Sunday night, at the Oscars, Inception will be shut out of all the big awards. Oh, it’ll probably land a few condolence prizes: the two sound awards, special effects, maybe even best score, though that seems unlikely. The winners will get up there and make reference to the great vision cast by Christopher Nolan, and the camera will cut to him smiling graciously, and everyone watching will think what a nice moment it is for a film like Inception to get some notice at the Oscars. And all those people will be missing the point.
Members of the Academy – or columnists talking about members of the Academy – always mention the Academy’s desire to be current. It wants to be in tune with the average moviegoer, they say. It wants to have an awards show that honors movies people actually watched. It doesn’t want to be pretentious.
But it can’t help itself. Inception is going to be snubbed on Oscar night for having the gall to be considered intelligent and brilliant by the average moviegoer, and the Academy knows better. They know what a smart movie actually looks like.
If you didn’t see – or didn’t like – Inception, you might be raising an eyebrow at the previous paragraph. Do you really think that the Academy’s really that condescending? And I don’t, really; not intentionally, at least. Nor do I think that Inception is in any way an inarguably better movie than Social Network or King’s Speech, I just liked it a little better than those two movies.
All I’m saying is that if Inception was truly being considered fairly, the nominations would look a little bit different.
Consider this: Inception failed to garner a nomination for either Best Director or Best Editing. Were there five films this year that were better envisioned and executed? Five that were more skillfully assembled? Were there any? The films nominated in those categories (Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network are nominated in both categories, with True Grit getting the other directing spot and 127 Hours the other editing one) are all deserving, but there’s not much of a case you can make that Inception isn’t clearly more deserving.
Let's study the editing nominations, since that's an easier case to make. No offense to The Fighter or The King’s Speech, but those were both relatively simple films to assemble. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s work, but with all the long takes and back-and-forths of The King’s Speech, I’m pretty sure I could’ve put it together myself in an afternoon.
Compare that with Inception. The film works on dreams within dreams within dreams, with time moving at a different speed in every level the characters move to. It requires an exceptional piece of editing in order to just make the story make any sense at all – the fact that the film is exciting and energetic while remaining lucid is a testament to the talents of Christopher Nolan and his editor, Lee Smith.
Don't believe me? Dave Edelstein from New York Magazine hated Inception, but declared the editing Oscar "all but sewn up."
Look, I’m a video editor by trade. So believe me that while I couldn’t actually assemble these films as cleanly as the men and women who did so, I understand the amount of effort and skill required to put certain films together, and recognize good editing when I see it. And for a film like Inception to work, it requires a masterful director and incredible dedication by its editor.
And the Academy knows that too. That’s why Inception’s snub is so egregious. To put these other movies in a class above that film is to say that you consider honoring movies you like better a more important responsibility than doing your job correctly. And I can’t get behind that attitude at all.
For shame, Academy.