Compared to the exciting developments in the Middle East, the 2011 Oscars telecast had all the excitement of watching wallpaper paste harden. To be fair, however, even judged in a vacuum, these Oscars were galactically boring -- which is saying something given Melissa Leo's tres bleu acceptance speech. The patter was boring, the gowns were boring, and Celine Dion's
braying singing ruined the memorial montage. I got so bored during the actual telecast that I had to make up a scenario whereby former Oscar hosts started massive protests against the current Oscar regime to maintain any interest in the proceedings.
[So, why are you blogging about it?--ed.] To demonstrate my ability to wring world politics insights from even the most mundane of sources, of course!! And they are:
1) Last year I noted that films leaning towards security studies trounced the more global political economy-friendly films. Obviously, The King's Speech (which is about leadership and great power politics) beating out The Social Network (which is about intellectual property rights and network externalities) for Best Picture is a continuation of that theme. Still, the overall results were more mixed. The Social Network did pick up a few Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, and in the Best Documentary category, Inside Job upset Restrepo -- which meant a real-live-honest-to-goodness political scientist now owns an Academy Award. NOTE: This doesn't mean all political scientists are happy about this.
2) I've been a longtime supporter of drug legalization as a way to eliminate multiple foreign policy headaches -- but based on the behavior of many Oscar presenters and winners, I'm now wondering if there should be drug testing before the Academy Awards.
3) Here's a thought -- if the Brits keep giving the best acceptance speeches, then maybe the Academy should just outsource the awards hosting duties to them as well? I mean, after that show, suddenly all the carping about Ricky Gervais seems churlish. I could see Russell Brand and Helen Mirren doing at least a passable job at it.
4) As for the Best Picture Winner, I myself would have preferred The Social Network -- but I enjoyed The King's Speech decently enough despite the massive historical revisionism in the film. It's not like The Social Network was a straight re-creation of history either. If the controversy about historical accuracy prompts a deeper discussion about the period under question, so be it. And let me stress that this position has nothing to do with the fact that the Official Blog Wife feels about Colin Firth the same way I do about Salma Hayek.
Did I miss anything?
I can't believe I watched the whole thing -- the 2010 Academy Awards show made Avatar seem tightly paced. Seriously, the show went downhill the moment Neil Patrick Harris left the stage. To be fair, there were no real surprises among the actual winners, draining any suspense from the proceedings.
Of course, this is a Foreign Policy blog -- so are there any lessons that can be drawn about world politics from such a pop culture phenomenon? Actually, yes:
1) Clearly, security studies trumps international political economy when it comes to the Academy Awards. I noted yesterday that Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds were all about war and resistance. Those films received ten academy awards. The only nominated film that addressed IPE was Up in The Air, and it got shut out.
2) That said, the awards also suggest that in Hollywood, Thucydides' dictum that "the strong do what they can, the weak do what they must" does not entirely hold. Despite being the highest grossing picture in history, Avatar got clobbered by The Hurt Locker. So much for financial power translating into prestige. That said, I'm pretty sure Kathryn Bigelow could take James Cameron in a fight, so maybe there was a different kind of power at work here.
3) Hey, that was some hard-core bargaining going on between Disney and Cablevision as the awards show was beginning.
4) The person with the greatest amount of "soft power" in Hollywood? Tina Fey. The woman could be paired with an eggplant and she'd get the eggplant some laughs.
5) Clearly, the Academy Awards has problems dealing with asymmetric threats. How else do you explain a three-minute homage to horror films in which the entire zombie genre gets less than a second of screen time??!!! Hello?! Chucky from Child's Play got a longer shot, for crying out loud!
One final thought: if there was any justice in the world, the Best Visual Effects Oscar would have been a tie between Demi Moore and Michelle Pfeiffer. In general, I found a rough but direct correlation between age and fashion sense. The older the actress, the more chic they looked.
Post your own thoughts in the comments.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
That said, this evening's festivities are a bit odd, in that there are so many mortal locks in the major categories. Christoph Waltz is gonna win for Best Supporting Actor, Mo'Nique is gonna win for Best Supporting Actor, Jeff Bridges is gonna win for Best Actor, and so forth.
For reasons that passeth all understanding, Salma Hayek did not appear in a Major Prestige Picture. This leaves the Best Actress category is a bit more muddled. Unfortunately, I fear that Sandra Bullock will win in a year when Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan and especially Meryl Streep gave better performances.
It's interesting that these are the three films being talked about, since they're all war pictures, even though they're operating in very different keys. Long-time readers know how I feel about Avatar, so I won't regurgitate it here. I finally saw The Hurt Locker last night. It's much better than Avatar -- there are nuances to the characters and everything -- its massive adrenaline rush began to wear off about two-thirds of the way into the picture (though the final 10 minutes are better than entire hours of Avatar). And as that rush worse off, so did the willing suspension of disbelief.
Then there's Charli Carpenter, who's rooting for the Basterds:
Tarantino has done what he always does best, though not always in the same way - something unexpected that makes us uncomfortable. Partly because so many of the uncomfortable conversations the film would have sparked are about one of the most important moral issues of our day: the limits of just war theory. And partly because Basterds does something most films don't do: make us think about film itself as it ties into power politics.
In what is likely a sign of advanced aging, the film I'll be pulling for is Up -- because the directors of this movie had the audacity and skill to put this effortlessly heartbreaking sequence into a children's movie. Oh, and because of Dug.
I'll live-tweet the show itself, with a wrap-up post sometime in the morrow.
With the release of 2012 today, we're now at the peak of the apocalyptic movie season. Soon to come will be the big-screen adaptation of The Road, which looks like yet another barrel of laughs. This comes on the heels of animated apocalypse movies like 9 and WALL*E.
This raises an interesting cultural question -- is the obsession with disaster/apocalypse films correlated with the economic downturn?
I'm not sure the answer is yes. Roland Emmerich, the director of 2012, is just a disaster porn fetishist who likes to destroy the world every time he commits anything to celluloid (except mosques, apparently). His first disaster flick, Independence Day, was released in 1996 -- not exactly the peak of anxiety about the state of the world. Deep Impact and Armageddon were also released during the boom times of the last decade. Furthermore, during the Great Depression, Hollywood responded by instituting the Hays Code and releasing films about "high society" that allowed the downtrodden American to fantasize about The Good Life (a fact that Woody Allen ruthlessly exploited in his best and darkest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo).
Still, the last time I can remember a spate of disaster flicks being released in such a fast and furious fashion was in the 1970's, another period of economic and political upheaval. Films like the Airport series, Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, Meteor, and Virus were not pieces of great cinema, but they all seemed to hit some taproot of anxiety that caused people to flock to the movies.
So... a question to the pop culture mavens here at foreignpolicy.com -- do down times lead to more disaster flicks, or is this just a trick of the light?
Children of the 1980's have suffered a series of body blows this summer -- the death of Michael Jackson, the death of John Hughes, etc. Well, now it appears we will have to suffer another indignity. MGM recently announced that they remaking Red Dawn (this week they announced their casting choices), a staple of basic cable outlets for twenty years -- and one of the most unintentionally campy movies ever made.
For the uninitiated, the movie depicts a Russian/Cuban/Nicaraguan invasion of the United States, and the fierce resistance put up by a band of high schoolers. As one of FP's movie geeks, I love this movie almost as much as I love Starship Troopers. Harry Dean Stanton shouting "Avenge me!!"; Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell acting all tough; Patrick Swayze shouting "because we live here!" as the justification for killing Russians; Powers Boothe's scenery-chewing; the Cuban occupiers subduing the population by accessing gun registration forms -- it's all good. Wolverines!!!!!
Now, this movie -- the first one rated PG-13, by the way -- was pretty absurd even by Reagan-era standards. Which brings one to an interesting question -- why remake it now? The commissioned screenwriter has provided the following justification:
Similar to the way the original played off Cold War fears in the 1980s, [writer Carl] Ellsworth says the remake will play off of current fears related to post-9/11 terrorism. ''As Red Dawn scared the heck out of people in 1984, we feel that the world is kind of already filled with a lot of paranoia and unease, so why not scare the hell out of people again?''
Well, sure, except that this makes no f***ing sense. Post-9/11 terror scares Americans because of the prospect that an attack could take place at any moment. The one thing actors like Al Qaeda can't do terribly well is secure and hold territory -- which is exactly what the Russians were ostensibly trying to do in Red Dawn. I fact, in the original movie, it's the Wolverines who act a bit like terrorists, bombing Russian installations and such. So I can't see how Red Dawn is a usable template for talking about post-9/11 terrorism concerns.
This isn't as bad an idea as remaking Hogan's Heroes -- but it's pretty close.
Due to travel snafus, your humble blogger was unable to post his traditional pre-Oscar predictions post. Suffice it to say that I correctly predicted all of the major awards but, as always, screwed up the best documentary short and best foreign language film.
Ten quick points, both positive and normative:
I think that's it.
Readers are encouraged to improve upon Entertainment Weekly and discuss which sexy movies were thoughtlessly omitted from the list.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.