Film prizes are usually a bloated mess, and encourage vacuous criticism. Here's what we should really be celebrating from the last 12 months of filmby Mark Cousins / February 28, 2009 / Leave a comment
International film prizes are given throughout the year but the biggies in the Anglophone world—the Baftas, the Golden Globes, the Oscars—are crammed into the new year and early spring.
Inevitably, a kind of group-think emerges. The Golden Globes’ results influence voting for the Oscars, as does the Bafta gong list. The resulting advertising campaigns for prestige pictures like The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Milk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button create a gold rush for the trade press. Industry rags triple in size, swollen with brazen claims for often modest movies. Everything is a “must see,” an “all-time great”—an elephantiasis as icky as the group-think.
I’ve long argued that the Oscars in particular, like a whiny kid, should be ignored; yet the world’s media continue to swoon at this middlebrow frock fest that has consistently failed to celebrate the best in cinema around the world. So, as a tiny rejoinder to it, here are my 2008 winners and losers—the Prospect version of the Oscars.
The political film of the year, Steve McQueen’s Bobby Sands film Hunger, had virtually no politics in it. Meanwhile, the almost political film of the year was—and I can’t believe I’m typing this—Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, in which the bonged-up Asian-American odd couple are mistaken for terrorists and, after incarceration, threatened with “a cock meat sandwich” by US marine Big Bob. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.
In its annual rollcall of the dead, the Oscars will no doubt salute Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, Charlton Heston, Sydney Pollack and the director Anthony Minghella—and quite right too. But the first great African and Arab director, Yousef Chahine, died in 2008 too, as did Chinas’s greatest living filmmaker Xie Jin and Japan’s most committed documentarian, Noriaki Tsuchimoto. Each changed the course of film history. I’ve written about all three in this column. Let’s see if the Oscars remember them.
Another loss was the great film critic Manny Farber, who famously championed “termite art” like B-movies over what he thought of as pretentious “white elephant” films. In the spirit of acknowledging efficiency over prestige, our “That Wasn’t Ninety Minutes, Was It?” award for zap and zest goes to Cloverfield, which shows a monster attack on Manhattan through the lens of a handheld camera. I watched it with Irvine Welsh. Not only did we grin like dingbats the whole way through, we did so for…