Lashing back on Juno, etc.

I know it’s common around these parts to dislike – in varying intensities – the criticism of Dana Stevens, but I thought her piece on the predictable anti- Juno backlash was pretty good (maybe because it wasn’t criticism, strictly speaking). The one thing that’s interesting to me is how much of this backlash, from serious critics no less (well, some less), takes place with reference to the Oscars. According to the haters, this twee little film shouldn’t be exalted with a Best Picture nomination. This sounds familiar to me. I wrote a piece about a year ago in which I sort of defended Little Miss Sunshine and other examples of what was being derided at the time as indie-quirk. (My argument, in a nutshell, was not that these were great films, but that the overtness of their quirk stylings provided narrative license for some inspired comedy.) The LMS backlash was fueled by its Best Picture nomination. People thought that LMS, like Juno this year, somehow cheapened the Best Picture category (and criticized me for not seeing this). I might have some truck with this sentiment if the Best Picture category were not already so thoroughly debased by the films that are typically nominated and awarded in it. We might call these films – in honor of the infamous Scottish dish that has nothing to do with them – Haggis. Oscar typically makes a solemn rite of feasting on Haggis. Everybody knows this. The criteria for this are entirely immanent. They have no freestanding validity. They are, in a word, a joke. It’s a little different this year, in that two fine and serious films have somehow stumbled into the Oscars’ purview. But these films elevate the Best Picture category, not the other way around. Juno is not as good as those films. But it is much, much better than that ripe bladder of Haggis, Crash.