Wednesday, 28 January 2015

OSCARS 2015: why Inherent Vice should be nominated as Best Picture

Every year, I try to watch every single film that is nominated for the Oscars.  And every year, I fail. But this year, I am going to fail for a new reason: because I simply want to watch Inherent Vice over and over again. 
Paul Thomas Anderson's meandering masterpiece is nominated in two categories: the director's own script based on Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel is up for best adapted screenplay, and the vintage Seventies costumes, so rumpled you can feel them, win Mark Bridges a nod in the costume design category.  
However Inherent Vice is not nominated in the Best Picture category (even though two potential slots remain) and Anderson fails to get a best director mention. How can that be?
In a year when the whirling imagination of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman and the labour of love that is Richard Linklater's Boyhood are up for the big prizes, it is hard to moan about the Academy playing it safe.
Yet the absence of Inherent Vice leaves a travesty shaped void. This is a film that is so energetically, vividly original that it fills your mind and imagination, crowding out other paler, more inspid creations.
It takes a novel that people have always suggested was un-filmable and fashions it into a shape where the words still tumble richly out of people's mouths, full of imagery and meanings not quite fathomed. It takes the conventions of the detective genre - most noticeably of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, which was also set in California in the dog days of hippie dreaming - and leaves just enough of them intact to give you a plot that floats and wanders like the pot-fuddled thoughts of its stoner hero Doc (Joaquin Phoenix, above).
Doc staggers dazed through the landscape of Los Angeles, in search of missing men and even more elusive truth.  He carries with him a sense of sadness, but also of discovery; we see the changing city, its people and plots, through his wondering eyes.  
We see them through Anderson's too.  Here is a director who understands that film isn't ever simply about images unspooling on celluloid: more than any other filmaker working today, he makes you feel the texture of his stories.  It is not just the costumes you feel you can touch; his entire created world seems multi-dimensional, full of colour, light and sound.
In this way Anderson seems to penetrate to the mysterious heart of things. He doesn't explain it. Just shows it. Tips his hat to its beating presence. 
Perhaps that refusal to tie life up in neat bows explains his absence from the Oscar race, where viewers and voters like things presented in neat, tidy packages. But it makes his cinema, his films, a place where you want to stay and ponder.  It makes him, I think, the most significant filmmaker we have.  We should cherish him.