Friday, February 14, 2014

Forgotten Oscar Winners, 1980 - The Present

One of my favorite feminist films of all time, Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, received a nomination for Best Costume Design in 1980, losing to Roman Polanski's Tess. This turn-of-the-century period piece stars Judy Davis as a woman with ambitious dreams of a career, despite the narrow possibilities available to women of the time. Another great period piece, The French Lieutenant's Woman, received five nominations in 1981, for Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. This adaptation of the John Fowles novel explores sexuality, obsession, post-modern ideas of the self, destiny, and feminism, all while serving up a first-class period melodrama.

In 1984, another feminist drama, Merchant and Ivory's The Bostonians, was nominated for Best Actress, for Vanessa Redgrave's challenging performance as Olive Chancellor, and Best Costume Design. Though she was not nominated, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala deserved the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her adaptation of Henry James's powerfully misogynistic novel about Bostonian feminists manages to be both faithful to the source material and powerfully feminist. Few writers could manage that. She did win the award however in 1986 for A Room with a View.

As we get closer to the present, there are fewer and fewer forgotten gems among Oscar winners and nominees. It's likely that the smaller films, the intimate dramas and understated comedies, will be forgotten, while the blockbusters, epics, military dramas, and provocative (read: sexually explicit) films remain in the public consciousness. That's not necessarily a bad thing - those great films that are forgotten can then be rediscovered again and again.

 In fact, of recent years, it seems that nearly every Oscar nominee that I've really loved seems destined to fall from pop culture reference, where it will have to be rediscovered down the line: Howards End from 1992, The Remains of the Day and The Piano from 1993, Sense and Sensibility and Il Postino from 1995, Kolya from 1996, The Wings of the Dove from 1997, Far from Heaven from 2002, A Very Long Engagement from 2004, The Lives of Others and Jesus Camp from 2006, The Reader from 2008, A Single Man and Bright Star from 2009, Jane Eyre from 2011 (easily lost among the many Jane Eyre adaptations), A Royal Affair from 2012. There are exceptions of course; I don't think The Silence of the Lambs, Contact, Amelie or Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World are likely to be forgotten.

There is one final argument to be made: if great films are not to be forgotten, then they must be available to everybody. While internet streaming services are great, they also limit what we can watch. Licensing agreements greatly complicate the availability of streaming services and everyone who subscribes to Netflix knows a thing or two about limited, uninteresting selections with an emphasis on new releases and low-budget horror. DVDs can be rented without licensing agreements, but streaming films requires a contractual agreement. Without physical media, many, many films will simply be impossible to find. A fairly large number of the films that I've recommended in these posts, including It Started in Naples, Sleuth, and The Little Foxes, are out of print. Some are only available in DVD-R format, like The Merry Widow, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and Lili, which means that they will not be added to DVD rental services. Physical media also offer another key element for film fans: special features like commentary tracks, documentaries, and interviews. For newer films, much of that material will be available online, but for older films, or for films for which you need subtitles, you're often out of luck. Without physical media, all these great forgotten films will be increasingly inaccessible and that will be a loss for everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment