“It’s up to you to perfect that gift that you’ve been given. Put your spirit into that song. Focus on the words that you are singing. Get into the experience that you are singing about and sing your heart out”.
Like any Academy Awards, there were very few surprises at the 2014 Oscars. Gravity won a shit load of awards like we all knew it would. The Wolf of Wall Street predictably won none, despite being the most mind blowing movie of the year. And Matthew McConaughey got the Best Actor nod that everyone saw coming. But there was one huge, infuriating surprise.
The Actor of Killing not winning for Best Documentary might be the biggest cock up the Academy has made since Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas. It pissed me off so much that I automatically hated the movie that did win, sight unseen. But that’s unfair, so I thought I should actually watch 20 Feet From Stardom and give myself some legit reasons for dismissing it so readily.
Some of your favourite bits of legendary, iconic songs aren’t performed by the lead singer, or even by the main band members. A lot of hooks come from the backup singers. That is 20 Feet Form Stardom summed up in 31 words, and honestly, the 90 minutes I spent watching the movie didn’t really say much more than that.
Neil Diamond, Sting, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Lynard Skynard… All of these bands and a whole lot more get referenced or provide talking head testimonials about the importance of backup singers in their own hits. All while a few of these women get highlighted as 20 Feet Form Stardom tries to build some sort of narrative and make itself seem a little more weighty than the novelty it is.
I resented this movie beating The Act of Killing because, (again, sight unseen) it seemed like such a slight, trivial piece of fluff. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of slight, trivial fluff when that’s what you’re in the mood for. But the Oscars should be about more than that, they should be about movies that have something to say, that tackle something of importance, that get to the meat of something with real substance.
20 Feet From Stardom is well made, its subjects are entertaining enough and the history it explores is more than interesting. But it’s nothing more than that, there’s nothing under the surface and it did exactly what I expected it to do at every turn. It’s not a terrible movie, it’s just not anywhere near even approaching Oscar worthy. These women have some great stories to tell, it’s just TV level stuff at best, that’s all.