Although every December we can normally expect one major blockbuster (Disney are seemingly trying to turn it into “Star Wars Month”) and a smattering of Christmas movies (this year offers Office Christmas Party and Bad Santa 2), the month is typically dominated by big awards contenders; Best Picture favorite La La Land has just made its bow, and Fences, Live by Night and Silence will all be released before 2016’s over.
Although these movies are often widely praised for having real depth and demonstrable craft, awards season isn’t without its problems. Winning prizes can be big, both financially and reputation-wise, and despite allegedly being about the art, are really another major part of the studio system. This means that for some films, the talk surrounding them eclipses the content itself. Then there’s Oscar bait: movies made just to be part of that discussion rather than having any real artistic purpose.
However, not every one in Hollywood takes this lying down. As reported by The Wrap, when receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Dubai International Film Festival, Samuel L. Jackson let it rip about the state of awards season and the self-gratifying, one-track hype. The busy actor said:
“The politics of what happens during this time of year is very interesting in Hollywood. The movies they choose to say are amazing and great, you know — ‘Manchester by the Sea, oh my god, you must see it, it’s an amazing film!’ But, ehh, I guess it is — to somebody. It’s not an inclusive film, you know what I mean? And I’m sure that Moonlight will be thought of the same way. They’ll say, ‘Well, that’s a black movie. Where are the white people?’ [Black people] say the same thing about Manchester by the Sea.”
Manchester by the Sea has been in the Oscar discussion since it premiered at Sundance in January; with Casey Affleck the odds-on favorite to win Best Actor for his turn as a grieving brother forced to return to his hometown and face his dark memories. Whereas Moonlight, which charts the formative years of a black man trying to survive a rough upbringing, has also been a contender in the discussion for the big prize. Both movies were released last month in the US and received rave reviews, garnering 97 percent and 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively.
Collateral Beauty, another film that earned Jackson’s scrutiny, follows Will Smith as an ad exec who writes letters to abstract constructs — Death, Love, Time. As Jackson points out, it fits the typical Oscar bait mold in regard to its glitzy cast and literal exploration of a very optimistic message. Indeed, to exemplify that, he does take some more targeted shots at the questionable motives behind the Will Smith vehicle:
“There are all these ‘Oscar bait’ movies. I was looking at the trailer for this Will Smith movie the other day and I’m like, really? It’s another one of those, ‘Oh my God, life is so wonderful, take time to sniff the roses.’”
It may seem a little unfair to criticize what are by all accounts impressive works of cinema as bad examples of awards season fare. Jackson’s career choices tend to shy away from the more political side of the industry. At the end of his speech he summarized his personal approach in contrast to films like those mentioned above, saying, “My politics are my politics. I don’t use my politics onscreen. I use my voice as who I am.”
Source: The Wrap