E: Yep, that’s what I figured was going to happen. Oscar loves what it loves – in this case, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, and The Irishman. Films by white men, for white men, starring white men, featuring almost no women or people of color. Let’s review:
So there’s this DHL commercial from the late 80s or early 90s (sadly unavailable online) which sticks in my mind as one of the all time greats. My family collapsed in hilarity every damn time it came on, and as you can see, quotes it to this day. It was part of a series in which DHL showed irresponsible international curriers to use at your peril; there was one with a Russian rock band that used packages as drums, and this one, in which a deliciously heavily accented French driver had an existential crisis. “I am bored today. I am FIIILLed with bored-em. Zese bourgeois businessmen waiting for zeir packages, zey can wait.”
And that’s how I feel about this year’s Oscar race. I am filled the brim with boredom.
Sure, there will be great fashion, and someone out there will probably give a great speech. Maybe not one of the actors or director or screenwriters or producers (we’ve heard them often enough now to know), but someone. Probably. Oscar matters to industry folks in a way nothing else does, and sometimes that turns self-possessed people into piles of goo. Sometimes the non-celebrity winners have the best things to say; perhaps this year it’ll be Kareem Abeed, director of nominated documentary The Last Man in Aleppo, who was initially denied a visa to attend the ceremony. Or perhaps it’ll be a complete unknown simply paying tribute to his mom. Jimmy Kimmel should be topical and funny as he was last year; I feel like Princess Leia pleading for salvation. “Jimmy Kimmel, you’re my only hope!” Without a real effort from him, I might just be here for the protest art.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some flipping fantastic movies out there this year, movies I’m so glad I’ve seen. Movies that you should go out and see if you haven’t, movies we’ll talk about here. It’s just that the ones that speak to me are not actually winning most of the awards. Also? Every single awards show has rewarded the same performances and film. The critics didn’t produce such a homogenous response, but the industry groups? Every bloody time the same. I’m not sure there’s any race up in the air.
And oh, my lord, that’s so dull. Rolling my eyes like a tween listening to a parental lecture dull, deathly dull, mind-numbingly dull, French existential crisis-level dull. No, I’m not just saying that because I don’t like this year’s presumptive winner; it’s dull even when you like the winner. I’m not longing for last year’s electoral insanity (a remarkably juicy story chronicled here) but I can’t help wishing there’ll be something at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences big show that deviates from the script.
And on that note, let’s get to it! Continue reading
C: April’s underway, but if you’re anything like us, you probably haven’t been to the movies yet this month. Perhaps you have a vacation coming up though, so it’s time to start thinking about what to see!
E: Well, today’s the first official Friday of April, so unless you were seeing March movies, you won’t have needed this preview. Now, this isn’t the explosion into summer we get in May, but still, this April brings us a veritable bouquet of interesting spring movies. As befits the season, I have hope that some of these films are very much worthwhile.
M: Again this month we’re running on a tough timetable, so we have fewer of the limited-release movies than we normally include. Apologies! Now to it.
E: Um, okay.
Sorry to take so long in my response, but it’s been crazy at work and at home. Family birthdays, school orientations, religious holidays, huge work events. You’d laugh if I told you the thing I’ve done this week. (All wholesome, but a little nutty.)
In general, that Oscar cast was funny and enjoyable. Jimmy Kimmel was largely terrific. His monologue was hilarious (Meryl Streep! discrimination!) I could have done without the mean tweets, and the tour bus gag went on a little long, but it was hilarious. The music and the opening sizzled. Most of the categories went the way I thought they would. I loved the montages of previous winners before all the acting awards, and was heartened/amused to see how fiercely the editors emphasized Oscar winners of color. I think each montage started that way. There were a few exciting wins, a few good speeches (emotional, political but not off-puttingly political), some great clothes, great music, a charming host, Hunger Games-like parashutes. And then there was the weird, wild finish.
No, it was weird enough to keep me up for another few hours Sunday night, baking (because what else do you do when the world goes crazy?). After a little time to dissect it all, I’d like to run down my thoughts – what I got wrong, what I got right, and why. Why is the most interesting question of all.
Because seriously. If you made this stuff up, no one would believe you. But with the rest of the world going crazy, why should the Oscars be any different?
E: Like January, February is a month I mostly reserve for seeing Oscar movies and writing about them. There’s normally not much to see in the theaters that isn’t a Best Picture or acting nominee. Expect more great box office for Hidden Figures and La La Land, for example – and see them if you haven’t already. If you can only choose one? La La Land will win the Oscar, but Hidden Figures is the experience you really want.
M: Which says all you need to know about the Oscars.
C: I really want to see it. I know I said that a month ago, so I need to get off my duff, but I really do!
E: Do it! Do it now!
M: This month, we have mostly the usual February mumbo-jumbo: there’s a strong chance the more promising-looking films may under-deliver, otherwise they wouldn’t be opening in February. Except for Lego Batman. That might not suck.
C: I loved The Lego Movie (unexpectedly), so high hopes here.
E: It’s true. We can say that much for this February, because of Lego: it probably won’t all suck.
M: That aside, the movie news we’re really excited about this week is the announcement of the cast and crew for 2018’s Ocean’s Eight. Yes, it’s Hollywood again proving that it either has no original ideas, or that even when they have a semi-original idea they have to package it in something that sounds familiar so that it has a built in audience and (theoretically) less chance of total failure.
C: Normally I’d complain, but HEIST MOVIES. They never get old.
M: Right, plus: Sandra Bullock is the new lead, in the Sinatra/Clooney role, with Cate Blancheit, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling and Rihanna among the women filling out the other seven members of the heist crew. Gary Ross, who’s awesome and wrote things like Big and Dave and directed Seabiscuit and the first Hunger Games, is writing and directing. Awesomeness!
C: I totally freaked out when I heard about that. But let’s save our comments for that preview, huh?
E: Just noting that we are crazy excited about it, because the wait is soooo long!
M: And now, back to February.
E: How has this day come already? There almost seems like there’s too much going on to think about movies. But hey, by all means. Let’s have an abrupt focus shift from politics to entertainment as Hollywood picks out what they want us to remember them by, what they consider the best and the brightest lights of the past crazy year. Tomorrow is nomination morning.
That’s right folks. Ready for a little Oscar speculation?
E: Usually, the Golden Globes live up to their reputation as Hollywood’s biggest party, spun out by a loose and comfortable host and filled with goofy drunken moments, establishing running gags and generally distinguishing themselves from the more formal and less star-centric Oscars. Instead of a vast theater, the event is held in an intimate ballroom; you can hear the noise from the bar from the stage, and stars tuck in together at tables, charming and brilliant and bright.
This year felt a little different, though. The attendees penchant for black and metallic dresses, mixed with the huge round centerpieces of orange roses, lent a dark Halloween glamor to the event, and throughout the night, speeches referencing our current political situation made sure it would be talked about today not for who wore what or tripped on the stage, but what He Who Must Not Be (and was not) Named tweets in intemperate response after the telecast.
Oh, there were great dresses (Brie Larsen, Emma Stone, Hailee Steinfeld, Annette Benning, Claire Foy, Viola Davis), great tuxes (I have yet to see Donald Glover’s sitcom Atlanta, but the man must be a genius if he can pull off brown velvet) and moving speeches (Tom Hiddleston, Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy and Viola Davis again) and some truly memorable presenting (Kristin Wiig and Steve Carrell for animation!). And I cried like a baby during the tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. All that aside, I’m just going to quickly take a look at the show from the Oscar races’ perspective, because my time is short and the impact there is big.
Some context; as you may know, La La Land took the festival circuit by storm and was considered the obvious, runaway frontrunner (Hollywood loves nothing so much as movies about Hollywood) until it was suddenly overlooked for the SAG ensemble. In a flurry, pundits debated whether the charming, light mood simply didn’t fit the nation’s post-election gloom, or if it was only that the SAG nominating committee didn’t consider the film an ensemble work. After all, they did nominate the two lead actors. At any rate, no movie goes on to win Best Picture at Oscar without also being nominated for SAG, and so the waters muddied. I felt that the new frontrunner had to be the searingly beautiful working class dramedy Manchester By the Sea. It’s smart and unpretentious, filled with indelible performances, and it speaks to those parts of us which are broken and may never mend.
But with the Hollywood Foreign Press, at least, hopeful dreamers are still in fashion. La La Land took Best Picture: Musical or Comedy, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay – the big five. (In fact, it surprises me to learn that La La Land took home more Globes than any movie ever before — seven, when you add in score and song.) It’s unlikely to repeat that feat at the Oscars (Casey Affleck is likely to repeat his win in Drama unless challenged by Denzel Washington, while Gosling will struggle to get a nomination) but it has the potential to take the other four. In fact, the entire opening number was a love letter to the film, an interesting choice since the movie hasn’t even opened in most of the country. Instead of Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight (a gay black coming of age story) took the Drama prize. All together, it was a strong statement.
In the acting categories, we may have gotten a little clarity. Affleck, as I said, cemented his place as the frontrunner; a win at the SAG should make that incontrovertible. The combination of Emma Stone’s win in Comedy, and Natalie Portman’s moderately surprising loss to Isabelle Huppert in Drama is very good news for Miss Stone’s chances at the big show. The fact that both Affleck and Stone gave sweet and personal speeches will work in their favor as well. I don’t know if I’d have said there was an obvious frontrunner in Supporting Actress, but with her win and powerful speech five time nominee Viola Davis has definitely vaulted into that status. I think there’s now no frontrunner in Supporting Actor: the critics prizes have been eaten up by Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, but Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Nocturnal Animals is an unknown whose nomination came as a surprise and wasn’t repeated at SAG or the Critics Choice. I’m sure he’s talented, but either through shyness or shock he wasted the opportunity to introduce himself to a wider audience with his mumbling speech, even failing to make eye-contact through the camera. I’m not saying that to be mean; the speeches matter. The good will they generate can boost a nominee’s chances hugely. We’ll have to see if Ali roars back at SAG, what that speech might sound like, and of course who gets nominated for Oscar.
So there we are. Will La La Land hold on to its spot at the top of the pile? Is the Hollywood mood more hopeful than expected, more determined than every to cling to their best self-image?
As a quick aside, the dominance (or lack there of) of La La Land means that Lin-Manuel Miranda may have to wait another year or two to complete his EGOT (or MacPEGOT, as some would have it); Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” lost out on Best Song to La La Land‘s “City of Stars.” My favorite part of that film’s speeches, actually, came in the repeated shout outs to popular choreographer Mandy Moore (not to be confused with the actress, nominated in the television category). As I wait fearfully for news of my beloved So You Think You Can Dance‘s fate, I take solace that at least my favorite dancers and choreographers will go on doing work that I might sometime get to see somewhere. Maybe the over all message of this telecast is that we need to take our joy where we can; we have to hold on to the good with both hands.