Johanna: Yikes, I think that’s a lot to lump together. Django, to me, is a violent send-up of violence – typical Tarantino, wanting to have his bladders of blood and explode them, too. Amour is perceived as an ordeal, as it explores a part of life – the end, where we’re all headed – that’s so scary to think about, we ignore it. But I wish people would get over that, because it deserves to be seen. Zero Dark Thirty is another animal altogether – a procedural, taking us through the steps in the hunt for a terrorist. Because torture is a factor in that hunt, people are freaked out. But whether or not Americans want to face it, that likely happened in real life; writer Mark Boal and director Bigelow are trying to be reportorial about that. The attitude of the character played by Jessica Chastain is more complicated – she quickly stops flinching at the torture, and later tells the soldiers to get Osama bin Laden “for” her. Our ambiguity about how to feel about her, our hero, discomfits people. That’s why it disappeared – people aren’t able to bring themselves to vote for it. I think Argo is enjoying its late-season surge precisely because it’s so unambiguous: The hostage-takers are the bad guys, and the good guys (the Americans, with an assist from the Canucks) outsmart ’em. We can exult without guilt.
Geoff: Hold up a sec. Did I actually hear the word “fascism”? Because if what we’re talking about are movies that investigate what not only motivates violence but justifies it under dramatically manipulated circumstances – which makes it reasonable and therefore worth rooting for – what we’re also talking about is the entire history of popular American movies from The Great Train Robbery onward. So if these movies are fascist, so are countless thousands of other crime, western, horror, spy movies. Movies that address violence either as unabashedly spectacular (Django) or ambiguously seductive (Zero Dark Thirty) just aren’t usually the kinds of movies that get Oscar nods. As Johanna pointed out about the soft-and-fuzzy Argo, we prefer to take our untidy geopolitical shenanigans with an avuncular chuckle and a final fade-out bedtime story, rather than the notion that movie killing is cool and fun to watch. That might be the mainstay of the global entertainment industry, but it won’t do for the massive self-congratulatory, self-image orgy that is the Oscars. It’s not fascism, just hypocrisy.
Johanna: It is a very gun-, or war-, or violence-heavy list.
Geoff: Again, nothing really new there. The very first Academy Award was presented to Wings, a war movie, followed a few years later by All Quiet on the Western Front, another war movie. Gone With the Wind was a war movie, Casablanca, From Here to Eternity, Bridge on the River Kwai etc. The beating of war drums pounds like a backbeat throughout Oscar history, right up to the present moment.
Liam: Okay I apologize for dropping the F-bomb. I didn’t mean the cinema under Mussolini so much as the cathartic, self-righteous annihilation of your adversary with triumphant ideology and cool weapons, which, agreed, applies to a lot of entertainment. Amour director Michael Haneke has referred to American mainstream cinema as “barrel down” cinema, in the sense that you’re targeted to have certain emotional reactions. I think Amour, which has an amazing five nominations, is a kind of antidote to that sort of film. It’s the presentation of a dramatic predicament that doesn’t tell you how to think, which is why it’s my favourite film on the list. As for Argo – I called it entertaining Hollywood hokum when I reviewed it but I think it’s the least adventurous film of the nine films nominated. Do you think it’s beatable?