I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with the Golden Globes nominating seven films for Best Drama. Of the nominees that I've seen to date, all are to one degree or another worthy of the wider recognition that the nominations bring. I would have loved to see Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James..., or Once (in the musical/comedy category) make the cut; but isn't some measure of disappointment a winter ritual for the discerning moviegoer? And I'm hardly the first blogger to note that this lineup of films will ensure a star-studded ceremony, with A-listers (Clooney, Jolie) and hot newcomers (Ellen Page) much in evidence.
But on the other hand, doesn't nominating this many films devalue the awards? Again, I've yet to see all the nominees - and The Great Debaters looks like pretty formulaic stuff, if well-made. It's an old saw to decry the conservatism of the Oscars, but I think the Academy is actually (in some years) much smarter about what's good than the audiences. We flock to the films we're supposed to go see, and I'm including the good ones liked Knocked Up. But to regard box-office success as a measure of quality when determining awards is clearly ridiculous. Those who complain that the Oscars ignore films that people actually see should watch Seth Rogen's performance in Knocked Up alongside, say, Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men. It's the difference between hamburgers and vitamins folks. The Oscars are not only a media pageant but a celebration of professional excellence. That's why predictions about who's going to win usually aren't very interesting. Blogs will go crazy trying to forecast the winners, but I'd seriously question the credibility of anyone who claims to understand how an Academy member decides to cast his vote.
But I started writing this post because the acclaim and nomination for American Gangster really bothers me. The film is a self-conscious attempt to make an "important" picture, to say something grand about how many ways there are to achieve a measure of respectability and importance in America. I think it was David Denby who framed what is also my central issue with American Gangster. The question of whether or not an intelligent and driven African-American man can do something illegal better than the Mafia simply isn't compelling. I'd add that the fact that the real Frank Lucas flipped and revealed massive corruption in the NYPD doesn't balance things out. I'm sure that the climatic scene between Washington and Crowe is to some extent fact-based, but it merely plays like an aria of rationalization. I can see why the film would appeal to the Hollywood Foreign Press; it's got stars, a name director, a hip soundtrack, and a period setting. But it's with American Gangster that the HFPA gets the most starry-eyed this year. Seven nominations for Best Drama will make for a sexier ceremony, but I hope the choices won't be the films someone wanted us to see all along.