We recently recorded our Top 10 of 2011 episode for the /Filmcast (you can read my top 10 here). As the episode wound down, I made some (admittedly) objectionable remarks about why I didn’t feel The Artist should deserve Best Picture this year. The Artist is a lovely, beautiful film that proves you don’t need sound effects or dialogue to make an effective film. But is it really the crowning achievement of cinema for the year 2011, as the potential Best Picture designation implies? (Incidentally, The Artist just this evening picked up the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture of the year).
After the episode, Matt Singer wrote me an e-mail in which he asked the following:
So [The Artist is] beautiful and moving by your admission, but Academy voters are only going to vote for it because it’s nostalgic and old fashioned? Dave your #1 movie of the year is WAR HORSE, one of the few recent movies as nostalgic and old-fashioned as THE ARTIST. What’s the difference?
I had a chance to attempt to answer Matt’s question in a lively AIM chat today. Here it is, slightly edited for length:
David Chen: so matt
David Chen: i’ve been thinking a lot about your e-mail
David Chen: it’s been vexing me
Matt Singer: which one
your e-mail about THE ARTIST
David Chen: and me giving the academy crap about it
David Chen: I mean
David Chen: I actually think I have a point
Matt Singer: Ah yes
Matt Singer: OK
David Chen: Namely that we’re just a few guys dicking around on a podcast
David Chen: and listing our faves of the year
David Chen: whereas the Academy should theoretically have higher aims in mind.
David Chen: IDEALLY.
Matt Singer: Here’s my point
Matt Singer: Each person voting on the Oscars
Matt Singer: Is doing exactly the same thing you’re doing
Matt Singer: Listing their favorite movies of the year.
Matt Singer: You are saying if you got an Academy ballot, you would vote completely differently than you did on /Film?
David Chen: I do get your point
David Chen: but don’t you think that, in theory, the Academy should be more than just a “I like this movie best” competition?
David Chen: that it should have higher ideals in mind?
David Chen: that it should be better than it is?
Matt Singer: And what should those ideals be?
Matt Singer: How do we determine what movie is the best?
Matt Singer: If not by picking the one that means the most to us personally?
David Chen: This goes to the difference between “Your favorite movies of 2011”
David Chen: and “The best movies of 2011”
David Chen: most people think that these should be distinct.
David Chen: but they can’t identify why.
David Chen: That question is what I was kind of getting at with my comments on THE ARTIST
Matt Singer: I think the difference between “favorite” and “best” is frankly bullshit
Matt Singer: No one has ever explained the difference to my satisfaction
David Chen: I’m probably pretty close to agreeing with you.
David Chen: That being siad, do you agree with me that People (capital P) feel that there is a difference?
Matt Singer: Some People do.
Matt Singer: But I think those People are wrong.
Matt Singer: I still don’t know how to find the objective best movie.
Matt Singer: I didn’t particularly like WAR HORSE.
Matt Singer: It made you cry like a baby.
Matt Singer: Hence it was your favorite movie of the year.
Matt Singer: Which is a perfectly valid reason to love it!
Matt Singer: I imagine a lot of people feel the same about THE ARTIST.
David Chen: I guess I see your point.
David Chen: I will try to clarify this on the next episode.
Matt Singer: If you had an Oscar ballot
Matt Singer: I would want you to do exactly the same as you did on your show.
David Chen: Should Best Picture really be “What People Liked Most This Year”?
David Chen: I think those are different in some way
Matt Singer: What bugs is when people vote on the Academy Awards based on feeling what they “should” vote for.
Matt Singer: If people pick THE ARTIST because they feel like they “should” — that’s ridiculous. If they vote for it because they genuinely were moved by it, then they should absolutely do it.
Matt Singer: If it’s not “What People Liked Most” then what is it?
Matt Singer: “What Moved the Medium Forward The Most?” That’s impossible to measure a month afterwards
Matt Singer: I’ve heard someone make this argument, but I don’t remember who:
Matt Singer: that basically the only way to do the academy awards “right” is to vote on them like 50 years later
Matt Singer: With the benefit of hindsight
Matt Singer: And that could be interesting, but that’s a totally different thing anyway.
David Chen: Maybe not even “What moved the medium forward the most”
David Chen: maybe “An exemplar of the potential of cinema today”
Matt Singer: And can you give me an example from 2011 that you believe merits that title?
David Chen: Hugo?
Matt Singer: HUGO, a movie that is barely about its own main character.
Matt Singer: HUGO a movie that is largely a compilation of quotes to other movies that were more influential and important
Matt Singer: HUGO a movie in which French people talk with British accents.
David Chen: lol
David Chen: ouch
Matt Singer: AND I SAY ALL THESE THINGS AS A FAN OF THE MOVIE.
Matt Singer: I LOVED HUGO.
Matt Singer: But as an exemplar of the potential of cinema? I dunno.
Matt Singer: I guess you could maybe argue that the Oscars should be about “timeliness,” like they should feel more contemporary or more relevant to contemporary issues than THE ARTIST does…
Matt Singer: But then you’re getting into the whole issue of what the point of film is, whether it’s there to entertain or to enlighten, and whether one is more important than the other.
Matt Singer: And it also suggests that there’s one thing that makes a movie important or contemporary.
Matt Singer: I think TAKE SHELTER’s mighty contemporary and relevant.
Matt Singer: Another person might think that’s bullshit — and maybe that could make an argument for THE ARTIST’s relevance
Matt Singer: And I think an argument like that could be made
Matt Singer: i.e. THE ARTIST is about sticking to your independent voice in an age when the mass media thinks you’re crazy
Matt Singer: Which brings us back to the inherent subjectivity of it all
Matt Singer: See this is why I shouldn’t be online, cause then I just wind up rambling to you for hours on end
Matt Singer: I think I officially rambled davechesky off IM
So is there a difference between “your favorite” and “the best?” Can there be an “objective” best, by any conceivable measure? Or is it always just going to be what Academy members happen to kind of be into that year?