THE ALSO RANS, ALSO GOOD
Mar 07 2014
Along with the winners, this year’s Academy Awards threw up some interesting losers as well
Without going into the relative merits of the films that won the most coveted awards in different categories at the 86th Academy Awards earlier this week, what is interesting to note are the films that lost out.
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska that was nominated in six categories including best film — and received none — traces the story of an aging, alcoholic father who makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a dubious million-dollar lottery. The melancholic road-movie stood a slim chance against flamboyant fare like American Hustle or The Wolf of the Wall Street or 12 Years a Slave that went on to win the best picture award, quite deservedly.
But this, of course, does not take away from the film in any way. It had already won the hearts of millions across the world with its human drama and evocative black and white photography that beautifully captured the vast landscapes and the episodic journey, and fetched its lead actor Bruce Dern the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
In the best foreign film category, the Danish entry, The Hunt, by Thomas Vinterberg lost out to The Great Beauty by the noted Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. But The Hunt had already made its presence felt strongly in international film festivals in the past two years with its story of a middle-aged kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child and the mass hysteria it provokes amongst the denizens of a small Danish town.
The film explores the deep rooted prejudices of a small town community that breed on patriarchal values and the violent turn it takes, triggered by the confused testimony of a six-year-old girl who happens to be the daughter of the best friend of the accused. It probes the dubious ways an innocent young mind can be interpreted and manipulated to suit the darkest and the most vicious instincts of the collective human psyche.
Mads Mikkelsen delivers a stunning performance in the role of Lucas, a divorcé who lives all alone, trying to defend himself in the face of increasingly violent fury from his own people, and at the same time engaging with his teenaged son, who seems to the only person who believes in his father’s innocence.
Director Thomas Vinterberg, the originator of the Dogma 95 movement that sought to liberate filmmaking from its codified methodologies, in this film delivers within conventional parameters, weaving a classically structured narrative that grips the audience with its brisk pace and vivid characterisations.
Under the best documentary category, 20 Feet from Stardom directed by Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers edged out The Act of Killing, an Indonesian documentary that focuses on the systematic killings of more than one million communist suspects in Indonesia following a coup in 1965 where the military junta allowed gangsters a free hand in the killings.
The film’s protagonist —Anwar Congo — a feared gangster, now old, unrepentant and a celebrity, demonstrates some of the grisly killings in graphic detail: he had personally tortured and killed more than a thousand. His gangster-friends film him and themselves for a movie they are making on their gory days, where they recreate the horrors that they had unleashed. The documentary captures the process of their filmmaking and the seeds of doubts that begin to claw Anwar gradually, more than 40 years later.
The impunity of the remorseless gangsters and their social legitimacy —they have been in power since — and the terror that they still evoke, achieve surreal levels in this nightmarish documentation of one of the most chilling accounts of human history. References to complicity of the US and other western powers in the killings, and the influence of Hollywood films on the gangsters naturally made it unpalatable to a hallowed American institution like the Academy Awards.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based independent filmmaker, film instructor and writer)