Opinion: Oscars should look beyond the obvious

By: Paul Morrison ~Guest Writer~

1Last year the Academy Award for Best Picture went to Spotlight, a somewhat surprising turn of events.

Tom McCarthy’s drama showcasing The Boston Globe’s investigation into the sex scandal happening within the Catholic Church was not an unworthy film. Far from it. The surprising aspect was its competition and the typical direction these things go. Mad Max: Fury Road seemed pretty promising for its 10 Oscar nominations, The Revenant for Alejandro Inarritu’s momentum.

I believe Spotlight won because of its nuanced story-telling and thoughtful handle on tough material. It essentially “remade” why The Boston Globe’s story was so important when it first broke, reiterating the importance of good journalism: Uncovering and delivering the truth of corrupt institutions that would otherwise be left to their own corrupt devices.

This is the “heroic” aspect of journalism, at least. There is also the privilege and importance of being properly informed.

But even before the era of “fake news” and a growing distrust of media, journalism was taking heat for sensationalism and quantity over quality. While these are systemic issues, no doubt, it does not encompass journalism as a whole nor should it detract the medium from accomplishing its true purpose.

This year, based on all the nominations with the importance of nuance in mind, I think Arrival should take home Best Picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as charmed by La La Land, as emotionally devastated by Manchester by the Sea and as impressed by Moonlight as the next filmgoer. I also think these films all have a good deal of nuance, as do (most) of the best picture nominations (and maybe I’m a little jaded 20th Century Women’s only nod is for Best Original Screenplay).

But Arrival’s nuanced theme is communication—the most important theme, in my opinion, considering our current political and social climate.

Arrival is a sociopolitical think piece under the clever guise of a sci-fi alien picture. Selling itself as a “cool movie with aliens and Amy Adams—and Forest Whitaker, too!” it cleverly explores the idea of how the most important aspect of an alien invasion is not war first, think second, but rather communicating and understanding a different language first, peace second.

Adam’s Louise Banks is a linguist, and, although it is a sci-fi movie with cool aliens, language comes first.

The plot is dedicated to her attempts at understanding her two hetapod counterparts, in spite of conflict-impatient military types who are more inclined to jump to conclusions.

The resolution: language and communication save the world because if we grow to understand each other, rather than assuming the worst and antagonizing people (or aliens), we’ll be a lot better off.

Do I think Arrival will win? Probably not. But I didn’t think Spotlight would win, either. I do think it would be important for Arrival to win, encouraging more people to watch, perpetuating the nuance of communication. We need it now more than ever, like we need thoughtful investigative journalism.

Then again, La La Land has Ryan Gosling. And singing.