The Rise of the Oscar Cliché

Forget Halloween, Christmas and Easter; my favorite time of the year is the Oscar season. For three glorious months, the cinemas are not exclusively filled with action films, romantic comedies, or a combination thereof. All the best directors, actors and screenwriters collaborate in every possible genre in the hopes of securing a golden statue.  At least, that was what I used to think. Now, along with Leonardo Di Caprio, I have a bone to pick with the Academy.

Let me explain. I believe in two genres of cliché: the first being “Hollywood” clichés. These are the plot lines that we all know, the “running through the airport to say I love you” etc. Overused, predictable, and the safest method of ensuring the box office draws in the cash.  However, I also believe in a second genre that has developed over the past twenty to thirty years: Oscar clichés. These are oddly specific, and are becoming more common.  Let me give you some examples:

  1. The biopics: there has been a massive increase in the amount of films that are “based on the true story of…” To say these films take liberty with the truth would be a massive understatement, and yet the audiences fall for it hook, line and sinker. Generally some of the most cheesy film scores accompany these pictures.  Of course, the actual film footage, generally shown just before the final credits, sends us running into work the next day to tell our peers about the film with the sideline “And you’ll never believe it, it’s a true story!”.  Examples: The Blind Side, A Beautiful Mind, Schindler’s List, and Diana.

  1. The quirky family member/ friend: a person who has a minor or major mental disability brings nothing but joy and happiness to the world around them. In many of these cases, they are taken on a road trip with some funky music, and hey presto, the mental illness is gone!  Examples: A Beautiful Mind, Silver Linings Playbook, Temple Grandin, and to a lesser degree: Little Miss Sunshine.

  1. Meryl Streep: The queen bee of all actresses, and as pointed out by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler: “Meryl Streep is not here. She has the flu, and I hear she’s amazing in it.” She’s an Oscar magnet. No truly great film is complete without at least a cameo from her, and the award is guaranteed if she throws in an accent. Examples: Kramer vs. Kramer, Julie and Julia, Out of Africa.

My question is this: are these movies raking in the awards because the audience wants these films and are responsive to them? Or is this a case of a time-tested model that worked and will continue to be exploited until we grow tired of it?

All I can say is that I will be keeping a sharp eye on this year’s awards, but I don’t doubt for a minute that we will see some familiar plot lines returning to the big screen once again.

Emma Hayn

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