Remember the past? The way things were back then in the past? Of course you do, it was great. It certainly hasn’t escaped the attention of Hollywood, especially over at the Academy Awards where the nominations drew up a number of predicatively backwards-looking films. This, of course, is nothing new for the Oscars, The King’s Speech, Chicago, Gladiator and Shakespeare In Love have all won big in recent years but perhaps this year their heads are being turned by something more aligned to nostalgia.
Warhorse and The Help were always bankable contenders for little gold men, between them they tick many an Oscar box; war (physical or social), overcoming conflict and everyone involved coming out the better for it. Couple this with tear-jerking scores and themes of separation, racism and victory and they ‘had buzz’ before you can add Steven Spielberg. Three others of the nine (clearly wasn’t a 10th film worthy of nomination) to complete the shortlist also focus on a bygone era. The Artist, Hugo and Midnight In Paris all hark back to a magic period in creativity and while Woody Allen’s nocturnal adventure focuses on the roaring nightlife of authors, poets and playwrites, the two to really dominate the nominations, The Artist and Hugo, both play up to Hollywood’s favourite topic of all, Hollywood itself.
The seemingly inescapable Artist is thriving as the sole member of a genre long thought dead and unable to resuscitate. Telling the story of the birth of the talkies it shares the theme of one of the awards biggest winners Singin’ in the Rain but doing so in the style of that very era is the catalyst for its favourites tag. Having a theme so central to the history of cinema is always going to appeal to the understandably bias Academy members and is shown in the support given to Hugo which leads the nominations with 11. Highlighting the imagination and magical invention of early cinema pioneers like Georges Melies its timely release coincided with the restored version of his landmark ‘La Voyage Dans Le Lune’ and gives Hollywood the chance to pat each other on the back at their own creation.
Both films revel in evoking the past, The Artist taking great care to pay homage to its subject in the technical details as well as style with lighting, cinematography and even screen ratio coming straight from the silent era. This attention to detail may pay off handsomely on Sunday night where the notoriously elderly gents who make up the Academy are given that warm fuzzy glow of nostalgia shot big and widescreen. They can reminisce on the Golden Era and when studios really were king, not like now with independently financed projects and downloads.
Modern issues haven’t always come highly during Awards season in Hollywood, showcased last year by The Social Network being trounced by The King’s Speech but also in recent times with contemporary works by Darren Aronofsky, Alexander Payne, Pedro Almodovar, Michel Gondry, Sofia Coppola, Quentin Tarantino all being largely overlooked despite nominations. This year there was possible cause to believe things might be different. A number of early successes from the festival circuit were thought to be genuine contenders. Shame, Melancholia, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Drive and Senna and performances from Take Shelter, Tyrannosaur and Snowtown were all widely praised yet widely ignored.
Perhaps some of this was predictable, Melancholia was never going to sit well with the establishment after Lars Von Trier’s Nazi meltdown at Cannes caused a PR disaster and wasn’t likely to get a look-in once Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life had filled the auteur director’s artsy-on-grand-scale epic shaped hole in the shortlist. Drive perhaps played too much like a cult movie to have an impact on all voters, Snowtown and Tyrannosaur were always too small-scale to trouble the American Awards and We Need to Talk About Kevin just too bleak, while despite sharing a popular theme with Oscar favourites – addiction, it’s probably the sex part that appears before that word that puts Shame out of contention among the more prudish members. The biggest omission in my eyes was Senna which failed to even make the Academy’s longlist for the best documentary prize possibly due to the unfamiliarity of Formula 1 in America although I have little interest in it myself and saw it with someone who had even less and both came out full of praise for this British funded marvel.
So when the winners are announced at the weekend expect to see a familiar story unfolding and the more contemporary films to be nominated (The Descendents, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Moneyball make up the Best Film category) to be left empty handed and the relevance of the Oscars can be questioned once again. We’ll just have to wait for Michael Shannon to play Ayrton Senna in a Hollywood biopic for either to be rewarded.

Matthew Walsh