Oscars Death Race Explosion

Well, here we are. Awards season is almost over and the Oscars await us on Sunday night. What’s left to say? After months of campaigning, precursor awards and general flustering, what have we learned?

The focus now is on the last unknowns of the race heading into the big night. Some of the winners are already obvious, while others remain subjects of much debate and anxiety among Oscar prognosticators. Daniel Day-Lewis is a shoo-in for Best Actor, but what about Best Cinematography? The suspense is killing all of us.

However, I won’t go into that here. The Film School Rejects team has spent the last week running through the categories in great detail, and there’s really nothing I can add. Check out the tip-top analysis here. What I can address is the overall character of the awards season. I can do this because as of late Wednesday night, I have completed what is known as the “Oscars Death Race.”

The term is from Sarah Bunting, a writer who two years ago made it her “mission” to see all 56 nominated films. That includes all of the shorts, all of the documentaries, and all of the nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Norbit, for example, would count. This year the total number is 53.

Having watched every single one of these films, theoretically I should have something to show for it. Perhaps these 53 films are a glimpse at the best in cinema, a roster of the crowning achievements of 2012. Yet that’s certainly not true, at least not from an international perspective. We all know this, of course. The Oscars are really only capable of recognizing the best work in American cinema and occasionally British cinema. The Foreign Language Film category is a mess, and this year’s love for Amour might be a hopeful sign of things to come, but we’re not there yet.

Given that, I should be able at least to speak to the mood of top-tier American cinema. Are we suddenly very serious as a nation, looking to films like Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln to help define who we are? Does the discourse around mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook or poverty and government assistance in Beasts of the Southern Wild edify or cheapen our own perception of these issues?

Frankly, I’m not sure. Awarding these films seems to me the least productive way to address the issues they raise. An Oscar is a grand but simplistic endorsement. The controversy over Zero Dark Thirty, despite how infuriating it might be, has led to a thriving discussion of torture and its representation. Lincoln’s comparatively smoother awards run has opened very little dialog around slavery and emancipation, perhaps a disservice to its own efforts therein.

So if I can’t define America after having seen all of these movies, what was the point? Discovery. True, there are some duds I might not have seen if they hadn’t gotten Oscar nominations (Snow White and the Huntsman is one of the more unpleasant). Yet there are also great films I might not have noticed otherwise, like Foreign Film nominee War Witch or any of the excellent Best Documentary Short nominees.

Now, this is my last column before the Academy Awards. There’s not much space or time left to talk up the best discoveries of my 53-film march into the Oscar sunset. I could write a top five list, or I could review just one or two of them. Yet that won’t quite capture the absurdity of the initial project.

Instead, I’m going to rank all of them.

After all, what is awards season if not an endless series of lists? Here’s one more, perhaps our last.

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Amour
  3. Anna Karenina
  4. The Master
  5. How to Survive a Plague
  6. Life of Pi
  7. War Witch
  8. Moonrise Kingdom
  9. No
  10. Fresh Guacamole
  11. Django Unchained
  12. The Invisible War
  13. Lincoln
  14. ParaNorman
  15. 5 Broken Cameras
  16. Curfew
  17. The Sessions
  18. Redemption
  19. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  20. Mirror Mirror
  21. Argo
  22. The Avengers
  23. Open Heart
  24. Wreck-It Ralph
  25. Skyfall
  26. The Gatekeepers
  27. Inocente
  28. A Royal Affair
  29. Kings Point
  30. Brave
  31. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  32. Paperman
  33. Kon-Tiki
  34. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  35. Death of a Shadow
  36. Silver Linings Playbook
  37. Frankenweenie
  38. Chasing Ice
  39. Asad
  40. Mondays at Racine
  41. Prometheus
  42. Head Over Heels
  43. Searching for Sugar Man
  44. Buzkashi Boys
  45. Adam and Dog
  46. The Impossible
  47. Flight
  48. Ted
  49. The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare
  50. Les Misérables
  51. Snow White and the Huntsman
  52. Hitchcock
  53. Henry

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