There is nothing quite like the Oscars in the cinephile community, or even the public consciousness. True, the viewing audience has declined steadily over the past few years, and the small but significant foothold of movies as entertainment has waned more and more in the light of prestige and not-so-prestige television, but the Academy Awards remain a sort of galvanizing force for the film community. To invoke an often touted if shallow comparison, they are the Super Bowl of film, a chance to celebrate the best that the world of cinema has to offer.
Of course, the Oscars rarely if ever feature the best of even Hollywood film, let alone American or world cinema. However, there is always value in seeing what Hollywood chooses to reward and what it chooses (on purpose or accidentally) to ignore. Two of my favorite films of the past year, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, happen to typify these two extremes in strange and fairly wonderful ways.