I am not sure if it is a case of Gallic snobbery or the fact that my taste in cinema was fashioned by movies like Gervaise, 400 Blows, Separate Tables, L’Avventura and The Rules of the Game. That’s probably why I can’t shake off the notion that the motion pictures that have been churned out by Hollywood during the last few decades and are annually shortlisted for prizes don’t appear to have quite the elan and elegance of some of the French, Italian, Polish and Swedish gems of the 1940s, 50s and 60s; or the works of contemporary Iranian film directors, caught up in a tidal wave of neorealism, who are tossing out masterpiece after masterpiece. What makes the whole Hollywood thing a little wacky is that since they have the Oscars, they have an obligation to use it. And so they stage an annual carnival where a string of awards are doled out in different categories in a much publicised ceremony.
As a rule, I don’t normally watch this kind of schmaltz, which is as much about cinema as it is about lifestyle. But as I had gotten a little sick of Putin-bashing and the war in Syria on the telly, I decided to watch the 86th annual award ceremony in Beverly Hills with an auteur’s indulgence. The ritual had very little in common with Ascot where men wear top hats and are togged in morning coats and dark trousers, and women wear those ridiculous hats. Oscar night, on the other hand, is one big, gorgeous splash, the outdoor relief department of the millionaire’s club, an extravaganza where women spend big bucks to make an impression. In case you think I’m making all this up, remember Cate Blanchett, who bagged the Best Actress award for her stirring performance as a riches-to-rags divorcee in Blue Jasmine, wore a $100,000 nude and gold Armani dress, Chopard earrings, a brown diamond bracelet and a pear-shaped diamond ring, pushing the value of the outfit up into the millions. Poor Charlene Theron just couldn’t compete.
Eight movies were shortlisted for the coveted prize –– American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street and Twelve Years a Slave. As the last named was the only motion picture I hadn’t seen out of the lot, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that it was voted the best film. Mind you, I had no issue with Matthew McConaughey being declared Best Actor, especially as he looked as if he had contracted AIDS while making Dallas Buyers Club. I just didn’t like the film. I also didn’t care too much for Gravity and wouldn’t have minded if Sandra Bullock had landed in the midst of an Irish wake or inside an erupting volcano. It would, at least, have leant a touch of verismo. But with all the hype on CNN and the BBC about what the West is doing for Africa, I thought some sort of award should have been given to Barkhad Abdi who played the skinny, emaciated, undernourished Somali pirate in Captain Phillips, a saga which was almost as long as the Twenty20 match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Americans haven’t made great films in the past. Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, Twelve Angry Men, On the Waterfront and Marty have held their own against the brilliance of Federico Fellini, Isabella Rosellini, Vittorio de Sica, Renoir, Carne, Marcel Pagnol, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosava and Ray. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to continue the dynasty established by Bette Davis and Meryl Streep.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2014.