Awards Season Backlash—Already!

Features
by Leonard Maltin
December 5, 2011 2:25 PM
13 Comments
  • |

Indiewire's Prediction for Best Picture: "The Artist"
Every year, it seems, some good movies suffer from what I call Awards Season Backlash. Because the season started earlier than usual this year—and intensified when the New York Film Critics decided to vote right after Thanksgiving—the bounce-back has already begun, I’m sorry to say.

For instance, I’m very fond of The Artist, but I saw it several months ago, having heard just a little about it from friends who attended the Cannes Film Festival. I avoided reading reviews or learning too much about the picture, so I was able to form my own opinion of it…and I enjoyed it very much. (Watching it for a second time a few weeks ago, with my class at USC, I focused less on the story than on the craftsmanship of the piece: the production design, location work, camera placement and editing are simply flawless. They provide the perfect showcase for Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo’s winning performances.)

Since then, I’ve spoken to several film-buff friends who came away from the film feeling disappointed. I can understand why: at this point it’s been praised to the skies, and people—especially old-movie aficionados—are going to see it with outsized expectations. The Artist isn’t the Second Coming, or a reinvention of silent-film techniques: it’s a charming story that successfully emulates the look and feel of the late 1920s. I don’t think filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has any pretensions about his work: he just wanted to make an entertaining movie that paid homage to the silent era.

In the same vein, I’ve talked to other savvy moviegoers who haven’t been won over by Hugo and The Descendants. They’re perfectly entitled to their opinions, but I fear they have gone to see these films all too aware of the awards and lavish praise they’ve received.

I’m told that Harvey Weinstein, who acquired The Artist this spring, understands that this French import works best if an audience feels as if they’ve “discovered” it. That’s a smart evaluation of the film’s appeal, but it’s also tough to maintain, especially during awards season.

Even I have fallen victim to this disease. I missed Steve McQueen’s Shame at the Telluride Film Festival, and because of juggling deadlines I wasn’t able to see it in time to write a review for its opening day. I almost never watch trailers and try not to read reviews before I see a film, but I couldn’t avoid the advertising that repeatedly hailed it as “brilliant.” I’m afraid I may have adopted a show-me attitude toward the film when I finally got to see it this weekend. I do admire Michael Fassbender’s extraordinary performance, and McQueen’s bold approach to the challenging subject of a man undone by his addiction to sex. But I feel the film’s deliberate absence of backstory or context presents its story in a vacuum. Not only does it give us no understanding of its central character (or his equally troubled sister, well played by Carey Mulligan) but it offers us nothing to take away when the emotionally draining drama is over. What have we learned? What insights can we bring to our judgment of people who suffer from obsessive behavior?

Perhaps, if I’d seen Shame when it was unveiled at Cannes or Telluride, I would have been so overtaken by the shock value of its subject matter, and McQueen’s unblinking treatment of it—or knocked out by the virtuosity of Fassbender’s fearless performance—to overlook those shortcomings. But this weekend, fully expecting to see a masterpiece, I was—yes—slightly disappointed. This can happen any time of year, but the problem becomes acute, if not rampant, during year-end awards season, and that’s a shame.

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

13 Comments

  • Chris | February 6, 2012 9:36 AMReply

    As somebody who rarely has a chance to see a movie until it's on DVD, this is something I'm always afraid of. It's almost impossible to avoid all of the buzz once a movie has been nominated for awards and won them, especially since I usually rely on reviews to let me know what movies are worth my time and which ones aren't. I felt underwhelmed by The Hurt Locker once I finally saw it, and I only hope a second viewing will be more enjoyable.

  • Patrick M. Gouin | January 4, 2012 11:53 AMReply

    I went expecting an elegant film and that’s exactly what I saw. Visually the film is impeccable. A silent black and white film on Hollywood of the 20’s and 30’s was a gutsy move in 2011, but it pays off quite nicely. The storyline is quite simple and not too original, but well played throughout. This film could be sum up as: The triumph of the smile. A beautiful feel good movie!

  • willie | December 21, 2011 5:38 PMReply

    I only read the reviews after I see the movie.

  • meme | December 9, 2011 7:54 PMReply

    Shame didn't premiere at Cannes, it had it's premiere in Venice.

    As for watching movies after reading brilliant reviews and then being disappointed, it happens to me all the time. That's why I avoid reading reviews. I remember when I first saw Pulp Fiction I was utterly disappointed. I didn't understand what the whole hype was about. It took me some time to get over initial disappoinment and start appreciating the movie. Maybe if you see Shame again after some time, you will also change your opinion about it.

  • Sketchbook | December 8, 2011 7:39 AMReply

    When I want to see a silent film, I turn to Chaplin or Keaton.
    Why do I want to see a let's pretend silent film, eh???

  • acrosstheocean | December 9, 2011 3:17 PM

    That's nonsense. Shooting a silent movie today has its own meaning, it's an artistic choice, and a silent movie shot in 2011 can't be compared to Chaplin, Keaton, Griffith or others giants of the silent era. With The Artist, it's an openly nostalgic operation, celebrating the days of silent movies in a silent movie way... But Mel Brooks did shoot his own "Silent Movie" in 1976, a farce; and revered european author Aki Kaurismäki shot "Juha" in 1999, silent and in black & white.
    And let's not forget that Chaplin shot City Lights in 1931, when talkies already ruled Hollywood.

  • A.H. | December 7, 2011 4:29 PMReply

    Nothing is ever as good as the hype, especially when they try to shove these films down your throat.

  • Jeffrey | December 6, 2011 2:53 PMReply

    I'm in show-me mode on "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". That film could be brilliant or a complete misfire.

  • Daveylo | December 5, 2011 6:57 PMReply

    I saw a lot of the films being released now at the Toronto Film Festival, including Shame, The Artist, The Descendants, The Skin I Live In, Le Havre, Like Crazy, Take Sheleter, Martha MM, and a lot more. I watched these as a true movie buff and didn't have any expectations except I did hope to walk out love them.

    I think it's best to just enjoy or not enjoy the films without caring if they are going to win awards or not.

    Personally I loved Hugo and when I saw it, I said to myself: I've read some mixed things already about this film and it's probably not Oscar bait anyway. And then I was completely enraptured for more than two hours. It does deserve to win awards but if it doesn't, no one is going to convince me it's bad.

    As for The Artist, I think it will suffer if it wins too many big awards. It's totally delightful and well-made and will continue to be so for years to come. So maybe it's better if it's not annointed "Best Picture" so audience can just fall in love with it for what it is.

  • Jason | December 5, 2011 6:29 PMReply

    I was afraid of that. I thought 'Hunger' was excellent and will probably watch 'Shame' for no other reason than to see Michael Fassbender's performance but unlike the previous hard-hitting drama it sounds like 'Shame' doesn't have it's relevance. I'll judge for myself but I appreciate the heads-up.

  • tiana alexandra-silliphant | December 5, 2011 5:58 PMReply

    I am completely with you, Leonard! Films (& life) can be more magical if we don't expect too much. I saw SHAME at NY Festival and was so wowed by the amazingly talented Michael Fassbender's sexsicko, but film script was far from BRILLIANT. Michael is hailed by TIME mag. He is fantastic in a same year as the repressed Dr Jung in "A Dangerous Method". For those of you who want to know the genesis of our film about Doctors Freud, Sabina, & Jung, youtube A Dangerous Method The Untold Story!

  • ZiggyMonroe | December 5, 2011 5:36 PMReply

    My annoyance comes well into awards season when one film becomes the front runner then people get tired of hearing that it's a done deal and the next best film becomes the front runner. That happed last year between Social Network and King's Speech. As if the Oscars are supposed to be a suspense show with a surprise ending and not an industry award for the best work.

  • Norm | December 5, 2011 4:42 PMReply

    Quite a dilemma, oh what to do, what to do..Since Awards are based on Opinions and Emotions ,like most polling questions, the facts are of little consequence, and my god, why should we let what really matters get in the way. Todays Awards are designed to reward the Awarder,er, does that make sense...? Sad, but true..The Award Shows are for themselves, to Showcase the Hubris and Egos of the Presenters..wow, isn't life grand...You have to wonder how one doesn't get jaded by ALL of the Promotions and Advertising ... The only real solution ,watch what I say...oopps. Hhmmm, better try that one again...

Email Updates

Latest Tweets

Follow us

Most "Liked"

  • Movie Heaven, Courtesy Of TCM
  • From the Beginning - An Orphan Black ...
  • Fading Gigolo
  • Transcendence


leonardmaltin