It's bogus; the Oscars haven't rewarded that kind of movie for years. Nowadays Oscar bait involves an Indiewood imprint of a major studio, stories about a remorseless sociopath, minimalist scores, and bad lighting. And The Social Network is no kind of challenging avant garde.
Personally, I think the situation is ripe for some True Grit upsets.
I do want to say something about this piece in Salon from Andrew O'Hehir and Matt Zoller Seitz, in its discussion of Black Swan. I liked Black Swan quite a bit, but I think what Zoller Seitz is saying is quite wrong. Say Zoller Seitz:
More! More! More films like this! I would rather see 10 more movies as "imperfect" as "Black Swan" than sit through "The King's Speech" again, and if I had my way, this movie would win best picture, if only to smack the entire industry across the face and say, "Look at this wild, personal movie. Marvel at it. It makes no rational sense. It is expressionist nightmare madness. It came straight from the filmmaker's gut. It's as mysterious and personal as a dream. And it made a ton of money! Audiences responded! Not everything has to be conventional. Take some risks, for God's sake!"Here, Zoller Seitz is embracing the "ambitious failure" kind of movie of which I am an unabashed fan. But Zoller Seitz is totally wrong to call Black Swan daring or risky. That's not a swipe. I appreciate many challenging and experimental movies, but I don't think those qualities are necessary for a movie to be great. Black Swan was, to me, the spiritual sibling of Machete: so unabashed and so unconcerned by its potential for goofiness that it becomes a really joyous experience. It's quite good, funny, moving, and at times incredibly beautiful. It sucks that this is going to sound like I'm slighting it. But Black Swan is nothing like risky. In fact, it's hard to imagine a movie that is at once less conventional but safer in its unconventionality.
To illustrate what I mean, let's consider it in relief with a movie that I am a fierce partisan for and which was actually risky: Richard Kelly's Southland Tales. A critical and commercial failure, Kelly's follow up to the critical darling Donnie Darko is now sort of a cautionary tale about unchecked ambition. But I love it, as deeply flawed as it is. And I think it says something about the real nature of daring in movies: risky movies are movies that take risks that don't flatter critics, which is not something that can be said for Black Swan.
Where Black Swan is populated by achingly hip ingenues, Southland Tales is filled with past-their-prime celebrities like Cheri O'Teri and Jon Lovitz. Black Swan's unconventional structural elements ultimately easily digestible and crowd pleasing; Southland Tales requires patience, effort, and long periods of misunderstanding. The symbolic elements of Black Swan are large-bore and obvious, inviting easy explication; those of Southland Tales are buried within its Byzantine, deliberately absurd complexity. Black Swan features the timeless orchestral music of ballet; Southland Tales is scored by Moby. In other words, at every moment when an artistic choice was made that represents a risk, the risk taken by Black Swan was in fact the choice that was most likely to flatter the aesthetic of people who meticulously curate their opinions on art and pop culture. Black Swan is a fine movie, but it's one perfectly crafted to be enjoyed by-- well, by people like Andrew O'Hehir and Matt Zoller Seitz. (And, evidently, me!)
In her review of Southland Tales, Manohla Dargis compared it to No Country for Old Men, saying in language remarkably similar to Zoller Seitz
I would rather watch a young filmmaker like Mr. Kelly reach beyond the obvious, push past his and the audience’s comfort zones, than follow the example of the Coens and elegantly art-direct yet one more murder for your viewing pleasure and mine. Certainly “Southland Tales” has more ideas, visual and intellectual, in a single scene than most American independent films have in their entirety, though that perhaps goes without saying.Consider the differences here: when Dargis compares a little-loved, little-fought for movie like Southland Tales to perhaps the critical darling of the year (and the eventual Best Picture winner), she is saying something that is sure to be controversial to other critics. No Country for Old Men was one of those "fastidiously polished" films that Dargis comments on at a time when such movies were like catnip to critics. It was made by the Coen Brothers, two of the most rapturously reviewed critical favorites in recent history. It was a movie that at once excited audiences with its genre conventions and tugged at the experimental with its long philosophical digressions. In other words, it was the kind of movie that critics love to protect.
No such thing can be said for Zoller Seitz's target. As I've said, The King's Speech is a movie seemingly designed to reject the preferences of hip young critics. There's no skin in the game to compare it unfavorably to Black Swan. And the fact that this is true gives the lie to Zoller Seitz's contention that the movie is some sort of crazy risk-taking venture. Yes, perhaps in the eyes of the great American multiplex, it's risky. For winning plaudits in the pages of publications like Salon, it's as sure of a thing as a thing can be.
Like I said, there's no insult to the move in that. And it's no insult to Zoller Seitz's preference; aside from his absurd self-indulgence that we'll be talking about "Black Swan movies" twenty years from now (if we're talking about Black Swan movies next Oscar season, I'll be surprised), I have nothing but respect for his admiration. But in advancing a critical agenda that favors risk and personal weirdness in movies by citing a movie that is so meticulously crafted for an aesthetic just like his, he fails to see that a truly risky movie risks rejecting not just the general audience, but himself.