So Ethan and Joel Coen will be back at the Oscars, fingers crossed that “A Serious Man,” which filmed around the Twin Cities in 2008, wins Best Picture. But arguably, it doesn’t count as much as it did when they won the award for “No Country for Old Men,” since this year—for the first time since the 1940s—there are 10 nominations for Best Picture instead of the usual five.
The merits—and we’ll get to that later—of “A Serious Man” and the other nine nominees notwithstanding, it’s hard to interpret this cinematic abundance as anything other than a marketing ploy for the Oscars telecast. It’s widely acknowledged that despite attempts to inject more energy into the famously bloated ceremonies—shorter speeches, hipper hosts—the film industry’s self-congratulatory event is foundering, with the past half-decade of telecasts accounting for the worst ratings in Oscars history. The solution? That old Hollywood trope: Bigger is better—the more movies in play, the more fan bases to pull in, rooting for their favorites.
As for “A Serious Man,” like many Coen brothers’ movies it seems to contain a joke that they’re reluctant—or unable—to let viewers in on. This typically has been part of their appeal, as one strives to insert oneself into their self-referential world deeply enough to see what they’re seeing. Only this time, in their most nihilist, least inviting film, it seems like the joke is on us: In the end, they appear to argue, the world doesn’t offer a punchline so much as a punch in the face. And isn’t that funny? The Academy thought so—or perhaps they just didn’t want to seem like they didn’t get the joke.
In other local Oscar news, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is letting it be known that one of their own—Keila Ramos, a 2006 grad—helped make Oscar-nominated “Avatar.” So did probably half the country, of course, but Ramos, who specializes in animation, certainly deserves credit for a) helping with the movie’s film processing (they used film?) and b) putting up with director James Cameron.