When The King's Speech won Best Picture at the Oscars last February, and ever since then, the academy hs been criticized for being too traditional and "safe" in their choice. The other nine contenders included more modern fare such as David Fincher's The Social Network, which chronicled the creation of Facebook, the website that has shaped a generation, and Christopher Nolan's Inception, which played with narrative structure and created a unique take on the heist film. The Kids Are All Right told the story of a lesbian couple and 127 Hours took a risk by telling the true story of a man who was trapped in a canyon.
I think there was a nostalgic, "they don't make them like this anymore"factor to The King's Speech's victory. Interestingly enough, this year's Oscar race is very much based on nostalgia. I wouldn't call every film nominated for Best Picture this year "traditional" but several of these films, including the winner, appeal to the academy's sense of nostalgia for films and filmmakers of old. This year's winner The Artist, while unique for a film in 2011 because it was silent and in black and white, still appeals the nostalgia for the silent film era and stars of that era. What makes Jean Dujardin's Oscar winning performance so moving is how he reminds us of movie stars from the silent era. The film also has an uplifting ending which tells us that despite "talkies" taking the place of silent films, the artists who made those films have the ability to cross over to "talkies" and create art.
Martin Scorsese's Hugo, while using the very modern technique of 3-D, like The Artist, appeals to nostalgia for the silent film era and more importantly for the pioneers of film including George Melies, played in the film by Ben Kingsley. Christy Lemire and Ignaty Vishnevetsky, co-hosts of Ebert Presents At The Movies, have also said they feel Scorsese's film captures the style of silent films better than The Artist.
Other nominees also have a nostalgic/traditional quality to them. The Help is reminiescent of an old fashioned social issue film. Steven Spielberg's War Horse has been compared to the work of John Ford. Vishnevetsky also said there is nothing in the film which wouldn't have gotten past the Hays Code from the old studio film. Woody Allen's Midnght in Paris, while critical about nostalgia, still creates nostalgia for a bygone era; and as critic AO Scott points out in his review of the film, audiences also have a particular kind of nostalgia for Woody Allen..
Even Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, the most modern and daring film of the nominees, is essentially about a man looking back at his childhood in the 1950s. The film, in part, is a tribute to growing up in that era. Moneyball, The Descendants, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are actually the only three Best Picture nominees to take place completely in the present, though even Moneyball and ELIC both take place about 10 years ago.
I found this year's Best Picture line-up, with a strong focus on the past, in opposition to last year's more modern day line-up. The King's Speech stood out a little bit last year; this year it would have fit right in. I feel The Artist is consciously going for a traditional style whereas The King's Speech just falls in to that style but I think The King's Speech did foreshadow The Artist's victory. I'll be interested to see if the academy goes back to honouring edgier fare as they were doing with films like No Country For Old Men or The Hurt Locker. Can Christopher Nolan's final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises be the first superhero film to win Best Picture. I think that's a little bit too much to hope for, particularly this far out; but if any of the academy members are feeling nostalgic for Batman...