The Cinephile: Did the Oscars Play it Safe This Year?

By Katie Kilkenny, The Dartmouth Staff | 2/27/13 5:30am

With much of the post-Oscars attention focused on a ceremony some called banal (the choice of Seth MacFarlane as host really upped expectations of provocation), the real question remains —how safe were the Academy Awards choices this year? Yeah, Argo won Best Picture, Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress, Amour for Best Foreign Language Film and Paperman for Best Short Film, Animated, as everyone predicted (that last one maybe only for film nerds).

But that doesn’t mean the choices weren’t controversial. In fact, this was probably the most exciting year for debate about the actual accolades in recent history. Here’s a look at some other potentially scandalous wins — and why or why not they should be questioned.

Best Picture: Argo

Leading the contentious tone of the choices is undoubtedly Best Picture winner Argo, whose screenplay’s inaccuracies and themes have been dismissed as promoting “a retrograde ‘white Americans in peril’ storyline.” The Iranian Mehr news agency even called the film’s Oscar success an “an advertisement for the CIA.”

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

As much as Django might have been the most fun to be had in theaters all year, Christoph Waltz’s win evokes all that seemed so problematic about the film’s racial politics. Waltz’s character functions as the real hero of the Tarantino revenge paradigm: he abruptly commences the violence, plots it ingeniously and generally plays the most charismatic and utterly present character within the majority of Tarantino’s savvy screenplay — Django himself didn’t even come close. Waltz’s win lends credence to this prioritization of the Dr. Schultz character over Django. Then again, some — like Hillary Crosley over at The Root — didn’t find a problem with the fact that “Django doesn't seem to be told from Django's perspective.”

Best Original Score: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi

Thomas Newman’s score for Skyfall most likely failed to pick up the Oscar because the Academy openly discriminates against big box office results (see the classic 2008 example of The Dark Knight). I will admit, however, that Danna’s score absolutely completed the ethereal tone of director Ang Lee’s film.

Best Short Film, Live Action: Shawn Christensen, Curfew

Okay, so like everyone else, I adore Curfew. However, its hipstery, paradigmatic plot — when will dancing girls stop making angsty men reevaluate their lives in film? — didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of its opening scene. Equally worthy is Death of a Shadow, which makes abundant references to Lacanian theory entrancing—and stars a certain Matthias Schoenaerts.

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Despite the aforementioned questionable race dynamics, Tarantino probably deserves his second Best Screenplay win since Pulp Fiction introduced us to the “Royale with cheese.” Django reminds us how important the screenplay is to the entirety of a film — fictional revenge pulled off incredible feats in the film almost entirely due to snappy dialogue.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo

Classic Hollywood: laud a film whose plot has Hollywood saving the day, despite leaving out a fair bit of historical fact, as exposed by Slate this October.

Katie Kilkenny, The Dartmouth Staff