Expert Comment: Oscars NominationsWednesday 25 April 2012
Dr. Jacqui Miller, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics, History, Media and Communication at Liverpool Hope University
As a film historian mostly spending my time researching and teaching film from the silent era to the 1980s, this year’s Oscar nominations seem to validate the continuing influence and relevance of classical Hollywood for filmmaking and the study of film as an historical source and commentary.
Of the films nominated for Best Picture, the time frames include World War I (War Horse), the 1950s, (Tree of Life) the American civil rights movement (The Help, also the context for Best Documentary Short, The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement) whilst more recent history is addressed through 9/11 (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and the 2002 baseball World Series (Moneyball). History joins with a celebration of the origins of cinema in two films paying tribute to pioneer Hollywood; Hugo and The Artist. The latter defies current cinematic technique to make a contemporary silent film, whilst Hugo merges tradition and the latest inventive technology to create an immersive 3-D universe in its homage to George Méliès.
It is also striking that three Best Picture nominations, whose directors are also nominated, come from directors – Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Terence Malick - whose careers began during the period known as the New Hollywood or Hollywood Renaissance (1967-1980) which arguably has produced America’s finest cinema to date.
This pattern continues into other categories. The Cold War spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has three nominations, while The Iron Lady features not only a bravura performance from Meryl Streep, but perfectly researched historical detail from 1950s costumes to 1970s Hornsea kitchenalia and 1980s documentary footage. Madonna’s W.E. may not have the gravitas of the other films under discussion but has a well-deserved nomination for perfectly replicating Edwardian costumes.
The Hollywood studio era of the 1950s is gloriously presented by My Week with Marilyn, a film which could become a key text for the field of star studies. Cultural nostalgia even extends to fondly-remembered television as The Adventures of Tintin competes for best original score.
The citation of examples could continue, but in essence my point is that this year’s Oscar nominations contain a wealth of films whose value for scholarship will continue long after the awards ceremony. Added to this, the preponderance of literary adaptations makes 2012 the most intelligent Oscars season for many years.