Awards Season

Oscar Night: Chasing Perfection On A Night That Celebrates Its Opposite

Actress Zoe Saldana wore these shoes to the 2010 Academy Awards.

hide captionActress Zoe Saldana wore these shoes to the 2010 Academy Awards.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Academy Awards are a big night for film, but tonight's ceremony will be just as big — if not bigger — for fashion. That particular red carpet is more than a red carpet. It's the world's highest-profile catwalk. Hollywood's biggest names are preparing — and feverishly.

And no wonder: Besides one of TV's biggest annual audiences, there are the fashion pundits to worry about. Post-Oscar publishing schedules and TV lineups promise best- and worst-dressed lists, photo montages, and fashion analyses that only seem to grow in quantity and acerbity each year. At the Oscars, looking good is serious business.

This year, though, that emphasis on appearance seems particularly surreal — because the artists on the red carpet may be directly contradicting the messages of the very films that brought them to the ceremony. They may find themselves, in short, avidly striving for superhuman beauty — for perfection — at an event that, this year, will honor several movies that specifically celebrate imperfection.

Everyone in these films is flawed in one way or another, but the characters at the center of several Best Picture nominees are transformed — made fuller, better — by their struggle with weaknesses or foibles. King George VI, confronting a debilitating stammer and working at self-acceptance in The King's Speech, ultimately finds self-confidence, a strong, loyal friendship, and most critically satisfaction.

In The Kids are All Right, human shortcomings abound — but their impact isn't ultimately destructive. Two women — Nic a controlling doctor, Jules a flighty, free-spirited career-hopper —get stronger as a couple as they learn to forgive each other's flaws. They expose their children to quirks, missteps, even serious indiscretions, but the damage done is balanced for the kids by a fuller understanding of their parents — and tighter familial bonds.

Or consider the aspiring boxer at the center of The Fighter, who also grows as he grapples with his flaws. For Micky Ward, the problem is a compromising nature: a willingness to do anything for everyone in his life but himself. That tendency keeps him in a rut until a far less accommodating girlfriend pushes him to resist the impulse to please. By the film's end, that's become the key to other triumphs.

According to this year's Academy Award nominations, some of cinema's most successful art finds the good in the bad and embraces portrayals of imperfection. Why, on the red carpet, can't audiences and anchors do the same? Can't we leave room to appreciate artists' real-life imperfections?

Beyond rooting for a favorite movie, perhaps we can cheer for softer, more nuanced post-Oscars commentary. Regardless of who takes home the trophies, some of the movies we love best are movies we love in part because they suggest that even shortcomings are worth celebrating in the right context. It would be a shame if the people who make those films got noticed only for wearing last season's shoes.

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