Werner Herzog, currently one of Germany’s top directors, once proposed in response to the burgeoning academic world of film that, “Academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Film is not the art of scholars but of illiterates.” Odd words with which to begin an examination of the 2015 awards season, but certainly words to keep in mind nonetheless.
It is indisputable that the phenomenon, therefore most of the culture, of the film industry, has experienced a superficial drenching in a cultural revolution that only succeeded in creating several unspoken political rules to the situations in which those involved in the making of films can be officially lauded for their work.
Though certainly the Academy Awards act as the most popular (though recent social critics might argue less prestigious) branch of awards season, despite a shocking lack of racial diversity in its current nominees, the entire Academy is far more political than the academy would ever like to admit. As it is made of actors who vote on the performances of their peers, surely people of shared experience will vote based on an overall story of a peer rather than the ultimate transience of a singular performance, if the performance is noteworthy enough to attract such attention – which usually, it is. Complaints have been lodged this awards season in particular over a striking lack of racial diversity in Academy Award nominees. These complaints are not inappropriately made.
Digressing from this however, one so-called “Oscar snub” is particularly shocking. Claimed by leading film critic Richard Roeper to be “one of the finest actors of her generation”, perhaps it is this comment that makes Jessica Chastain’s lack of an Academy Award (and, in the case of 2015, an Academy Award nomination) most striking. Obviously, this seeming injustice could have nothing to do with politics, gender, or race. It could just as easily be the sheer factor of Jessica Chastain’s hair. It’s a known fact that fewer “gingers” (if that is
Julianne Moore, thought to be this year’s top contender for the Best Actress award for her role as a Parkinson’s patient in Still Alice, is nearly fifteen years Chastain’s senior, and despite having received five Academy Award nominations over the range of her career, has never won. Surely this is an act of ginger racism, though perhaps gingers themselves are not as commonplace and therefore relatable to the Academy. Seems like a load of juvenile hogwash, but either way, it is a complete insult to both actresses, and thus, the Academy that neither Moore nor Chastain have yet won an Academy Award. This year’s award season takes that injustice a step further.
Though Still Alice is certainly not Julianne Moore’s best film (perhaps Boogie Nights or The Hours might be two of her best performances), and perhaps too cliché to be the best film of the year, it seemed inevitable that she would almost certainly be nominated for, if not win, the Academy Award.
That certainty was clinched instead in the idea of Julianne Moore rather than this specific performance, and it is in those prospective “sympathy votes” that actors and actresses whose earlier, often better performances have been passed over by the Academy for veterans or socially ground-breaking newcomers, are finally allowed to win more for their body of work when the Academy finally comes to the realization that a far superior actor’s lack of an award is more noticeable than the otherwise front-runner of the year. Call it the “Colin Firth situation”.
It seems more reasonable, therefore, that Jessica Chastain – who depicted a nuanced and subtle portrait of human grief in the misused The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the personification of motherhood and grace in the ethereal Malick piece The Tree of Life, and a steely, dedicated CIA officer in Katherine Bigelow’s unrelenting drama Zero Dark Thirty – has yet to win her Academy Award. Viewers and connoisseurs of film can be assured that it will come. It would be unwise to watch this year’s award season with too analytical of an eye.