Whatever you think about individual omissions in this morning’s Oscar nominations — from The Lego Movie to Ava DuVernay — there’s a genuinely heartening theme developing over this awards season: the recognition and celebration of artistic obstinance, stubbornness, and foolhardy perseverance. This theme finds no more emblematic symbol — a cuddly mascot, really, like one for the Olympic games — than Wes Anderson’s crooked bow tie.
Back on the Golden Globes, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made their opening-monologue joke about Anderson having arrived on “a homemade bicycle made of antique tuba parts” (because: twee!), the camera cut to Anderson, looking exactly as uncomfortable as you’d expect Wes Anderson to be at an event like the Golden Globes, and dressed in a black suit, calico shirt, and large bow tie, adorably askew. In other words, he looked exceedingly Wes Andersonian. His acceptance speech, delivered a few hours later, when he collected a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical for The Grand Budapest Hotel, was playfully Andersonian as well, listing off names of various ostensible Hollywood Foreign Press members. And this morning, Anderson awakes — perhaps in velvet pajamas — to find his excellent film tied with Birdman for the most Oscar nominations, with nine.
Put that in your antique tuba parts and smoke it.
Now, if someone had been busy, say, colonizing Mars for the last decade, and you’d told him the above information, he might assume Anderson was receiving all this awards-season love because he’d finally curtailed his more idiosyncratic traits and made a quirky yet accessible and heartfelt biopic about one of America’s founding fathers — Wes Anderson’s Franklin, say, with Bill Murray as Benjamin Franklin. Instead, Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel is resolutely, stubbornly, gloriously Andersonian. It’s stuffed to the gills with his trademark cinematic flourishes. It’s Anderson being Anderson. His Oscar success doesn’t mean he’s gone Hollywood. Hollywood’s finally come around to him.
Then there’s Richard Linklater. Unlike Anderson, who’s chugged along for years without wavering even once from his distinct cinematic vision (financing his ventures, apparently, with lucrative TV ad work on the side), Linklater has seemingly adopted more of a one-for-them, one-for me approach. He’s alternated between well-crafted, Hollywood-friendly films like Bad News Bears and School of Rock and his own more distinctive and interesting endeavors. For Linklater, that means an obsessive examination of time — how it works, how it passes, how movies both are and aren’t obliged to honor it. He’s explored these themes both within single movies (A Scanner Darkly) and in the ingeniously connected triptych of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. So it’s telling — and encouraging — that Linklater’s greatest awards-season success so far, Boyhood, is not one of those well-crafted mainstream digressions but his most innovative exploration of his pet obsession. Boyhood, this year’s presumptive Best Picture winner, is Linklater at his most Linklater–esque.
Hollywood purportedly loves a comeback story, whether it’s Michael Keaton this year, or a Best Picture win for the Ben Affleck–directed Argo. (Though I was discussing this with a non-Oscar-obsessive, who asked earnestly, “But what was Ben Affleck coming back from?” to which I could only answer, feebly, “Bennifer?”) Yet this awards season has been full of something different and exciting: not comebacks, per se, but supersize talents who’ve spent entire careers doing exceptional work and are only now being recognized for the value of that work, in the form of shiny statuettes. This theme is personified by Anderson and Linklater and stalwart character actor J.K. Simmons — the ultimate “Hey, It’s That Guy”–style actor who, at ago 60, with roughly 150 (!) credits under his belt, now seems poised to win an improbable but well-deserved Oscar. It’s personified by Julianne Moore, who may be the most suitable answer to the question, “Which leading actress do you assume has already won an Oscar but hasn’t?” Moore has four previous nominations (including two in the same year) but no wins; more important, though, she’s basically spent the last 17 years (since her first nomination, for Boogie Nights) being consistently Julianne Moore–ish, which is to say, excellent in everything she does.
So while it’s easy to be disheartened by single performances being overlooked, or apparently worthy films being undervalued, this season overall seems tremendously encouraging. Because if the ultimate message of this year’s awards carousel is “Keep doing what you’re doing. Do it with excellence. Don’t waver. Don’t be distracted. Recognition will eventually find you,” then that should be heartening to everyone involved — whether dogged visionaries, new discoveries with great work ahead of them, or simply an audience at home that appreciates the stubborn, irrational, persistent pursuit of art.