Have transformative dramas been overlooked by the Oscars in recent years?

By Tom Bailey

As an avid film fan, I often pay close attention to the Oscars every year, despite its ridiculous tv slot, over Britain’s answer: the BAFTA’s. I am always keen to watch all the films nominated, especially last year culminating with 2 double features and 7 totals and I found my favourite was Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece Manchester by the Sea (2016). Although, Manchester by the Sea was a winner on the night, with Casey Affleck winning best actor and Lonergan best director, I still feel this type of emotional drama, where the central characters find catharsis and emotional epitomes have been cast aside in recent years. This has been seen this year with Ladybird (2017), failing to win a single Oscar, despite being nominated for five, including Greta Gerwig, my outside shout for Best Director, who lost only to to Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water, 2017). Ladybird (2017) is a fantastic work. Set in Sacramento, it tells the trials and tribulations of Christina “Ladybird” McPherson (played by the excellent Saoirse Ronan) and her relationship with her mother, as she attempts to escape her suburban existence within a catholic community. The story is simple, but that’s what I love about the genre, the narrative can be basic and so, enable the characters to thrive on screen and have deep, meaningful conversations in order to find clarity in their often-troubled lives.

One Auteur and master of the transformative drama is Alexander Payne, who I feel has missed out as best director for works such as Nebraska (2013), The Descendants (2011) and Sideways (2004), which were all exceptional dramas, dealing with real problems of loss, loneliness, depression and would often see characters take trips in order to heal, and step out of their monotonous lives. Payne won best adapted screenplay for the latter two, which does display the respect the academy has for his work. However, on the biggest accolades he has lost out, losing the best director oscar to Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). I have always been a fan of his work, and I think the sincerity and effectiveness in which he is able to convey complex material and emotional trauma, deserves more praise from the Oscars. His most recent work Downsizing (2017) was largely disliked by critics and audiences a-like, but we shall ignore that for now, as his catalogue of work is ultimately masterful, from Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2006), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013).

I also feel compelled to discuss one of my all-time favourite films, Boyhood (2014), which was also up for best picture in 2014, but lost to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), which I have to admit, I loved on a cinematic level. But, Boyhood wasn’t just an incredibly captivating drama, cataloguing a boy’s life into adulthood, with a fantastic soundtrack and an insane cast (Ethan Hawke, need I say more), it was revolutionary. It was famously filmed over 12 years, coming together on screen after what must have been an intense edit. But most importantly told a story that, aided by its accuracy and verisimilitude, still to this day moves me every time, which is what I value most in cinema. Its’s Ethan Hawke’s line “you want the bumpers, life doesn’t give you bumpers” a poetic metaphor spun out of a trip to bowl plex, that’s perfection. The most poignant scene for me is when Mason drove to college, through the Texan desert to the anthem of Hero by Family of the Year. The way Richard Linklater sculpts this moment on screen fits elegantly with every lyric of the song like a jigsaw: “let me go, I don’t want to be your hero, I don’t want to be a big man, just want to fight like everyone else” these lines spoke volumes to me, as someone who faced trouble adapting to university life, and that in effect, is the power of film at its best in my opinion.

Transformative dramas such as Boyhood (2014), The Descendants (2011) and Ladybird (2017) deserve more praise from the Academy, but perhaps what these films do best is convey the message, that you don’t have to fit in and, its okay to go your own way. Maybe that’s why these films don’t crave accolades like more creative cinema such as Shape of Water (2017) and Birdman (2014), they are okay with being individuals, who stand out from the crowd because that’s where they thrive.