Watching the screeners for the 2012 Oscars and keeping up with the GOP debates makes me feel an identical apathy for this year’s crop of movies and Republicans. Whether they lulled in the race until one hot week or they entered the race with tremendous buzz and landed with a thud, movies and Republicans share a similar dullness in 2011-2012.
Of the hundred-plus movies that came out last year, there are a handful that have any shot at being named the winner: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help (because Hollywood likes this sort of schmaltz, see: Crash) and Tree of Life. If you’re considering nominations then you can also loop in Moneyball, Bridesmaids, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris and War Horse if the Academy decides to open themselves up for bribes. Out of all the Republicans who explored the idea of running for president, we are now down to Romney, Paul, Gingrich and Santorum.
Both groups are the same in that no one really loves any of them, but someone has to come in first. Therefore, one movie and one Republican will have to win not because they were most-liked, but simply because they were hated the least. Obama’s opponent and the winner of this year’s best picture will share the title of not being great, but that they had fewer things wrong with them than the competition.
Let’s start with the current odds-on favorites: Mitt Romney and The Artist. Neither rode a tidal wave of support to get to the front of the pack. No one has ever left a Mitt Romney speech feeling inspired. You watch Mitt Romney speak and you’re left thinking, He said everything he’s supposed to say. The Artist is the favorite for best picture because you leave the theater thinking, That’s the kind of movie that wins best picture. The Artist is not The King’s Speech, it’s not The Hurt Locker. No one is going around raving about how they were bowled over and had the wind knocked out of them and were cheering at the screen by a black-and-white silent film from a French character actor.
And that’s exactly what’s wrong with Mitt Romney. He doesn’t seem like the best candidate. He seems like he’s acting the way a best candidate should act. The Artist is an innovative, smart, nostalgic, romantic and funny movie. It’s also about a guy who wants to cheat on his wife, runs out on the girl who takes care of him and then she has to win him back. It has a dog and a butler to make you feel sad. When you watch The Artist, it looks and feels like a best picture kind of movie, but do you really think it would win best picture if it were going up against a real presidential candidate? And would Romney be anywhere close to the discussion if he were going up against The Social Network?
Ron Paul is probably the Bridesmaids of this year’s pack. He has a young and devoted following but it’s not wide enough to really carry best picture. Someone mentions Ron Paul and you’re like, Oh yeah, I liked that movie. It was different and had good characters and really funny. But you don’t want that movie to be President of the United States.
Gingrich is The Descendants. Slow, sluggish, white, rich main character who has been in the institution since the 90s (Clooney) and has a very good chance at winning or coming in second when the whole thing is over. The only problem is that no on really loved The Descendants. It was a solid downer that you know was a good movie but no one wants to rewatch Gingrich over and over again. Gingrich says all the right stuff and you know he is a solid contender but if there was ever a race with actually great movies, Gingrich wouldn’t even be in the discussion.
Then you have all the movies and candidates who generated a lot of attention and were considered viable to make a huge impression but disappeared just as quickly. Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman can go along with respective duds War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and J. Edgar.
That leaves Santorum and The Tree of Life. Both won early contests that were voted on by small, niche voters (Iowa and Cannes, perhaps the only time these two locations will be lumped in the same breath). And they are both extremes in their respective races. Santorum is far to the right on every social issue, wanting to ban abortion and gay marriage. Meanwhile, Tree of Life was an artful and visually stunning examination of a life told in a nonlinear format. It fits what voters are looking for, but might be too niche to win it all.
When we look back on the year of movies and the GOP, we can see that all in all, it wasn’t a terrible year. There were plenty of highlights to keep us entertained. What was lacked, however, was a single candidate and picture to blow us away. Of course there will be one that wins because that’s what has to happen every year. Regardless of which picture and candidate wins in 2012, at least we can guarantee that no one will really say that it was that great. We can say that it won.