The world is full of tropes — oft-repeated ideas that lack grounding in reality. The Titanic will never sink. Americans will never elect a black president. This investment fund isn’t a Ponzi scheme.
The Oscar world isn’t immune to this kind of thinking: in fact, it’s frequently infected by it. Every year, pundits float all sorts of theories about why a movie is destined not to work with awards voters. Then January and February come and they find those theories with less currency than an Icelandic bank.
Last year, movies like “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” were “too dark” to score nominations. They landed a combined 16. Then they were “too similar” to win major awards; they would split the vote and other movies would sneak in, the Trope-ists maintained. They went on to win six Oscars.
Maybe because the enthusiasm for this season’s contenders keeps shifting — or because of the continuing proliferation of (ahem) awards-season blogs and columns — this year’s films have had to cope with a number of shaky theories. At parties and screenings, these ideas are trotted out and, like digs at a presidential candidate (Obama is “elitist”; Hillary is “calculating”), repeated with increasing vigor, so that after a while they acquire the ring of truth.
As we head into the holidays and the nominating homestretch for the Oscars, it’s a good time to round up, and poke holes in, these truths. Or truthiness.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is too torture-filled — but also too entertaining. Given the feel-good billing, some of the gritty scenes in the first act may surprise some moviegoers. But the movie’s strong performance in the suburbs gives the lie to that part of the trope. And didn’t “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings” take care of the entertaining part long ago? (This is also incidentally, a reason “Dark Knight” shouldn’t despair.)
“The Wrestler” is all about Mickey, not the movie. Rourke’s performance is great and the parallels to his real-life story are strong. But in choices large and small, “The Wrestler” is also one of the best-directed movies of the year. Additionally, there’s a (misguided) notion that it’s too violent for some Academy tastes — even though it’s got nothing on “The Departed” and scores of other winners.
An animated/foreign movie can’t be nominated for best picture. True, an animated film hasn’t been nominated since the category was created in 2001. But a foreign language picture, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was. And “Ratatouille” came close last year — which is why “WALL-E” shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet.
“Frost/Nixon” is too talkie. It remains to be seen how a movie so keyed on dialogue plays at the box office. But the Oscars? Talkie? With movies like “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “In the Bedroom” routinely getting nominated, intelligent dialog isn’t a drawback — it’s an advantage.
Clint Eastwood will get Academy love for “Gran Torino,” particularly from older voters. It’s true that some voters might see it as a bookend to the “Dirty Harry” movies. But while “Torino” features an older character, does anyone really believe that people vote on demographics alone? Also, it’s kind of, um, an unsavory older character. It’s not clear who exactly is seeing that movie and seeing themselves in him.
“Benjamin Button” is too cold. The line is that the movie feels “distant” and won’t capture voters. Forget the fact that anecdotal evidence — at two separate screenings, the crying and nose-blowing was audible — suggests it’s not true. Even if the picture features an aloof character, since when is that an Oscar deal breaker? “The Queen” featured a main character as emotionally removed as they come and was still nominated for six Oscars, including best picture.