Thursday, January 26, 2012

#LOTRinaday Recap // The Oscar Nominations // Considering A Universal Book Award

It was quite a day yesterday. It took almost exactly 12 hours to get through the LOTR movies consecutively with only a few short breaks. (The disc changes were actually great for going to the bathroom or grabbing a quick snack, as long as I was up.) I had seen all three movies when they came out in the theater and a few times each on DVD but had never watched the extended cuts until yesterday. I enjoyed the extra scenes immensely and thought they nicely filled in the story. It’s weird to say that the whole thing didn’t seem too long, but it really wasn’t—the story progressed naturally and no scene dragged or seemed superfluous or was boring (well, except for when the Ents are deciding whether or not to join the war, but I think that was the point).
It was really great to see the whole story all at once. You really get to see all the relationships and political machinations unfold in a comprehensible way. When there were long gaps between the movies, it was always a struggle to keep track of who and where everyone was.
It was such a good experience, I started thinking that it’d be nice to tackle another movie trilogy back-to-back-to-back. But now I’m thinking that doing so would be such a letdown. Yesterday’s viewing experience cemented it for me: Lord of the Rings is hands down the best movie trilogy of all time. A big reason for this is the way they made it—they filmed it all at once, with the same actors and same creative team. So it doesn’t have the variations in tone, cast, or quality that other trilogies or franchises suffer from. Examples: Harry Potter’s first two movies are completely different from the rest (plus there’s a different Dumbledore). The Mission Impossibles don’t tell one story. The Matrix wasn’t meant to be a trilogy so the storytelling isn’t the best. The third Godfather sucked. Empire Strikes Back was so much better than the other two movies, and the prequels just messed things up. It goes on and on. There’s always something you have to overlook to enjoy a 3+ part movie.
But not with Lord of the Rings.
Everything in those movies is pretty much flawless. I can’t imagine anyone ever again filming three movies on that scale all at once. And if you don’t do it all at once, you risk those annoying inconsistences I was mentioning. So it’s a trilogy that will probably never be rivaled. The only two possible contenders I can think of are the current Batman movies (we’ll see if the third one this summer can wrap things up satisfactorily) and the Toy Story trilogy, which was pretty good. But as live-action movie trilogies go, nothing has ever matched the artistic accomplishment of Rings, and nothing probably ever will. It’s no wonder the series garnered 30 Oscar nominations and won 17, including 11 (out of 11 noms) for The Return of the King.
Speaking of the Oscars, the nominees were announced on Tuesday. If you were paying attention to all the hype there were very few surprises. It looks like it’ll come down to The Artist and Hugo for best picture. War Horse won’t win because Spielberg got snubbed for directing, a minor shock. I was also mildly surprised that Moneyball snagged some major nominations: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor. Brad Pitt and Clooney are going to have so much fun on Oscar night, what with their movies being nominated all over the place. Clooney will most likely win, even.
I was very pleased to see that The Tree of Life got nominated in the major categories (Picture, Director, Cinematography). It was by far the most amazing movie I saw last year, the most beautiful and thought-provoking and emotional. I was also happy that Rooney Mara got nominated. She’s kickass in Dragon Tattoo. Let’s see, what else…oh yes, Gary Oldman got nominated FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. That’s kind of shocking.
Looking over the list, I was struck by the variety of movies that are up for awards. Movies as diverse as a black-and-white silent movie and a 3D kid’s movie were nominated…and they’re in the same category.
It reminded me of the Grammys. This year, Rihanna is up against Adele and Foo Fighters for Album of the Year, The Band Perry will battle Nicki Minaj for Best New Artist, and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” and Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” will vie for Song of the Year. Some of these guys couldn’t be more different from each other. It made me realize what a unifying force these award shows are for their respective mediums. Sure, there are some really esoteric things that get ignored—a non-narrative, Brackhage-type of experimental film will never be nominated for an Oscar, and the Grammys don’t pay attention to anyone writing Classical music these days. But for the most part there seems to be something for everyone, which is why millions of people watch these award shows.
But it got me thinking: What about books? Why isn’t there a book award that has as much diversity (and clout) as the Oscars and Grammys? There are all these niche awards for books—the Newberry, the National Book Award, the Nebula—but there isn’t one award that recognizes general excellence, regardless of type. It’s almost as if nobody thinks there is a cross-pollination of readers of different genres, that a person who reads horror novels cannot possibly read historical fiction, etc.
Most readers I know read pretty promiscuously, and what they read during the course of a year has as much diversity as the music on their iPod. Having a prestigious book award that reflects a normal reader’s multifarious interests would not only foster impassioned discussion, it would also be a celebration of the entire medium, uniting everyone who considers books to be culturally important while at the same time obviating the pointless arguments over whether Chick Lit is “better” than Literary Fiction. It’s such a false division…good is good, regardless of genre. (It’d be like people voting for Moneyball because all they like are sports movies. Ridiculous.)
Imagine if an award like this was around in 2007. Call it the Boty, and pretend it’s big enough to attract all the authors to the award show. The nominees could’ve been: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling; Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult; Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson; Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson; and I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert.
That. Would. Have. Been. AWESOME.

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