One thing that keeps me sane while going through the last bit of winter is to go on a binge watch of nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
From the moment they’re announced to the day of the ceremony, each year I aim to see as many contenders as I can get away with. Eventually, I came to have this feeling that each year there is a recurrent theme among the line-up of movies running.
I put this idea on “paper” four years ago in my old blog, where I argued that the leitmotif among 2015’s Best Picture hopefuls was “men finding their place.”
To refresh your mind, that was the year Birdman flew away with the statue.
The nominees were:
- American Sniper – A veteran readjusting to civilian life.
- Birdman – A has-been actor reinventing himself through theatre.
- Boyhood – A young boy’s journey to become an adult.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – A refugge that follows the steps of a legendary concierge.
- The Imitation Game – A matemathician with a secret, trying to decrypt German intelligence codes.
- The Theory of Everything – A theoretical physicist’s experiences with fame, love and disease.
- Whiplash – A musician struggling to realise his potential.
- Selma – A civil rights activist’s journey to secure equal voting rights.
This year, the thread is definitively thinner and it was harder for me to start noticing patterns…
Let me remind you, the 2019 nominees for an Academy Award for Best Picture are the following films (in alphabetical order):
- A Star is Born.
- Black Panther.
- Bohemian Rhapsody.
- Green Book.
- The Favourite.
SPOILER ALERT – I will talk about key elements from the movies’ plots. while I’ll avoid giving away the ending, if you’re allergic to spoilers, consider yourself notified.
Unlike the very homogeneous batch of 2015, this year’s stories and main characters are surprisingly diverse. However, there are some common themes…
The power of music is a big one: Three of this year’s top crop are stories about musicians (A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book).
Inequality. Getting warmer… From racism/classism in XX century America (BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, Roma… yes, Mexico is in America too), to the excesses of 18th century England’s aristocracy (The Favourite).
But the truly ubiquitous plotline was, for me, humilliation and success. All the stories in the race to Hollywood gold this year feature characters that have to put up with varying kinds of humiliating treatments in order to move ahead with their careers/dreams/agendas.
Am I stretching it too much when I say that humiliation and success are integral parts of the plots of this year’s selection? Let’s recap…
- A Star is Born – Just when she’s at the edge of glory, Ally (Lady Gaga) faces an extremely humilliating moment when receiving an award on TV. She manages it as gracefully as possible but it’s a before-and-after moment for the character.
- BlacKkKlansman – Black police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates his local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a white Jewish colleague. They manage to keep their cool and progress their investigation.
- Black Panther – Prince T’Challa is challenged by Killmonger and looses the throne of Wakanda in ritual combat in front of all his subjects and family. He also loses his Black Panther powers. With the help of friends and former rivals, he regains his rightful place.
- Bohemian Rhapsody – At the beginning, a young Freddie Mercury worked as a baggage handler at the airport and he was understimated because of his odd looks. As his talents shine, egos get out of control and a fake friend ultimately backstabs him. Putting his pride aside is not easy, but it leads to the performance of a century.
- Green Book – It’s 1962 and a black classical pianist decides to embark on a tour through the Deep South in the United States, what could possibly go wrong? Welcome on stage but not seen as an equal, his strenght is put to the test constantly.
- Roma – Cleo is a young houskeeper working for a wealthy family in Mexico City. The guy she dates leaves her pregnant and denies it’s him. Sofia, her boss, is struggling with her own humiliation, as her husband has left her but she insists to tell the kids his work trip to Canada keeps getting longer and longer. Life gets worse before it starts to get better.
- The Favourite – To earn the favour of a capricious queen, Abigail has to put up with a parade of… humbling experiences. A witty social climber, she does it gladly if it will mean a place in court.
- Vice – A young Dick Cheney gets told by his wife she’ll leave him unless he does something with his life. He eventually joins the Republican party and works his way to the top. Charmless and afraid of attracting scandal due to a family matter, he never managed to move masses to make him POTUS, yet he sneaked his way through ridiculous amounts of power as the Vicepresident of the United States.
I’ve to say it’s a weird theme for the time it appears. These days, the idea of enduring and bearing with what bothers us for a future gain is far from the instant gratification ethos we are bombarded with.
Good stories are built on conflict and nowadays, it seems that remaining calm and collected when our buttons are pushed and our patience is tested is more challenging than ever. I guess there are still many angles for tales about ignoring triggers and focusing on the big picture whether it’s global stardom (or domination), a life of luxury or at least, the promise of a happier tomorrow.