Since the turn of this most recent century, Oscar has made some pretty middling choices for Best Picture. There have certainly been some bright spots like THE DEPARTED, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and of course THE HURT LOCKER, but for the most part the Academy has gone with films that were contented with just being good. After hitting a high point of quality with THE HURT LOCKER we had to suffer through some pretty milquetoast winners. THE KING'S SPEECH was sappy, THE ARTIST was goofy, and ARGO was close to being great but ultimately settled for being just good enough. I was very happy to see at least four great Best Picture nominees this year (12 YEARS A SLAVE, GRAVITY, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and HER), and would have been fine if any of these had won.
AMERICAN HUSTLE seemed like the obvious choice for the Academy since it fit perfectly with the last three winners. It was fun and showy, with just enough quality and depth to not be completely frivolous. However, it never attained nor even endeavored for greatness. It was exactly the type of film the Academy has been loving lately. However, maybe the younger crowd was getting sick of these pablum winners, and wanted a return to the meaty darkness of THE HURT LOCKER. Something that was cinematically gorgeous, but also had something to say. Whatever the reason, 12 YEARS A SLAVE benefited from voters wanting a true piece of art to win rather than just entertainment. Perhaps we had to put up with the three previous winners in order to push 12 YEARS A SLAVE across the finish line.
I fear we are going to see a return to the softer Academy like after THE HURT LOCKER, but for now I am just going to enjoy this moment when the artists in the Academy overcome the entertainers to pick a Best Picture winner we can be proud of. This does not happen often, so savor this victory.
"When it comes to the subject of torture, I trust a woman who was married to James Cameron for three years."
-- Amy Poehler in praise of Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow