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:
E: There are two ways that this can go. We can end up with a slate of nominations that ignores many of the best reviewed films of the year, continuing a trend that ignores well-received works by women and people of color. Or the Academy can prove that inducting new members has made a difference in their ability to look for work beyond ever narrowing limits. Or Oscars will narrow it’s vision, promoting a world that consists largely of powerful white men (movie stars, race car drivers, mobsters) behaving badly.
Every once in a while, Oscar bucks the trend of the precursor award shows and rights a few wrongs. I’m going to be honest and say I don’t have a lot of hope, but until Monday morning, I’m going to live in a Schrodinger’s box of possibilities. Let me dazzle you with possibilities, and remind you of what’s out there, before we come back to earth with the blander slate we’re likely to receive in what, for me, is turning out to be an uninspiring year. Continue reading
E: Ah, for the days when we were in the live shows by now! Do you remember how Cat used to have 4th of July parties for the contestants? Sigh. We have one more week of auditions, and God knows how many at the Academy (last year there were at least four episodes) which means God knows how few live shows.
E: Hey there! Last week was pretty crazy for me – all good things, just a lot of them – but this week, we can talk about the dancing. It’s an episode of big dreams, big themes, and big tears.
E: Maybe it’s another Top Ten instead of Top Twenty. Maybe they’re relying too heavily on the Matrix-like freeze frame technology installed in the new stage. Maybe Cat Deeley has not spent enough time on screen. But are those flaws going to steal my joy? No, I don’t think they can. My summer show is back with a new audition structure, actually impressive new judges, backstage chats, and, oh yes, awesome dancing, and I am happy as that proverbial clam.
The show re-introduces us to celebrated choreographer and former guest judge Laurieann Gibson (who as I recall trashed Nappy Tabs as not being relevant) and former contestant b-boy Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval, who not only can relate to the dancers but also has judging cred from America’s Best Dance Crew. I was frankly dubious about this duo, but also hopeful. Nigel tells us that instead of traveling around the country, the show has doubled down on a cool new set (a circular stage with 360 degree cameras set between the uplights!) and from now on, dancers will come to them. We don’t really get to see a lot of people waiting in line, which of course means less Cat Deeley than is optimal, and the theater is packed with parents and loved ones rather than dancers waiting for their own turns, as well as what looks like live show-style audience members. I’m not sold on that, but whatever. It does seem like dancers have made the journey from places other that L.A. – not that you could prove it by our first contestant of the evening!
E: Ah, Oscar Monday. Time for rehashing and recriminations, best and worst dressed lists, and general Monday morning quarterbacking. Mostly, I found 2019 Oscar telecast either as expected or cooler than expected, though there’s a lot to talk about in this very weird, unstable Oscar year. I went four for six in the main categories, neither great nor terrible. Some of my favorite wins were technical, and most of my favorite speeches came from people who’re not famous. I am forced to acknowledge that I’m not fashion-forward enough to appreciate Gemma Chan’s dress and I don’t even know what to make of Sarah Paulson’s hideous bubble two-piece making best dressed lists. And we’ve all discovered that the show’s more than fine without a host – not to mention 40-60 minutes shorter than usual.
E: Quick history lesson. The Oscars were conceived, some 90 years ago, as a way to boost movie sales. It’s that plain and simple; studio heads wanted a gimmick to draw even more of the public into theaters, and so the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was born, conceived in greed and birthed by cash in 1929. In 1930, the awards were broadcast for the first time. From radio to television, the spectacle has always had one purpose and I, like so many others, follow its call. I see the movies. I play the game. You probably do, too.
And I like to play the game. I like supporting excellent art; I even like that following the Oscars forces me to see movies I might otherwise avoid. Sure, sometimes I hate them like I’m expecting to, but sometimes they’re so revelatory, and shine such a window on human experience. Movies can make the lives of other people real to us. Knowledge, wisdom, empathy, intellectual rigor, excitement, and pure whimsy and joy – the cinema can bring us all these things.
Since the 1990s, AMPAS has shifted its attention away from studio fare and onto indie films. At the time, I lauded this turn as a focus on much better and deeper films. Today, however, I look at the slate of Best Picture nominees, and I think about the favorites, and I wonder just what that turn of events has wrought. Whose Best Picture is this? These days most Oscar nominees don’t play at the multiplex down the street, especially if you happen to live somewhere other than coasts. This year, in fact, the likely winner isn’t playing in theaters at all – it’s playing on a streaming service – and it’s hard to know if anyone is watching it there.
This is all to say that it’s good to think about what makes a movie popular or beloved, and correspondingly, what makes an award show watchable. It’s not a coincidence that in the last 25 plus years of more obscure films taking over the Oscars, the show’s ratings have dipped as much as 30% a year. And as a foreign film no one has seen is poised to make history by winning Best Picture for the first time, it seems reasonable to ask; what’s the point of the Oscars, and why should we care? Who are the Oscars for? Surely it’s foolishness to declare a best film at all; art is subjective. Taste is subjective. The film that possesses the imagination of Hollywood voters in any given year is rarely the movie audiences prefer, or even critics. So as we talk about what will win – and as always there are solid favorites in each category – it’s worth thinking about what each win means, and for whom. Look at the many ways Oscar goes global and stays local at the same time! As always, we’ll dive deep into the top 6 categories, with brief looks at some of the others.