Wednesday, 23 September 2009


Every year, when the Awards season kicks off, there is always a backlash for a film or performer.
Before, when we had five best picture nominees, there was always that one that got a growing group of vocal people decrying it a fraud that should not be in the race.

If we look at it year by year, for the past few, perhaps there is a pattern.

Last year we had it for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. The latter was understandable. ‘Button’ was just a rather dull film in the end. It was so epic and so beautiful, but there was not a lot of substance to it after thinking on it for some time. It is a forgotten picture (every year there is that one nominee that years later you can never remember).
But for ‘Slumdog’ the backlash seemed a little meaner.
Sure the film had huge flaws, and even I was not a fan of it in terms of it being one of the years best, but the negative criticism was very loud, just as the praise was really loud. It was a little movie that somehow caught on and went on to succeed. Not even the film makers expected it, I mean at one point it was going to go straight to DVD.
But it didn’t and went on to win a slew of Oscars.

In 2007 there was a huge backlash for ‘Juno’.
At first everyone loved it.
But against the very serious other four best picture nominations, it seemed out of place.
Again, it was a small little indie film that really caught on strong.
As the buzz from the festivals grew and grew so did the anticipation for the film, and remarkably it delivered.
Then when it got a BP nomination, it was suddenly too slight.
It was being criticized for what made the film so different, its dialogue, and the web was a-flush with people getting very upset that this film was considered one of the years best.

In 2006 ‘Babel’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ got the brunt. ‘Babel’ because it was to some a great film, but to most it was mediocre (again, I had to look it up as I had forgotten it was nominated).
‘Sunshine’ on the other hand was another little Sundance film that managed to hit something with people.
Through word of mouth it became a box office success, and even the critics were on its side, praising the performances, the direction and the screen writing.
Then it was nominated for Best Picture.
Suddenly it was to slight, and not Best Picture material, the premise was silly and the screenplay not particularly original.
What changed? Was there a resentment because if was a ‘little’ film? Was the back lash comedy driven?

Finally in 2005 we had black Sunday. Yes there was a backlash against ‘Brokeback Mountian’ but more so against ‘Crash’. ‘Brokeback’ had mainly to do with inner Hollywood homophobia (cheers Ernest Borgnine – thanks for your bigotry).
‘Crash’ on the other hand was different. It started off on the festival circuit, very very small. A few important people got behind the film (which had been gathering ‘ok’ reviews – current metacritic score is 69) and its ‘race’ card was played hard. It became a loved film on it’s festival run and word of mouth caught on.
Then it was nominated for Best Picture.
The main backlash had to do with the fact it was not a well reviewed film, and its success in the awards was thought to do with racial guilt and the fact EVERYONE was in the film (actors make up the biggest voting branch in the Academy).
There was also the threat it played to the beloved ‘Brokeback’ that added to the hysteria of hate.

Perhaps people do not really like things that come from nothing getting all the glory. In each case the film with the biggest backlash was also the film with the biggest struggle to get the nomination. It was also the film that had played the festival circuit and garnered word of mouth with no real advance buzz based on the talent involved.

What does this mean? Do we, as humans, really love to build something up only to relish tearing it down? Well history has answered that for me.
We do.

And I see a couple of contenders for backlash already emerging.
The most obvious for this is ‘Precious’ and it has already started. Mainly from critics who feel it did not deserve the ‘Audience’ award at Toronto.
It makes me laugh that a critic would complain about who got an ‘Audience’ award. Isn’t that what ‘Critics’ awards are for, to give them their say? (and in return…we bloggers complain at their choices – which leads to the obvious,….we need to band together and for a ‘Blogger’ award – but that is another post entirely)

It seems to me that this film in particular has had a huge uphill battle to even be thought of as an awards contender:
It is a small film.
It is by a director on his second outing.
There are no big names attached, aside from Mariah - which means nothing in terms of ‘acting’.
It is a film about abuse.
It is a film about the poor.
It is the story of a obese girls.
The talent involved in predominantly black (I hate the term 'black film' as if someone who is not 'black' wouldn't enjoy it).
Nothing about it screams “Awards contender”. Yet it is, against the odds, and now people are going to tear it down. Is it fair? God no, but this is Hollywood, and that is how things are done.

What needs to happen first and foremost is Oprah needs reign it in a little with the hype machine.
Too much hype can kill any movie.
Tyler Perry and her need to let the film catch on by itself.
It is already a highly anticipated film for many people…let that be enough for now, then when it opens do your cast and crew interview on your show Oprah honey and get more seats in the cinema.

Also there are a few other contenders who should expect a backlash as well.
‘Up in the Air’ – I have read a few “What is all the fuss about” rumblings from people.
‘Bright Star’ is unanimous about the talent of Abbie Cornish, but there are those that see it as ‘unaffecting’.

Although I do not see it being as strong as it will be for ‘Precious’. What I will be curious about is when it begins, how will the race card be played? If at all.

Since there are 10 Best Picture nominees this will open others up to scrutiny. If there is a small indie comedy film in the mix, along with ‘Precious’ we know two things. Small drama films that manage to make their way into the mix as nominees win Best Picture, and small comedy films that do get Original Screenplay.

Let the backlash begin.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

God Oprah would seriously make me hate this. Put Precious is somewhere at Number 13 on my anticipated list so I don't worry.

Button and Babel. I liked both very much. Button was in my top 3 last year with The Reader and Revolutionary Road...and other than The Departed, Babel was a favourite fo 2006.

Michael Parsons said...

See, at the end of the day it is all about preference.

Sadly it is those films that got the majority of the backlash - mainly because they did not score well with critics - on meta critic Button got an ok score of 70 while Babel only got 69.
(the Reader got an all time low of 58 ouch!)

Precious will be tricky - there are those critics who are not going to be able to relate, let alone swallow this film. It may be classist, racist, or another ist, but it will happen.