Recently we watched Tár with Cate Blanchett and were once again baffled how Michelle Yeoh won the best actress Oscar for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Having seen both films, there is no comparison. One is a powerhouse of a performance, the other is a decent piece of work in a film that, for some bizarre reason, was elevated so that it was competing in an arena with heavyweights way outside its league.
Neither is there a comparison between All Quiet on the Western Front and EEAAO, Barry Keoghan and Ke Huy Quan, or Kerry Condon and Jamie Lee Curtis.
It’s good, a move forward, when escapist movies are recognised when it comes to prestigious awards, but only if they’re deserving. And I didn’t think EEAAO was. Avatar should never have been up for an award either. Although EEAAO’s popularity doesn’t surprise me, its critical reception and success at the Oscars does. That is what I couldn’t get my head around.
And as for attempts to intellectualise EEAAO and claims it might be too complicated for those who don’t like it, come on, pull the other one. Have these people seen other award nominees (Oscars & BAFTAs) like Tár, All Quiet on the Western Front, Aftersun, The Whale, Women Talking? If so, and they still stick by those assertations, then I’m definitely living in an alternate metaverse.
From the dark recesses of my memory, the answer to this ‘emperor’s new clothes’ conundrum popped into my head – the source of an ongoing trend of cultural dumbing down that has gained momentum over the last couple of decades.
Spot the Dog is to blame.
‘But that’s rubbish,’ was my reaction when I thumbed through the book about a puppy with not much of a personality, thirty something years ago. ‘Nothing happens, it’s boring.’
Was this really the most stimulating reading material available for my nephews and nieces?
Now, when I think about it, I can see the writing was on the wall in big, easy-to-read letters. Think I’m being harsh? Here’s proof in a description of Spot the Dog taken from a bookstore website.
“Children will love hunting for Spot using the lift-the-flap format, even when they know exactly where he is!”
‘Even when they know exactly where he is!’
It’s subliminal conditioning. From an early age, readers of Spot the Dog were trained not to expect challenging text/imagery. Keep it safe, keep it familiar, keep it easy to digest.
Subsequently, Spot’s influence in creating an appetite for superficiality crept beyond the under 5-year-olds, gradually seeping into the film world as well as literature.
I bought the very first issue of Empire because it was a serious film magazine. That was in 1989. Out of the initial twenty issues, films about superheroes, fantasy worlds, or galaxies far, far away only managed to make just one cover. By 2015/16 that figure had climbed to seventeen out of twenty.
I enjoy the likes of Batman (the Christopher Nolan version), Lord of the Rings, Star Trek etc. But I don’t want to gorge on escapism all the time. I want a balanced diet. I want food for thought. I want dark chocolate … I want adult sustenance.
Out of the last twenty Empires, thirteen covers feature movies with a superhero, fantasy, or sci-fi theme. It’s an improvement, possibly thanks to the influence of the streaming giants who are commissioning far more interesting projects than just Marvel, DC, and reboots of mediocre TV series, even if Amazon was responsible for EEAAO. There were hopeful signs of a cultural renaissance … until the Oscars.
That’s what you get when you take your eye off the ball. Tales of a puppy doing banal things eventually leads to an actress with hot dog fingers winning an Oscar.
A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and all that…
At least the BAFTAs got it right.