This morning’s Academy Award nominations held only a few surprises – no Best Picture or Director noms for the pedestrian Walk the Line, no Supporting Actress recognition for A History of Violence’s superlative Maria Bello, and zip, zero, nada for my newly beloved Jeff Daniels for his bravura turn in The Squid and the Whale. As was expected, the announcement of this year’s Golden Boy Statuette contenders merely confirmed that the Best Picture contest is between Brokeback Mountain and Crash (neither of which strikes me as remotely worthy, but I’ll be pulling for the former by default), that it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Best Actor race to lose, and that there were few female performances worthy of a Best Actress prize.
Oh, and it also proved that the Oscars are now just a hair’s breadth away from being an utterly worthless barometer of celluloid greatness.
I know such a sentiment is not novel, and that the awards are best (only?) enjoyed as simply a frivolous showcase for Hollywood glitz and glamour. But the almost total absence of nominations for Terrence Malick’s The New World (which only scored a Best Cinematography nod) nonetheless signals the Academy’s dispiriting inability to recognize an honest-to-goodness masterpiece when it’s in their midst. Not just one of last year’s top five films, but one of the decade’s most extraordinary movies, Malick’s Jamestown saga – whether one is discussing the original 150-minute version or the trimmed-down 135-minute cut – is an unqualified event, a truly unique artistic achievement that, to put it mildly, dwarfs the decidedly mediocre Best Picture challengers offered up by the Academy. Yes, the Oscars have a long, storied history of honoring average, disposable prestige pictures in favor of truly great films. And yes, Malick’s is not a film likely to make many waves at the box office or with the general populace. But to even suggest that Crash or Capote are, in any conceivable way, superior to Malick’s latest is, in my humble opinion, to have little clue about what constitutes cinematic magnificence.
Whew! Well, with that rant out of the way, stay tuned for my forthcoming thoughts on the sleeker, shorter version of The New World. Which, did I mention, is indisputably, incontrovertibly, undeniably 2005’s best film?