This year I invested a good amount of time (and for the purposes of this blog, cognitive effort) watching all 10 films nominated for Best Picture along with the 5 nominees each for Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short. I also watched 1 film for its Best Actor nomination. Having done so, all I can say is:
I’m old enough to remember when movies had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
I’m old enough to remember movies that had plots you could follow and you didn’t need a libretto to know what was going on.
I’m old enough to remember when you didn’t have to google the meaning of the movie after you watched it to find out what it was you just saw.
I’m old enough to remember when there were only 5 nominees for Best Picture, not 10.
I’m old enough to remember when the Saturday matinee cost 35 cents and you got to see not one, but two movies.
I’m old enough to remember watching on the big screen with its thunderous sound in a theater where ushers used their flashlights to find seats for latecomers and to hush you if you made noise.
I’m old enough to remember hundreds of moviegoers in a packed theater gasping, cheering, holding our breaths and crying as one.
I must be getting old!
This year it seemed that more of the movies presented cognitive challenges than in previous years. I mean, sure, we had ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ back in the day, but NOBODY knew what that was about, and there was no way in the world you could intuit or glean from the images he presented what director Stanley Kubrick intended. Reminiscent of watching that movie, I was still trying to divine the meaning of ‘Triangle of Sadness’ well after it ended.
How long did it take you to figure out what was happening in ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once?’ There was a rapid-fire explanation of the multiverse and the discovery of how to travel between universes, but…geez…really? Do you think that the multiverse theory is a comprehensible subject for a movie? If so, I’d like to introduce you to the Best Picture of 2023!
‘Women Talking’ was a very cerebral movie about an extremely emotional subject. It’s basically shot in one location (the loft of a barn) and the characters and relationships between them are developed solely through dialogue. Boring, you say? Far from it! It took me a few more days to process it all after the final credits faded from the screen.
Even knowing what the movie was supposed to be about before watching it, I still didn’t get ‘Aftersun.’ It seems that the reflection of the grown-up daughter on a television screen at the beginning of the film (which I didn’t notice) was the only context given for what unfolds in the next 1 hour and 36 minutes. Needless to say, there was no dialogue at the end to wrap things up, either.
Am I getting old? Is this what age-related cognitive decline looks like? Or am I just too stodgy to appreciate the latest in cinematic chic?
On the positive side, not only did I love ‘Banshees of Inisherin,’ but I was able to figure out that it was an allegory for the Protestant-Catholic troubles in Ireland. It takes a pretty high level of cognitive functioning to come up with that. I surprised myself! It was especially gratifying when my theory was confirmed by a google search.
Did you notice that ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was a re-make of ‘Star Wars’ where the impossible task of destroying the death star was replaced with the equally impossible task of blowing up the nuclear enrichment plant?
You probably didn’t see it, but the winner of the Best Animated Short was ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.’ It didn’t take me long to equate the boy’s quest to find his home to Dorothy’s in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
It would appear, then, that my abstract reasoning is hitting on all cylinders. What’s more, a week after seeing the last movie, I was able to name all 20 nominees from memory, without having rehearsed them or creating a mnemonic to aid my recall. I’ll take that as a win!
So I’m going to conclude that my facilities are still intact and that it’s the voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences who have a penchant for weirdness in selecting their nominees.
And to be honest, I thank them for it. It’s clear that gone are the days of ‘just’ being entertained, of sitting back and letting the images wash over you, transporting you to a magical world. That is exactly what ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ was supposed to do, and I didn’t like it at all. Complain as I might about the quirkiness of many of the nominees, I’m actually glad to have been challenged, to have had to think about what I was seeing, even when I came up short, which was often the case this year.