Hollywood’s Big Night Out

Hollywood's Big Night Out

On the 24th of February, Hollywood will indulge in its annual awards gala, the Oscars, for the 85th time.
This year’s host is Seth McFarlane, the controversial mind behind TV’s ‘Family Guy’ and last year’s comedy hit ‘Ted’.

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929, though the winners had been announced a full three months before they received their statuettes. As the public grew more interested in the Awards, the ceremony became more of an event. In 1941 the sealed envelopes we’re familiar with now were first introduced. The Awards were first televised in 1953 and have drawn huge viewing numbers ever since with ‘Oscar Parties’ becoming common, even on this side of the Atlantic where the ceremony doesn’t conclude until close to dawn.

In recent years, Hollywood has seized on the marketing opportunities provided by an Oscar win. With the voting taking place in January, films released at the end of the year have a greater chance of receiving a nomination. Many producers will hold back, or rush forward, the release of a film to take advantage of this bias. The European releases are often held back until after the nominations are announced, thus creating more interest in film-goers.

It’s very easy to argue that the Oscars is nothing more than a marketing scam, focusing on big budget releases at the expense of smaller films. Over the last decade this has changed somewhat with the Academy including independent American as well as European releases in the nominations. In the last four years, two of the Best Picture winners have been British productions (‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The King’s Speech’), one French (‘The Artist’) and one an independently released American film which bombed at the box office (‘The Hurt Locker’).

It’s for this reason I’m predicting the Best Picture gong will go to an American production this year. The three front-runners are ‘Lincoln’, ‘Argo’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, all of which share an element of patriotism. Of the three, I’m tipping ‘Argo’ as the directors of the other two are already in possession of Oscar statuettes. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ director Kathryn Bigelow made history in 2010 as the first female film-maker to win Best Picture and Best Director for ‘The Hurt Locker’. Steven Spielberg, director of ‘Lincoln’, has two Best Director Oscars thanks to ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’. ‘Argo’ is directed by Ben Affleck and actors turned directors have tended to fare well at the ceremony; Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson three prominent examples. Hollywood likes to pat itself on the back and ‘Argo’ deals with the rescue of American diplomats from revolutionary Iran thanks to the behind the scenes work of a Hollywood producer. It’s an American success story, a celebration of Hollywood and it’s directed by an actor. For these three reasons I can’t see past ‘Argo’ for both Best Picture and Best Director.

On the acting front, it’s also difficult to see past Daniel Day Lewis and Jessica Chastain for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively. Day Lewis has received overwhelming praise for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. If successful, this will be his third win, following ‘My Left Foot’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’.

Chastain is a relative newcomer, having made her big screen debut as recently as 2008. Over the past few years though she’s put in a series of outstanding performances and many critics have likened her to a young Meryl Streep. Her portrayal of the woman whose determination helped locate Osama Bin Laden in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is said to be the highlight of her short but impressive career.

In past years, the Oscars have often tended to adopt a theme. I expect the theme this year to be very much a self congratulatory celebration of American heroes, past and present.

By: Eric Hillis