Genius Loves Company
I don't know why it's taken me until now, but I've stumbled across a connective tissue between all of this year's Best Picture nominees: Genius. Forgive me if this has been discussed elsewhere already, but I've suddenly realized that all five films deal with individuals striving for the extraordinary in their respective arts (no wonder The Academy tapped them), be it boxing, aviation, writing, music or writing again. These films are about what it takes to reach the level of genius (determination, vision, raw innate talent and inspiration - I'm leaving Sideways off because it's the one movie where the artists (Miles and Jack) fall short of greatness... and that's okay too) as well as the sad and lonely price these people have to pay for achieving it. These geniuses are isolated by their excellence (again, Sideways is the exception, where as Miles starts to accept his lack of greatness he's able to let Maya in).
If the five Best Picture nominees in a given year are somehow representative of a zeitgeist in motion pictures, then this theme can surely be seen in other notable films of 2004. Perhaps no three films addressed it more directly (sometimes through metaphor) than the "superhero" trinity of The Incredibles, Spider-Man 2 and Team America: World Police. In all three cases, the greatness was innate in the characters, so what they really focused on was the struggle between the desire to fit in and be average in this P.C. society (even if that means ignoring your God-/radiated spider-given gifts) and the responsibility an extraordinary person has to share their gifts with the world (with great power comes great responsibility).
And if movies are a reflection of the times we live in, both The Incredibles (obliquely and unintentionally, since it was written many years ago) and Team America (blatantly and very intentionally as it was written weeks before it was released) tied this dillema into America's place in the world at the moment as well as one of the fundamental questions at the heart of this year's electoral divide: When is it necessary to exercise our country's force?
The two biggest lightning rods of the year in cinema expressed a diametrically opposing view from The Incredibles, Team America and Spider-Man 2. Both The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 preached a form of "With great power comes the need for great restraint" (I know that may not be the main point of The Passion, and perhaps I'm oversimplifying, but I seem to remember something about how Jesus had the power to get off that cross if he had wanted to yet chose not to use it).
Now I've gotten a little off track, and I'm probably stretching to tie all of this year's films to the theme of Greatness (comma the pursuit of, the burden of and the lack thereof). Though if I wanted to, I could extend this discussion to Kill Bill, Vol. 2, Collateral, Troy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Spanglish, Bad Education, The Assasination of Richard Nixon, Baadasssss!, Being Julia and of course that epitome of Greatness - Alexander (the man, not the movie).
Just something for you to think about during the Best Original Song performances.