A close friend of mine hosted an Oscar party this past weekend, and he loves the Academy Awards and film. There was of course themed food (French cheese for Midnight in Paris, hotdogs for Moneyball, stuffed mushrooms to help you understand The Tree of Life, etc.), party games complete with DVD prizes and a separate room for people who wanted to talk during the actual awards.
And when Meryl Streep won best actress for her work in the sub-par The Iron Lady over Viola Davis’ work in the critically acclaimed and box-office hit The Help, well, my friend didn’t take it well. Like in those videos people put up on YouTube of SEC football fans throwing fits when their teams loose.
And he wasn’t just upset for his ballot to have another wrong mark, which it didn’t have very many anyway.
See, when we have two irreconcilable ideas in our heads that clash, often it creates this dissonance in our minds. Many, like my friend, see the Academy Awards as this mostly pure recognition of excellence in film. They also saw The Help, saw how good it was and saw how deserved Davis’ performance was; they also saw all the accolades including her Screen Actors Guild award (which is one of those big indicators of what will happen at the Oscars). Then they saw Meryl Streep’s name called out for the best actress award. That presents two uncomfortable situations for a cinephile: Either the Academy is still hung up on politics and race and isn’t as pure of a celebration of film as we’d like, or that Meryl Streep’s performance was simply better.
Now I didn’t see The Iron Lady, but I do know Streep is obviously an amazing actress and no ill will should be aimed at her. But I did see The Help, and I know it would be hard to top Davis’ performance most years, let alone with a performance from The Iron Lady, a movie that scored a 54 on Metacritic. (To compare, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1 scored a 45 and The Help scored a 62.)
There was a rumor going around that Harvey Weinstein, the head of Weinstein Co., the distributor of The Iron Lady, was campaigning heavily for Streep to get the award based on her long and distinguished career. Other people called out racism on part of the Academy. Regardless of reason, this wasn’t the type of Oscar upset that you want to see, and similar to Brokeback Mountain’s upset by Crash in 2005, it will leave a stain on the perceived purity of the Academy Awards.