Great Debate: Should Oscar Have Nominated The Coens Over Chris Nolan?

By Mack & Josh 2011-01-25 18:09:14discussion comments
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Itís the one major snub everyone is talking about. How the hell did Christopher Nolan get his third Directorís Guild nomination and still fail to secure his first Academy nomination for directing? Pundits have long questioned the Oscar voting committee for perceived biases against big budget action films, and this would seem to be further evidence. But was he really snubbed? Were the Coen Brothers gifted with a nomination simply because no one felt like supporting Inception? Cinema Blend head honcho Josh Tyler and underling Mack Rawden square off in the one issue on the forefront of the Oscar debate. Who was more deserving of a nomination: Christopher Nolan or the Coen Brothers?

Mack Knows Who Has All The Moves: Team Coen
Letís get the elephant in the room out of the way immediately. It is an absolute travesty that Christopher Nolan has never been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. Heís made four excellent films: Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception. Three of those were recognized by the Directorís Guild, which often but clearly not always, serves as a precursor for Oscar nominations. Still, thatís not really the issue at hand here. The fact that he went out and made the greatest superhero, memory loss and magic movies of all-time is entirely irrelevant. Weíre exclusively talking about Inception, and thereís just more holes in that movie than True Grit.

Clocking in at a whopping two hours and twenty-two minutes, Inception is long on big ideas and short on non-Leonardo DiCaprio character development, which is entirely unacceptable for a film of that length. So much time is spent dissecting and re-dissecting Cobbís backstory that the motivations of Robert Fischer are abridged and never fully explored beyond a surface level. The whole point of Inception is to implant an idea in Robert Fischer; yet, as we get scene after scene of Cobb and Mal bickering, Maurice Fischer languishes as an after thought. Why cast someone as brilliant as Pete Postlethwaite (RIP) if heís going to be wasted? Further, why incorporate so many team members if youíre not going to tell us anything about them? Itís the directorís job to focus the story, separate the relevant from the irrelevant and tell us the best possible story with the most efficiency. You canít tell me Inception wouldnít have been better served with ten minutes more of Fischerís childhood and ten minutes less of that goddamn James Bond snow level.

True Grit admittedly tries a lot less. The scope is barely a fraction of Inceptionís. Incorporating two, maybe three characters, each scene wades in the small details. It uses language and gestures to pace itself rather than frenzied action. Take for example Mattie bartering with the horse salesman. Yes, sheís trying to get enough money to hire a Marshall to find her fatherís killer, but without ever saying it, the Coen Brothers are showing the audience bits and pieces of her character. This isnít a girl thatís ever going to back down, thatís ever going to quit. By the end of that short exchange, we know all we need to know about her. The same thing goes for the courtroom scene with Rooster. Hereís a man thatís mowed down numerous members of a single family. He doesnít care. He knows he was in the right, and in his mind, the trial isnít anything but a waste of drinking time. Twenty minutes into True Grit, the Coen Brothers have already established an effective plot and two rich, detailed characters weíve already smiled and laughed with. It seems effortless because theyíre so damn good at their jobs.

True Grit is like a well-oiled machine. Every single second of that film serves to elevate the sum. Thereís not a line of dialogue out of place, not a camera angle that can be questioned. Itís not the best film the Coen Brothers have directed, but it is easily their most skillfully executed. You know how the great athletes seem like theyíre in slow motion compared to everyone else? Thatís True Grit. Itís Scottie Pippen dribbling into the lane, surveying his options and making the correct decision over and over again. That could mean passing, shooting or even coming to a complete stop, but whatever he decides, ninety-nine times out of a hundred you know that means it was the most effective move based on what he was given.

Inception isnít Scottie Pippen setting a pick or diving for a loose ball, itís an 18 year old Kobe Bryant slashing toward the hoop and trying to score regardless of whoís in front of him. Sometimes it works, and when it does, it leaves you thinking, my God, what are we going to see next? Inception is brilliant in a way that True Grit could never be brilliant. Itís totally original. It takes chances. It reloads over and over and over again like a deranged lunatic with something to prove, but in the end, it still doesnít always make the best decisions. In 10 years, I think Christopher Nolan could make a better Inception. I donít think anyone could make a better True Grit.

It all comes down to preferences, and I prefer Scottie Pippen. Christopher Nolanís time will come. It probably should have come already, but thereís no way it should have come at the expense of the Coen Brothers. Iíll cross my fingers for The Dark Knight Rises.

Josh Isnít Impressed With Remakes: Team Nolan
Hereís the thing about True Grit: Itís a really good movie. It was also a really good movie the first time around. Letís ignore, for a moment though, the relative merits of Inception and True Grit as features. This isnít the Best Picture category, itís Best Director. So letís talk about what it took to make these two films a reality.

The Coen Brothers took an Oscar nominated movie in True Grit, and then made exactly that same movie all over again but with a different cast. The differences between the two movies are so minimal as to almost not be differences at all. Is it well executed? Yes. But it was well executed the first time around and the Coens, wonderful and talented though they may be, simply followed that same template.

On the other hand you have Inception, an original movie so complicated and multi-layered that people have resorted to creating charts and online study groups in an attempt to explain and understand its complexity. Yet somehow, it all works. Change a single moment, move the tiniest piece of this puzzle from one place to another, and it wouldnít, the whole thing would collapse like a house of cards. But Nolan, almost unbelievably, manages to balance all of the demands and layers and levels of this story, bringing them together to create the most detailed, deeply layered blockbuster of all time out of a completely original idea made with a completely original style in a completely original way.

No one else in the world but Christopher Nolan could have made Inception. No one else could have pulled it off. Itís too big, too daunting, too dense. The Coen Brothers, even with the same script and the same cast, could not have made Inception work. Had they tried, it wouldnít have just been inferior, it wouldnít have happened at all. Simply holding all the levels inside your head long enough to envision how the film should be made is hard enough, much less actually making those levels come to life on screen. Yet, just about anyone could have made True Grit. Maybe it wouldnít have been as good in someone elseís hands, but True Grit could have been done. In fact itís already been done, and done well enough to win John Wayne an Oscar, once. Maybe twenty or thirty years from now, itíll be made again. No one will ever remake Inception.

One is a movie which knows what itís supposed to do and follows that template with success. The other is a film which creates its own roadmap as it goes, and then just for the hell of it creates five more roadmaps, merging them together into a single path. Itís not about preferences. The inescapable truth here is that Inception may be one of the greatest displays of sheer directing skill ever to find its way into theaters while True Grit is a really great Western which revisits all of the things which other Westerns, in fact this same Western, have already done before.

Itís not about paying dues or waiting for the right time to award a talent like Nolanís. Heís been making the best movies Hollywood has to offer for more than a decade, and time and again heís been ignored. The Coens, on the other hand, are swimming in Oscars; Oscars they got for movies which took far more skill to pull off than this one. Theyíre being rewarded again because it feels comfortable, because thatís what the Academy is used to doing, and because I suspect, far too few of the Academyís voters have actually seen the original film theyíre remaking.

Or maybe the Academy simply hates movies that make a lot of money. Thatís the only explanation I have for what will surely go down as one of Oscarís biggest mistakes in a history of big mistakes when it comes to the modern eraís most innovative and exciting director: Christopher Nolan.

Which side do you think is right?

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