This time of year, I’m always excited for the many awards shows set to come our way in the next few weeks. I just have to watch the red carpet coverage and sit through hours of actors delivering stilted, mildly comedic banter and I can laugh for a few mind-numbing hours that a man-child with disturbing xenophobic tendencies is officially our president.
But the search for the best picture of the year, silly and lighthearted indulgence that it is for most of us, is flawed. Cinema, as art, always has political implications — and the types of films we choose to celebrate reflect that. But the conversation is often rendered useless, and we focus little on the actual merits of the films. Instead, we’re sucked into the horse race of Academy politics — what they like, and the effectiveness of the production company bankrolling the campaign. And as soon as a movie gains frontrunner status, we search for its flaws.
Take the internet backlash against “La La Land,” the current favorite to sweep awards this season — at least according to my Twitter timeline. As soon as it won an unprecedented number of Golden Globes and claimed front-runner status in the race, a chorus of critics piped up to tell us why it wasn’t actually all that great. That’s not to say the backlash didn’t bring up points worth pondering. For instance, the characters were more archetypes than people. And the optics of its depiction of a white man as the only man who could “save” jazz — an art form uniquely connected to the musical traditions and experiences of African-Americans — was unpleasant, to say the least.
But without awards buzz, “La La Land” is simply a delightful, imperfect movie that even people outside Hollywood could connect with. Despite the weak singing and meandering middle section, it’s a film that deserves some of the adulation it’s received. It wasn’t as much of a musical, but it certainly was a lovely, artistic self-indulgence of a movie driven by its score.
But by presuming to come close to determining what might be the “best” movie of the year, we reduce them: Films become less complex, thought-provoking pieces of art and more of a sum of its most superficial aspects. We should be recognizing diverse films, given the limited recognition and artistic freedom Hollywood gives its actors and filmmakers of color, but it can’t be the only point of discussion. Characterizing “La La Land” as “a film about two white people falling in love” and “Moonlight” as a “black LGBT film” does both a disservice.
To some, the best picture of the year could be something as joyful as “Hidden Figures,” a movie that might have not have the artistic trappings of a typical Oscar movie, but is powerful in its joyful celebration of black women that resonates in a society which too often devalues their contributions. Or it could be “Moonlight,” a powerful depiction of a boy growing into a man in three stages of his life. Or it could be “Edge of Seventeen,” or “Moana,” or even “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” because it personally made me cry.
I’m still going to follow the awards show speculation, because it is a fun distraction from whatever is going on in the world right now. But let’s not pretend we’re actually ever finding the best movie of the year. That’s for you to find.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II and government sophomore from Austin.