The award season has come to a close in possible the most dramatic way that anyone can remember. La La Land was announced as the winner, only for it to turn out that Moonlight actually took home the prize. It was a farce, quite funny and pretty embarrassing for everyone involved. You’ve got to feel for the members of both films who had no idea what was happening.
But the controversies of the night aren’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what should win the Best Picture awards.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s in the name, the Best Film. And I completely agree, the best film should be the one that takes home the awards but is it always so?
First off, best is obviously subjective. What you think is the best might be different to what I think is best. And that’s fine. That’s why it’s a huge group of people who all vote to determine what the majority think is the ‘best’. I’m not here to say what I think is the ‘best’, that’s pointless as opinions vary vastly, like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy. What I want to discuss is the, frankly, quite nasty press that La La Land recieved in the run up to the Oscar’s as it was tipped to take home the big price.
The number of headlines that I read about how absolutely terrible it would be if La La Land won Best Film because it’s about a white jazz player and an actress and doesn’t have a ‘political’ message, was quite astonishing. A film that had started off being hailed by critics was now being berated by the same outlets that had praised them only weeks earlier. All because it had white characters who could be seen as narcissistic. Personally I took a different message from it but that’s another debate. Does it matter that this film was about white people? Does it matter if the characters were narcissistic? Why does that make it a film not worthy of winning awards? Surely having flawed characters makes for compelling cinema. This criticism is like shouting at Tarantino for Leonardo De Caprio’s character in Django Unchained being a racist. That’s who the character is and it drives the story along, that’s the point of his character in that film.
Many of these articles cited the fact that Moonlight should win. Some even went as far as to say it has to win. Yet none of the ones I read stated that it must win due to it being a better film, people only really spoke about the subject matter of Moonlight. The story of a young Black man growing up, battling with his identity and what society, and his peers, expect him to be and what he actually is. By all means, a really great message and it’s a very well made film but was it the best film of this year? La La Land was a very well made film and it was a story about pursuing your dream and sometimes having to make big sacrifices to achieve the goals that you’ve always had and how sometimes letting go is worth it. Is it the best film of last year? Again, I’m not here to say, I’m not going to say what I think.
What I will say is that I truly believe the best made film of that year should win, regardless as to whether or not it has to most favourable political or cultural message of that time. Messages and statements have a huge part in film and rightly so. Art is a fantastic outlet, a fantastic medium in which to channel ones thoughts and ideas and opinions. It’s a brilliant way to express yourself and rightly so people take to art to express their thoughts on the world. Yet surely the ‘best’ film of that year should be the film that best puts it’s message across, the film that best takes the concept and expresses and interprets it to the audience? Not just the one that has the ‘best’ message.
It’s important that films that are well made, that send culturally powerful messages are recognised but does it not become counter productive and borderline patronising to award a film on the most part for that message? I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a filmmaker from an ethnic background attempting to get a film made in a predominately white industry, yet I can say for myself that if I won an award at the expense of a superior piece of work, simply because mine expressed a more favourable ideology I wouldn’t feel good about it. I would feel like I hadn’t earned that award.
The problem with these messages being recognised and distributed in the way that they should lies beyond the awards bodies. Moonlight won best picture and this will give it a small boost in showings at places it wouldn’t necessarily have been shown, but most of the people who will go and watch it are people who were waiting for DVD access and now have the opportunity to see it at the cinema rather than the film bringing in a brand new audience. The problem is rooted deeper in us as an audience, and the types of films we are willing and wanting to watch and this in turn influences the production companies. Yes, there are some out there that are funding and creating great pieces of culturally significant work but at the end of the day they are going to be limited. Films have to make money. Filmmaking is a business as much as it is a art form as it takes a lot of money to create even a simple film. When you get down to it a production company has to make more money than it spends and only a select audience will go and watch a film such as Moonlight. It’s a shame but it’s true.
For me, the best piece of filmmaking, the best piece of cinema should be the film that wins Best Film. Reward something that takes its concept and does something incredible with it, does something innovative or creative, the film that takes that concept and makes the best film from it. If that film is a La La Land then great, if it’s a Moonlight then that’s also great.
What was fantastic to see in the light of envelope-gate was the respect that both groups of filmmakers had for each other, and each others work, it’s inclusiveness and appreciation of very different types of art that the media seems to have forgotten about in it’s quest to say ‘this thing is more important’ while simultaneously forgetting that there’s far worse things going on in the world than a film not getting an award.
What do you think? Should politically motivated works be rewarded even if they aren’t technically superior films? Get in touch and let us know what you think. Either comment below, find us on Facebook or tweet us @ReelFilm_Movies or me personally at @MJHall94, I’d love to hear what you think.