sense of the American idea as any single movie ever has.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. “Arrival” checks every box.
    It didn’t work on every level.

    1. I enjoyed it, despite it’s flaws.

  2. OT:

    Sunday joke.

    A short gun story…..
    A guy walked into a crowded bar, waving his un-holstered pistol and yelled,
    “I have a 45 caliber Colt 1911 with a seven round magazine plus one in the chamber
    and I want to know who’s been sleeping with my wife.”

    A voice from the back of the room called out “You need more ammo.”

  3. Hell or High Water was an excellent movie, one that even you old, gun-toting kooks would probably like.

    Also, Suderman recently wrote something for Vox titled: Why Keanu Reeves is a perfect action star.

    It’s like he wrote it for me.

  4. Yet the nine films nominated for the Academy’s highest honor manage to present a vision not of the American identity, but of the variety of American identities ? a collage of very different American lives that, taken together, provide as strong a sense of the American idea as any single movie ever has.

    Or the film industry is just trying to maximize profits: you have your SF, your neo-western, the token black movie, a war movie and a musical. Something for almost everyone…

    1. It’s token town.

  5. Or o e could admit that, for the most part, the Academy Awards, at the Best Picture – Best Actor – Best Director level are popularity contests voted on (for the most part) by staggeringly narcissistic nitwits. Best Special Effects, Best Musical Score, and other technical awards are likely to go to somebody who at least minimally deserves them. The BIG ONES? Not so much. There hasn’t been a Best Picture film since 2004 that didn’t make me want to throw up on the director’s shoes. Admittedly, before that there were five in a row that were decent, although the only ones I really watch at all often are RETURN OF THE KING and GLADIATOR. Then we have a seven year wasteland, two in a row I like, and all the way back to 1964.

    Maybe I just like trash films. It’s certainly a reasonable argument….until you look at some of the winners. I mean THE LAST EMPEROR!?!?! A film about pre-communist China that had to pass the Communist Chinese censors? Are. You. Freaking. KIDDING. ME!!! TITANIC!?!?! The LEAST historically accurate film about that shipwreck, including THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN?

    Oh. Please.

    The Oscars are a crapshoot. And the crap votes.

    1. My theory is that the movie voters won’t watch is often the one that wins.

      “A three hour period piece? I’m not watching that! Must be great, though.” [Checks off The Last Emperor on the ballot.]

      1. THE LAST EMPEROR validated most of what the Hollyweird Pinkos want to believe about Communism. Neddless to say it was a much a fairytale as SNOW WHITE. They voted for it because it allowed them to pretend for a few more years that Mao wasn’t a mass murdering pedophile rat bastard who made a certain Austrian corporal look like a piker.

  6. Damn, Bill Paxton died.


  7. You can’t go wrong watching any of this year’s Best Picture movies.

    Yes. Yes, you can.

    1. Awesome. Love those guys.

    2. Hollyweird; Using the ways the Old Racist Democrat Party kept black people in poverty to justify the ways the New Racist Democrat Party keeps black people in poverty, since about 1972 (When the New bunch of Racist Rat Bastards took over).

      A pox on the whole bunch of ’em. And may the Black Quislings like Sharpton and Jackson roast in Hell.

      1. Oh, I forgot; While pretending all the time that the Old Racist Democrat Party are Republicans.

  8. Wow Mr McArdle has a story published by The NY Times.
    His life’s work has clearly been fulfilled.

    1. Can you imagine how many cocktail parties this alone will get him into ?

  9. I looked at the check for $8628 , I didnt believe that…my… father in law was like actualie taking home money in there spare time on there computar. . there sisters roommate haz done this for under 17 months and just cleard the morgage on there apartment and got a gorgeous Chevrolet Corvette . go to websit=========

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