Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why It Would Be Refreshing For Room To Win Best Picture

Trapped between four walls with never an opportunity to breath fresh air sounds like the worst possible form of existence. Knowing that must have been what caused people to invent prison and specifically solitary confinement. The worst form of punishment is forced on those who have broken the rules - living, without a life. 

You lose freedom. You lose choice. You lose everything except for whatever has been left behind in the walls that make up the enclosure.

But this isn't just for prisoners. Some people may even choose to live this way intentionally, which, as their choice, all the power to them. However, this can happen to people who are innocent of their crimes or have just been forced into this confinement.

Through the Best Picture nominated film, Room, the story of two people sentenced to this type of life is told. It's an intense situation for a woman, only referred to as Ma (played by Brie Larson), but the beauty of her creativity comes to life once she must invent a sense of an entire world for her son Jack all between the walls in a single room.

This year is jam packed with emotional Best Picture nominees. And it's a tough choice, but if forced to choose, Room is the most heartbreaking, inspiring, and moving story out of the Best Picture race. It's effortlessly directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the dialogue perfectly captures all the humor and anger of the characters (by Emma Donoghue, which she adapted from her bestselling novel), and it also features two outstanding performances from the lead actors.

Larson is wonderfully supported by the actor playing her young son, Jacob Tremblay. If there was a Best Duo award at the Oscars (for on and off screen badassery), they would take that award without question. Neither performance works without the other. Much of the movie is from Tremblay's point of view, a boy who was born within "room", and has never seen the outside world . [It's completely mind boggling!] He is the narrator, which is a beautiful touch, since his innocent voice is all the audience needs to hear in order to understand Ma and Jack's vulnerability. His voice leads the audience through both his joy and terror about the life they are facing.

As a whole package, this is the kind of movie that hits you right in your emotional core. After leaving the theater you want to both hug every single person you've ever cared about and also head out on an extensive road trip, because having freedom is the best and the world is such a big unknown place that needs to be seen.

In a form of pure "snub rage", Tremblay was sadly left off the Best Supporting Actor (or Best Actor, really) list this year at the Oscars. But the movie rightfully earned four nominations total, including a Best Actress nomination for Larson.

If Room (and no, not The Room, which I overheard people calling it at the theater) walked away with the Best Picture and Best Actress award this year it would join the ranks of only 11 other movies in history. What might that list be, you ask?

As someone who watched (all but one) of the Best Picture winners from throughout history there is a trend I quickly noticed. [I reviewed them all! Check out the Best Picture Challenge label!] It is rare for a movie to win both Best Picture and Best Actress. Like I mentioned above, it has only happened 11 times out of 87 years. Here are the movies that have that accomplishment:

Million Dollar Baby
Shakespeare In Love
The Silence Of The Lambs
Driving Miss Daisy
Terms Of Endearment
Annie Hall
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
Mrs. Miniver
Gone With The Wind
The Great Ziegfeld
It Happened One Night

(All must see movies - by the by.)

In comparison, 26 Best Picture winners have also featured the Best Actor winner: 

The Artist
The King's Speech
American Beauty
Forrest Gump
The Silence Of The Lambs
Rain Man
Kramer vs Kramer
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
The Godfather
The French Connection
In The Heat Of The Night
A Man For All Seasons
My Fair Lady
Ben Hur
The Bridge on The River Kwai
On The Waterfront
All The King's Men
The Best Years Of Our Lives
The Lost Weekend
Going My Way
It Happened One Night

These stats give off the impression that movies which feature impressive female performances are not deemed as an overall amazing movie going experience. For example, this year, Carol, was excluded from the Best Picture category, even though the two leads are up for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress (Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett).

When looking back on history, there were many opportunities for the Academy to award the Best Picture prize to the movie that also featured the Best Actress winner. When comparing the winners with the movies that could have won, it is easy to see that movies with more male dominated casts often rule the category.

First of all, A Streetcar Named Desire (with Best Actress winner Vivien Leigh) is a better film, top to bottom, than An American In Paris (the Best Picture winner from that year). As well as, Who's Afraid Of Virgina Woolf (Best Actress winner Elizabeth Taylor) over the bore that is A Man For All Seasons, Funny Girl (with Best Actress winner Barbara Streisand) over Oliver,  and Moonstruck (with Best Actress winner Cher) would be a more memorable Best Picture winner over the long dredge that is The Last Emperor. I would also choose Fargo (with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand) over The English Patient any day.

Sometimes though, amazing movies with almost completely female casts are pitted against each other. In 2003, The Hours (which includes Best Actress winner Nicole Kidman) lost to Chicago. This is an interesting comparison, since these were two hugely nominated movies and were also dominated by women - this does not happen often in one year.

It seems like the only reason this disparity continues is because there are not enough movies being made that focus on women. I've written about this before, but in 2013, it was reported that only 15% of movie protagonists were women.

This year is at least better than last year, where not a single Best Picture nominee featured a woman in a leading role. (Still crazy, I know).

It turns out that five of the nominees this year include a terrific lead or supporting performance by women - Mad Max: Fury Road has Charlize Theron (my pick for the other big Oscar Snub this year), Spotlight has Rachel McAdams (who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress), The Martian has both Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara, Brooklyn has Saoirse Ronan (Best Actress nominee), and Room, of course, has Larson.

As much as I loved the other movies mentioned above, I'm rooting for Brooklyn, and even more so Room, to win Best Picture. Since Larson is a shoo-in for the Best Actress win, a little bit of hope for the double win is in my mind just so more movies featuring Best Actress winners can be added to the list, but in the end, it's just because Room deserves it. 

Until next time.

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