It’s common knowledge that the film that wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards depends as much on the mood of the Academy as on the film’s quality. This is why I know that Gus Van Sant’s Milk will win this year’s award. Please keep in mind that I haven’t yet seen Milk. But, given certain facts, I don’t see how any movie BUT Milk can claim the golden statue.
Many film critics felt that Brokeback Mountain should have won Best Picture in 2006. The award went, instead, to Crash, a fine movie but not one that struck many observers as particularly Oscar worthy. Indeed some call it the worst film to win best picture in the last 50 years. Brokeback’s partisans cited homophobia among the academy’s older members as the reason Brokeback Mountain couldn’t garner enough support to win the Oscar. This recent history gives the Academy a chance to right a wrong, something they never shy away from doing.
Then there is Prop 8, California’s ballot initiative (which I hope will be struck down by the California Supreme Court) outlawing gay marriage. I expect that the members of the Academy, being (mostly) good Hollywood liberals, will exploit the 2nd most watched television event of the year (although Obama’s inauguration might outdraw both the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl) to send a message of tolerance by recognizing the gay film.
And then there’s Harvey Milk. He’s a pretty amazing man, an idealistic politician who felt that he could organize his community and effect change. And, in life and death, Milk shaped the course of Northern California politics and LGBT civil rights issues across the nation.
Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn are both accomplished filmmakers, and I don’t mean to diminish a film that I haven’t yet seen. Milk is certainly an Oscar worthy picture if the reviews and awards it’s received to date are any indication. But, sometimes, Hollywood is so predictable that actually evaluating the films under consideration is besides the point. This is one of those times.