In a thoughtful essay at The Dissolve about last night’s Oscar ceremony, writer Jen Chaney reflects on the the best picture trophy going to “Birdman” instead of “Boyhood”:
Yes, as some predicted (not me), Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s one-shot take on artistic integrity and raging narcissism was named the best picture of 2014 over Richard Linklater’s far more low-key but equally inventive ‘Boyhood.’ This immediately prompted some disappointed commentary on social media, as well as another manifesto of sorts from Slate’s Dan Kois, who published, just minutes after the Oscar ceremony ended, a piece that accused the Academy of totally blowing it by not honoring ‘Boyhood.’ ‘This one’s an epochal Oscar travesty,’ Kois wrote. ‘This one hurts.’
While I must admit that there was some delicious irony in watching a woman, Patricia Arquette, win the single Academy Award for a film called ‘Boyhood,’ and then devote a portion of her acceptance speech to advocating for gender equality, I have to agree with Kois. Epochal travesty may be a bit much, but I completely agree that this one does indeed hurt.
Chaney goes on to describe how this miscarriage of justice is actually “pure Linklater” in a journey-is-the-reward kind of way. It’s an incisive point, and worth reading. (See the full article at thedissolve.com.) I largely agree, though I still find myself tremendously disappointed by the outcome.
I try my best to ignore the inanity that is the Oscars, but it’s difficult not to pay some mind to one of the highest profile platforms anywhere for articulating what is valued in cinema. A best picture or best director nod is more than simply an honorific; it’s a reflection of the things that the Hollywood establishment, so to speak, thinks are important.
In this case, in an apparent face-off between one picture that tries to chronicle the quotidian beauty of childhood and another picture that is at its heart an exercise in what Chaney correctly characterizes as “raging narcissism,” the message is pretty disheartening. I actually enjoyed “Birdman”; it’s an extremely well-made and bracingly entertaining film. It’s also heavy-handed, a thematic mess, and sadly preoccupied with a very small, exclusive segment of the population and their esoteric privileges. Somewhat self-importantly and incoherently it asks, “What kind of films do you want?” The answer, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, seems to be, “More films about people like us here at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” That’s depressing.