February 25, 2014

Oscars Observations

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

For those of us who love movies, the Academy Award nominees usually get at least a curious glance each year, if not a desire to see all of the Best Picture picks.  For writers, it's an insightful declaration of the storytelling which Hollywood deems its best. With the Oscars headed our way this Sunday, it's a fitting time to review this year's top topics of Tinseltown.

Crime Comedy/Drama. Based somewhat on a true story.  Con men conning each other, with an all-star cast that includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.  This one's doing particular well, with nominees in every major category including Best Original Screenplay.

Drama based on a true story.  Modern-day pirates on the high seas take over Tom Hanks' ship.  One of the few nominees that didn't wait till the end of 2013 to be released. They trusted voters to remember it come Oscar time. 

Drama based on a true story.  A ne'er-do-well rodeo clown comes down with HIV and allies with a transsexual to sell illegal medicine to AIDS patients. Matthew McConaughey lost 47 pounds to play the emaciated antihero.  Nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Space drama.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney head up a cast you can count on one hand in this story of astronauts whose space shuttle is destroyed. You gotta love a title with a double meaning.

Cyberspace drama.  Another Best Screenplay nominee in which boy meets computer. Joaquin Phoenix (who plays a writer, by the way) develops a meaningful relationship with a personality-rich software program.  Think Siri on steroids.

Dramedy starring Bruce Dern as an unstable septuagenarian who thinks he's won a million dollars in a publishing sweepstakes, and Will Forte as his son who takes him on a road trip to collect either the money or the truth.  Also a Best Screenplay nominee, Nebraska was shot in black and white to convey an "iconic, archetypal look".

Drama based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the true story of a woman (Judi Dench) who searches for the son taken from her 50 years earlier.  A journalist (Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the screenplay) helps her navigate the many obstacles in this cross-continent road trip.

Drama based on an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northrup. The title pretty much says it all, except that Brad Pitt's in it.

Dramedy based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, chronicling the rise and fall of a foul-mouthed, unscrupulous stockbroker and drug addict.  And those are his good qualities.  It's the fifth film collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Some observations: The themes generally involve the lonely, lost or larceny-prone.  Three films feature a protagonist who is just the opposite of a hero.  Most of the nine nominees are based on true stories. Six movies are pure dramas with little or no light comedic moments.  Matthew McConaughey is in two of them.

In a surprising Oscar twist, none of the Best Picture nominees this year is a war movie. Argo,  Lincoln, The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech, War Horse, and Zero Dark Thirty of recent years all had a backdrop of battle. Traditionally, the Academy's been fond of anything set in Afghanistan or Nazi Germany, but maybe they've grown weary of the likes of Lone Survivor and The Book Thief.

So what have we learned?  

1) Audiences like an unlikely hero, or, just as often, an antihero.  
2) True stories seem to be on the upswing. 
3) Brad Pitt is still working.

Enjoy the Academy Awards on Sunday.  Will you be having pizza or popcorn with your Oscars?

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