PUBLISHED 14 Feb 2017
THE Oscars like any organisation, goes through trends, whether that is the push towards more ambitious and unconventional films in the 1970s, or to more epics in the 1950s. One recent trend that began at the turn of the millennium is one that appears to have affected the award for Best Picture. This trend is a nostalgia for genres of film that had seemingly died out but have since been revived. Three key examples of this trend are GLADIATOR (Ridley Scott 2000), CHICAGO (Rob Marshall 2002) and THE ARTIST (Michel Hazanavicius 2011).
GLADIATOR arguably started this contemporary trend in the year 2000. The film is part of the "sword and sandals" genre that was immensely popular in the 1950s and 1960s with a notable example being BEN HUR (William Wyler 1959) which won Best Picture and, before GLADIATOR, was the last sword and sandals film to win the award. The genre slowly died out in the 1960s and remained more or less dormant until 2000 when GLADIATOR was released and became a huge success. The reason it went on to win Best Picture was because it built upon the traditional genre tropes associated with sword and sandal films. This is seen through Ridley Scott’s enthusiasm for modern visual effects and he brought that to this film with many ground-breaking techniques. However, it kept certain traditions of the genre such as key themes, grand fight sequences on an epic scale to name a few. This was a conscious combination of old and new, which created something that could attract a younger generation whilst satisfying the current fans of the genre. It certainly paid off and led to a brief revival of the genre from films such as TROY (2004 Wolfgang Petersen) and 300 (2006 Zac Snyder).
CHICAGO won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2002 and, like GLADIATOR, was a reinvention of its genre. The last musical to gain the prestigious award for Best Picture was OLIVER (Carol Reed 1968) and this was not repeated until almost over thirty years later in 2002, when veteran Broadway director Rob Marshall brought CHICAGO to the screen. Unlike popular musicals in the past, Marshall presented the numbers as if they were being performed onstage and used quick cuts, editing techniques and a stylistic approach towards the sets and costumes to try and blend the theatrical and the cinematic. Rather than using long takes on the numbers and making it appear to be set in a naturalistic world, it keeps the tradition of well-orchestrated songs and moves from the stage production. Like GLADIATOR, this balance worked in the film's favour and brought the musical back into the mainstream where it had been absent for so long.
THE ARTIST is the most transparently nostalgic film of the three. It is a black and white silent romantic comedy filmed in 4:3 Ratio, reminiscent of the films it refers to from the 1920s. A silent film had not won Best Picture since WINGS (William Wellman 1927) and a wholly black and white film had not won since THE APARTMENT (Billy Wilder 1960). The film serves as a love letter to remind audiences what made these films so great. It understands its genre but did not have anywhere near the impact of the previous two films. However, it is remembered as a labour of love due to the director's passion for the genre which he tries to preserve rather than alter to appeal to a wide audience. That love is certainly infectious to anyone who watches the film.
Nostalgia has clearly played a huge part in The Oscar choices for Best Picture, whether through a loving portrait of the genre or a reinvention of it; the most contemporary example being this years Best Picture nominee LA LA LAND (2016 Damien Chazelle). Whilst it is clear that having an element of nostalgia in film is what people crave, it will be interesting to see what forgotten genres makes themselves known to us in the future.