by / February 21st, 2015 /

Cracking the Academy’s Alchemy

The 2015 Academy Awards takes place this weekend but we thought we’d drill down past the odds and the potential winners to see what sort of esoteric wisdom could be discerned from this year’s nominations.

So what do this year’s films say about the state of the industry and what can we discern from the Academy’s choices? We’re not entirely sure but we’ll make a dubious logical leap or two and indulge in some sweeping generalisations in an effort to find out. 

Science emerged as one of the big beneficiaries of this year’s Oscar nominations. Normal people are now bluffing their way through conversations about quantum physics and casually discussing the origins of the computer. Scientists are no longer lying about their occupations in pubs and they have crawled out of their darkened labs to embrace their moment in the sun. 

Unfortunately, The Imitation Game also solidified the stereotype of scientists as awkward social retards. Its portrayal of Alan Turing suggested that the war hero had all the social skills of a bar of chocolate. He may have saved us from a world run by Nazis but you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with him. 

The other big science biopic of the year managed to bring Oscar-baiting to new heights with a film that could have been brewed in a test tube marked “Oscar winning formula.” The Theory of Everything ticked all the boxes for Academy voters. 

It was a non-fiction (tick) biopic (tick) about a famous (tick) scientist who triumphed in the face of adversity (tick) after developing a life-threatening (tick) and degenerative (tick) disease (tick) that resulted in his physical deterioration (tick). Throw in a subplot about star-crossed young lovers (tick) struggling against the odds (tick) and some expansive discussions on the nature of the universe (tick) and you’ve got Oscar gold. 

The only way this film could been any more Oscar-friendly was if they’d inserted a scene where Stephen Hawking led a civil rights march in the Deep South circa 1965. 

Speaking of civil rights, the lukewarm reaction to Selma was a sobering realisation that the Academy remains a predominantly white and conservative organisation. They might as well have pointed to the success of 12 Years a Slave at last year’s awards and wailed “But we’ve already covered all that race stuff!”

The nomination of American Sniper resurrected the fine tradition of films that polarise public and critical opinion.

Chris Kyle’s biopic has somehow become all things to all men, depending on what you read. It’s either a story of a sociopathic mass murderer who went on a bloody rampage in a foreign land or a tale of a patriotic hero who defended freedom from bloodthirsty savages. 

Clint Eastwood hasn’t made anything this divisive since Every Which Way You Can

Another unlikely beneficiary of this year’s Oscars was jazz, man. Yes, jazz was what was happening in 2014 and 2015. 

Anyone who watched Whiplash will have found themselves immersed in a world of regimented jazz rhythms, psychotic teachers and that one earworm of a song that we still can’t get out of our heads. There’s a very good chance that we’ll still be humming Whiplash well into 2017. 

Jazz also provide the musical soundscape for Birdman because nothing says borderline mental breakdown and creative turmoil like jazz. Ida was steeped in jazz and other soundtracks channeled jazzy elements, partly due to the time they were set in and partly because jazz adds gravitas to any situation. A movie character will never have an existential crisis while listening to a Ricky Martin song.  

Boyhood’s novel approach to filming a movie over 12 years saw director Richard Linklater shine a light on puberty although the jury is still out on whether pubescent boys should ever have a light shone on them. Or indeed be given an outlet for their inane musings on life. 

Fake body parts also enjoyed an overdue revival this year. Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose is nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for Foxcatcher. Naturally, it will be hoping to emulate the Oscar-winning success of Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose in The Hours and Robert De Niro’s prosthetic nose in Raging Bull. This could be another big victory for the prosthetic nose community.

Crazy was a recurring motif of this year’s films. We had crazy killer wives, crazy creepy billionaires, crazy-but-sane inventors, crazy white people, crazy gun guys, crazy music teachers and crazy bereaved ramblers. 

So what can we take from all this? Not very much in fairness. 

Although if we were planning to produce an Oscar-winning film in the current climate, we would make a biopic about a batshit crazy scientist with a fierce social conscience and a debilitating illness who loves jazz music and is a dab hand at clay pigeon shooting. In the meantime, we’ll sit back and soak up the crocodile tears, fake smiles and rambling speeches at Sunday’s ceremony.