This was originally written and published when it still mattered! Enjoy!
As the year comes to a close and the almost six thousand ballots for the Academy Awards (Oscars) have been sent out, movie viewers who are members of the Academy are being asked to vote for the nominees for every major award in the Academy Awards. While I had hoped to finish my Best Picture Project (here!) before writing this article, my lack of a VCR (yes, one of the films was never put on DVD and another two have been a bear for me to get in on anything other than VHS!) is leaving me three films short as the ballots for the 2009 Academy Awards go out. Even so, I am in a unique position to write about what might be deserving of the Best Picture Oscar as I have reviewed every prior winner.
Hands down, the 2009 Best Picture Oscar ought to go to Watchmen.
With the Golden Globe nominations showing a science fiction preference only for Avatar (reviewed here!), the Academy is continuing its rather dumb (there’s no more appropriate word for it) preference for films that are proximate to the ballot release. In other words, most films that get nominated for the Oscars are the ones that are released in December, where they are fresh in the minds of those who vote for them. While the Golden Globe nominations do not necessarily foreshadow the nominees or the winners of Oscars, sadly the voters seldom break ranks with the Golden Globe nominations. For Watchmen, they ought to. As near as I can figure it, there are three reasons why the Academy should break with tradition and nominate Watchmen (reviewed here!) and three reasons they should uphold tradition and nominate and give Watchmen the Best Picture Oscar.
The reasons Oscar voters should break with tradition and nominate Watchmen for the Best picture are:
1. It uses the film medium extraordinarily well. Over the course of the (almost) ninety years the Best Picture award has been given out, it is shocking how many films have won the top honor with little or no differentiation from a stage play. The Best Picture ought to do something that illustrates that it is a great movie. It’s not a great book, theatrical play or comic book, it is a film.
Ironically, while Watchmen is based upon a graphic novel, this is the film. And, more than any other film this year, it uses the medium well. The special effects create an alternate reality that could not be created on stage. It is rich, filled with costumes, sets and special effects (including music) which create a film that looks and feels real, even though it obviously is not. As well, it is stylish and characters react in ways that have a realism to them which is not the case in such over-the-top special effects pictures like Avatar. Watchmen is consistent in the way it creates a film which tells the story it tells in a way that effectively uses the medium and tells it with the full richness of the big screen. It does not require one use their imagination (like a book) and it tells a big story that could not be told as effectively on stage (or is so static that it looks like it might as well be a stage play). In the history of the Best Picture, there have been a slew of winners from Broadway Melody to Ordinary People to Chicago which do not use the film medium all that well, creating films which might as well have been theatrical productions and do not use the full scope of the film medium. Watchmen uses the full scope and pushes the envelope.
2. It would recognize an oft-neglected genre in film. In the history of the Academy, no science fiction or super hero film has ever won Best Picture. Star Wars (A New Hope) lost to Annie Hall! And The Empire Strikes Back was never nominated. If the Best Picture represents the greatest film of the year, there ought to be some consideration for the body of work that is created by acknowledging this. While science fiction and super hero films are exceptionally popular, none has ever gotten the top prize.
Last year, The Dark Knight was shut out of the big award, despite being exceptionally popular and well-made. Watchmen, arguably, tops even that. It’s about time the body of “greatest films of all time” included one which celebrated the fantastic. Horror (Silence Of The Lambs) and Fantasy (Return Of The King) have garnered the top prize, it’s about time science fiction/super hero films had their shot and there is, arguably, none better than Watchmen, certainly not for 2009!
3. It would discourage Oscar Pandering Season and raise the bar on films that get nominated. Films are put out 52 weeks of the year, it is absolutely insulting that the only ones that get fair consideration for the Best Picture are released in December. The Academy voters are treated as idiots who have short attention spans and, sadly, they live down to that by usually nominating films that come out in December.
Watchmen was released in March and that is no reason it ought not to be fairly considered, even if it means voters might have to actually go back and rewatch, rent or buy the film to screen it. For sure, it deserves to be seen on the big screen, but it is now available on two different DVD/Blu-Ray versions for voters to screen it on!
The reasons Oscar voters should uphold tradition and nominate Watchmen for the Best Picture are:
1. It is a smart film with great character development. Far too often, the Best Picture winner is a movie that has predictable character arcs. From The Great Ziegfeld and The Life Of Emile Zola through No Country For Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire, the Best Picture winner is filled with character studies and stores where the characters are not static. Like Crash, Watchmen is an intimate character study which features characters who actually grow and change and develop through the movie.
Watchmen stands out because most of the characters grow and change throughout the film and the primary one who does not change actually has a statement by the fact that he does not change. Great films are character-driven and the characters of Watchmen – Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Adrian Veidt – move the plot forward and advance the plot of the film. The plot does not determine the direction of the film, the characters do. This is the key element of all of the best stories (not just films). The best Best Picture winners – Amadeus, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Casablanca – all have this in common. Watchmen deserves a place with them.
2. It would help illustrate the independence of the Academy from the foreign press, which nominates the Golden Globes. Because the Golden Globes nominate both Drama and Comedy/Musical, they often set the trends for Academy voters, but when the Academy has illustrated its independence, we’ve had winners like Crash.
Watchmen is a distinctly American film and, especially on the heels of Slumdog Millionaire deserves to win.
3. It is set in New York City. This might seem ridiculous, but given how many Best Picture winners are set in New York City, this seems like it is a fair mark in the film’s favor! Sure, it’s an alternate New York City, but if New York City films have a better chance of winning, it’s about time that worked in the favor of a truly original and incredible film!
For these reasons and more, Watchmen ought to win the Best Picture Oscar and voters ought to give it serious consideration when they receive their ballots!
For other film commentary projects, please check out my argument on why Anne Hathaway would be an ideal choice for Wonder Woman, here!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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