CODA and the Relevancy of Oscars

Let’s start with CODA.

CODA is a movie about a family of deaf people, who also have a daughter, who is not deaf, thus the title: CODA or child of deaf adults. This CODA, named Ruby, is our main character. The movie is about her being on the cusp of having to leave her family to find her place in the world.

It’s a fine movie, maybe even a great one. I don’t think we’ll be talking about this for decades to come, but I did enjoy the experience. In many ways it is very much Oscar-bait or at least feels Oscar-baity, because I’m not sure anyone in the cast or crew had the power to actively try to make an awards contender.

Was it the best movie? No. Among the ten Best Movie nominees, its pretty much in the middle (although I haven’t seen two of them). The adapted screenplay is almost like “connect the dots” with the movie hitting all the beats you feel such a movie needs to hit. There isn’t many risks there, except maybe a little with the guy she meets. What carries the movie is the family, who are very charming. The father is very fun, all the conflicts don’t feel too Hollywood (somewhat, but not too much) and while the story is formulaic, its not a bad formula.

So, should CODA have won Best Film? I would say yes and here’s my thinking.

The other nine nominees were: Belfast, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car (this fell nicely into place in the alphabetical order despite the list I was looking at using the original name Doraibu mai kâ), Dune: Part One, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. Of these, I haven’t seen two (Belfast and King Richard) and two were pretty bad (Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up), so I’ll discount those immediately, but what about the others?

Drive My Car is my favorite of these and I don’t think there is any doubt in me about this, but its also a movie for a very specific kind of audience, namely jerk-offs like myself, who think about movies (and art in general) way too much. Okay, I don’t think that you can think about movies too much, but Oscars are in a weird place, where they want to celebrate movies as an art form, but because of their membership and audience, they really can’t go all the way with that. This is more of a movie for Venice or Toronto, film festivals, which have a brand these kinds of movies can more easily fall into (and it actually won several awards in Toronto).

Dune looks very impressive, but as a the first part, it doesn’t really feel like a complete movie. It just stops without a good conclusion, so that works againsst it. It does include interesting messaging on politics and environmentalism, though. If this was this years attempt at finding an audience favorite to nominate, it feels like a pretty weird choice for that, especially as they moved certain technical categories away from the primary broadcast.

Licorice Pizza is a good movie, but the age discrepancy between the two main characters did bother me and that took me somewhat out of the movie. However, the primary reason this should remain in the “honored just to be nominated” category is that the story is about two white kids. We have seen enough of those. I’ll get back to this. Or put a pin on it, which seems to be the phrase in a lot of content I watch.

The Power of the Dog would actually fit what I want from a winner, but compared to CODA its so much more heavier film in a way that’s not audience friendly. I’m not saying a heavy film couldn’t or shouldn’t win. Moonlight is a great movie and definitely a worthy winner, but in order to stay at the level of relevancy Oscars want, the winner must be more approachable than this movie.

And finally, West Side Story. In my mind, if CODA didn’t get nominated, this is the movie that would have won and I also think that in that case this should have won. Sixty years ago the first version of this did win ten of those little statuettes. Its a love story, but in this case the background of racism and problems immigrants face are what elevates that story. And this is why this would have been a pretty good Best Film winner. On the other hand, Spielberg has 11 of these nominations, so maybe give a little room for some other filmmakers? He doesn’t really need it anyhow.

That’s where the Oscars can shine. They can bring to light various topics we otherwise might not learn about. Would I have seen CODA if it didn’t win the Best Film? I wanted to see it, but probably wouldn’t have, because there weren’t many screenings in my home town (and the ones that we did have were all at awkward times from my perspective) and it has apparently fallen into the hands of some streaming service, which isn’t letting it be released on DVD. But when it won, there were additional screenings, so I was able to see it and I was able to learn about the problems deaf people face that I might not have otherwise learned about in an enjoyable way.

So, this is what I do like about the Oscars, but on the other hand, their history hasn’t been that good. For every Moonlight, Parasite or Schindler’s List, there seems to be a Crash, Green Book or Driving Miss Daisy. Their history with these movies about racism is especially poor. I would say that they are better at this than they used to be. Despite Green Book winning in 2018, I would say they are learning to use platform for good. I don’t think they are learning this actively, its just that the individuals have changed.

Sure, the median age is still probably extremely high among the Academy members, but even older folk can change their attitudes, and sure they still make mistakes, but at least it feels like they are trying to be better about it. However, the problem is that this might be too late. They might already have fallen into complete irrelevancy.

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