If it were 2001, then The Butler would take home Best Picture at the Academy Awards. With a sweeping timespan reminiscent of Forrest Gump, the “noble” topic of U.S. presidents (with racial tensions in America at the forefront), and multiple Academy Award winning actors…plus Oprah…Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a traditional Best Picture victor. And another Harvey Weinstein win.
But 2001 is 12 years ago. And during that time, the Academy, as well as the public, have bestowed trophies and Netflix stars on “safe” Best Picture bets: Best Pictures of yesteryear that typically follow traditional formats and story arcs. In Bret Easton Ellis talk: “empire” movies. Empire Best Picture winners include A Beautiful Mind, A King’s Speech, and of course, Crash (post-empire would be Brokeback Mountain). Empire movies adhere to status quo boundaries, are not obviously provocative, and they are familiar, probably even to the point of comfort and ease in watching. And although these films may strike a chord or two, they often don’t pack the punch of instant classic.
Polite, empire films may be of merit. An outstanding performance by the lead actress. Costume design of meticulous, inspiring detail. Or, even a solid book to film adaptation.
The Butler is notable in some areas of film distinction. Its ensemble cast, led by Oprah as the butler’s wife, includes Forest Whitaker as the butler, David Oyelowo (who worked with Daniels in The Paperboy), and Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz and Yaya Alafia (of ANTM fame/go girl). John Cusack, James Marsden and Alan Rickman take shots at playing Nixon, JFK and Reagan. But the ensemble comes together overall, with serious efforts evident. I most enjoyed Oprah in complex form as an alcoholic struggling with loyalties to her husband and children. Her performance is the biggest takeaway for me in terms of Oscar potential.
The Butler is made of Oscar’s past. In 2013, in a year when Gravity* debuts on the big screen, the Academy would be wise to award forward thinking films to help cement its relevance during a time when movie theaters are becoming more barren. Can the Academy turn people on to a singular movie event? If that were one goal in announcing 2014’s Best Picture, The Butler misses the mark. I felt like I should be crying by the end of the movie but the overall narrative did not pack that dramatic punch.
The Butler will be considered during the Oscar race by pundits and Academy voters. I’m curious if the film withstands its competition, especially considering its earlier release when Scorsese, David O’ Russell, Steve McQueen and more are just now entering the race. The race that Gravity is currently ruling. Because its such a departure from traditional movie going experiences. While The Butler is not. But what kind of film does the Academy want to thank?
*Curiously, Bret Easton Ellis finds Gravity to be rather typical and thus maybe even empire. He asks, “Do you REALLY think Sandra Bullock is gonna die?” The script’s clichéd plot points aside, I recognize Gravity exceeds empire standards via simply the fact that the film crew “invented technology” to make the movie. 2001′s set has a rival. And it looks like a contemporary Oscar Best Picture. Because it moves cinema forward.
Chani envisions a Hollywood where Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Fassbender star as Ludwig Wittgenstein in a film based on Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius. Paul Thomas Anderson directs. Her Hollywood also casts Ezra Miller in Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer. Anne Hathaway stars in Gaspar Noé’s next production. HBO debuts a travel show starring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Tommy Wiseau as Tommy Wiseau. And Michael Haneke directs a sequel to The Seventh Continent. In 3D.
Her deepest thoughts are found at symposiumsays.com and you can follow her on twitter @RigidDesignator