The Oscars were on a weekend or so ago. They’re a massive circle-jerk that, for one reason or another, tens of millions of people tune in to watch and be subsequently disappointed by, year in and year out. We’ll keep on making this mistake until Crash 2: Crash Harder finally breaks our faith in The Academy. In the mean time, dirtballs like myself will use the Oscars to gauge the way Americans feel about themselves, and what we collectively feel as though we have to atone for. A bit harsh? Perhaps, but the best picture can be an effective measure to find out how we feel about ourselves as a nation.
In times of prosperity, we tend to look towards examples of cinema that show how great we are as a nation and how we’re super good at moving on and being cool about our fathers and father’s fathers being jerks to various minorities. Take disenfranchised Puerto Ricans, for example, in the most awarded musical of all time, West Side Story, we’re privy to all manner of “look how human brown people can be!” And that’s not to say that the movie is bad, it isn’t, but it’s indicative of the time and place when it was released and subsequently awarded in. We look at a disenfranchised group of people and see them as living, emoting human-beings. Granted, with this particular movie, we’re seeing the same story retold for the umpteenth time, but given the area in which is was released, forcing people to digest something somewhat unpalatable in a form in which their familiar is often the best way to go about something as bold as telling Alabama circa-1960 that brown people might be worth a damn. Though to be fair, I can’t imagine the box-office revenues from Alabama for West Side Story were terribly significant, feeling pretty, witty, and gay still aren’t terribly high on their priority list.
Following this, we descend into a period of turmoil we hit the 60’s and America starts to burn from the inside out. In much the same way that movies in the 1930’s were about happiness and prosperity while having a tinge of bittersweet sadness (I’m looking directly at you Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and every other major film of the era, realistically speaking.) Instead of getting to the point where the films that receive Academy Awards are the movies that challenge us in any real way (Dr. Strangelove, To Kill a Mockingbird, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, etc.) we get lulled back into a feeling of escapism. What wins the Academy Awards of the era? Oliver!, a film whose tagline exclaims is “MUCH MUCH MORE THAN A MUSICAL!” The Sound of Music, a movie that, while good rarely strives for much more than that. It’s good, but mostly inoffensive and easily digestible. Similarly digestible and bland, while entertaining nonetheless, My Fair Lady won the award in 1964.
This escapism continues for years and years until we get to a fascinating year, 1976. In 1976, the following films are nominated for best picture, Rocky, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, and Taxi Driver. Three of those movies are some of the finest examples of cinema, period, one is a gorgeous example of cinematography and the first ever use of a Steadicam, and the other is Rocky. Before I get pelted with stones for saying anything mildly disparaging of the movie Rocky while also having a Y-chromosome, let me first say the following, like most of the Academy Award winning movies of the 1960’s, Rocky is good. There’s precious little wrong with the movie, but I’ve often wondered why it won over something as good as Network, one of my favorite movies of all time, or something as breathtakingly original, at the time, as Taxi Driver was. And the answer, so far as I can tell is this: Rocky was the best picture to encapsulate the feelings of the country at the time. That will always be the movie that wins best picture, always.
At the time of its release, the US was basically in shambles, at least as close to the term as we’ve gotten in modern history. We’re just coming off of losing our first war in Vietnam, we’re getting used to the fact that we can lose a president to deceit and corruption, and almost losing a shitty president to a would-be assassin, Sara Jane Moore, and then Carter wins the presidency. Carter is a wonderful guy, but at the end of the day, no one’s going to run to the top of a tall building and scream about how proud they are to be American because of him. Simply put, people aren’t proud of much. They don’t feel like they can root for much, and when we feel that we’re the down-trodden, what’s the first thing that we, as Americans love more than anything else? A movie that let’s us feel at least two of the following things: pride, intelligent, and full of blood-lust to some extent.
Rocky gets all three. Which brings me to the year 2012, economically speaking, we’ve been downtrodden for some time. Most of the world hates us, and the best comebacks we have aren’t in the form of handshakes, they’re in the form of RC planes that are really effective at killing civilians. Which weirdly enough don’t seem to be making too many friends internationally. So, as before, we’ve got the set-up. We have some movies that are thought-pieces, that attempt to be, in a sense, Oscar-bait, we have some movies that I adore, but will basically never win an Oscar for best picture… and then we have “Rocky.”
Argo is an updated version of Rocky. It’s a movie where, going in, you basically know the outcome, there’s not a huge reason to feel suspenseful throughout, but it’s well-written and genuine through and through. There are great moments that we can always call back to (Argo-fuck yourself comes immediately to mind,) and we as an audience can feel a genuine sense of pride. Does it matter that, at the end of the day, many events in the film are half-truths, and realistically, the Canadian government did most of the work? Of fucking course not! This is America! We got to look our then (and now) enemy, Iran in the eyes and give them a big middle finger. We got to whip our dicks out and have the stones to say “The best work of art produced in the past 12 months is something that shows how 5 or so people fooled your entire damn country.” And you know what? They feel the exact same way.