Is It Time to Bury Oscar?
Rambling and Ranting about the 90th Annual Academy Awards
This has been a terrible year for movies and the people who love them.
Foreshadowing the mass mayhem to come, last year’s Academy Award ceremony concluded with the travesty of Moonlight winning the Best Motion Picture Oscar over the far superior La La Land. If that wasn’t an abomination enough, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, two Hollywood legends delegated to announce the winner, were mistakenly handed the wrong envelope and declared the erroneous victor.
Talk about “fake news.”
Beatty should have announced, “and the winner is — Bonnie and Clyde.” That’s because Moonlight winning was a robbery.
Last year’s onstage clusterfuck in front of 150 million baffled viewers typifies how badly the Oscar is tarnished. It’s a prize coveted far more for its marketing boost than any certification of artistic merit. Sure, winning an Oscar can still make someone’s career. It can add an extra zero to the next movie deal. It also means the chance to recycle a forgotten film that departed the theaters months ago. That’s why movie studios covet nominations like squirrels gathering acorns for the wintertime. Oscars mean money.
But the talent pool of some categories has become downright pedestrian in recent years. Put another way — when Casey Affleck bags a Best Actor Oscar statue….while Robert Downey, Jr., Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Bill Murray, John Malkovich, Ralph Fiennes, Joaquin Phoenix, Donald Sutherland, Don Cheadle, Martin Sheen, Paul Giamatti, James Caan, and Ed Harris don’t own a single Oscar, something’s amiss. The award has pretty much been reduced to a bowling trophy given for rolling a 250 game. Affleck, possessing all the acting skills of the dropout working at the AutoZone counter, won a Best Actor Oscar for the dreadful film Manchester by the Sea. Affleck, at age 42, already owns more Academy Awards during his career than Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas, Montgomery Clift, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Peter Sellers — combined. Casey Affleck couldn’t pass an acting class if Peter Sellers was the instructor. He’d flunk out.
Of course, the huge story in Hollywood this past year wasn’t Affleck winning because you wouldn’t recognize him on the street, or Moonlight’s inexplicable Oscar, which is an annoying film almost no one saw. The biggest news was the tidal flood of sexual harassment scandals and the dragnet of whales and sharks hoisted out of the hidden sea into the exposure of sunlight. Careers have been destroyed, and in most cases — good riddance. Harvey Weinstein got what was coming to him. Too bad it took 30 fucking years for someone to bait the hook.
One can’t help but sneer watching the same Hollywood elite who fawned over Weinstein for decades now flipflopping against him like the once beloved family pet turned rabid and foaming at the mouth. Tonight, so many of those who gloriously bombasted his praises in their acceptance speeches, will laugh and clap enthusiastically when host Jimmy Kimmel rips into Weinstein and others. You tell ’em, Jimmy. We got your back.
Indeed, there’s a sickening hypocrisy to all of it. The #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo movements have clearly won the day. Their objectives of inclusion and justice have been noble pursuits from the beginning and those who were on the front lines early deserve praise. Not so much the latecomers, which is mostly what we’ll see tonight. It’s easy to march in the back of a parade.
I like political movies. I like movies with messages. I also like actors who promote social awareness. That said, the overt politicization of acceptance speeches has probably gone too far, and the movements de jour are unlikely to exhibit any real courage outside of what’s popular within the entertainment industry bubble. Based on television ratings, many viewers are put off by the spectacle. They’re tuning out. There’s no doubt Hollywood’s liberal slant has alienated millions of people who once loved going to the movies. Such redneck sensitivities don’t concern me, but given Hollywood is a bottom-line business, mass consumer rejection of this year’s nominees (none of the films nominated in the major award categories were in the top five of box office profits) is problematic.
So, how did we get to now?
Many people mistakenly credit (or blame) Marlon Brando as the first actor to politicize the Oscars when he protested winning the Best Actor statuette for The Godfather because of the insensitive portrayal of Native-Americans on film. One has to admire Brando for walking the walk and taking some career risks.
However, Brando wasn’t the first to use the mighty Oscar podium to make a bold political statement. Actually, the first actor to politicize the Oscars was Rod Steiger, who four years earlier won for In the Heat of the Night. Steiger thanked his co-star Sidney Portier who taught him things about race and prejudice which enhanced his performance. Steiger invoked some famous words that night, “we shall overcome,” in his closing remarks. The 1968 Oscars were held just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
By the way, check out the five Best Actor nominees that year in this clip, and then get back to me about which modern performances compare.
A decade later, British actress Vanessa Redgrave injected politics into her acceptance speech with disastrous results. She won 1978’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia, and then shocked the audience when she referenced “Zionist hoodlums.” Whatever one’s politics about the Middle East conflict, the remark did seem terribly inappropriate and out of place.
Hence, as the Steiger-Brando-Redgrave examples demonstrate, there’s a fine line between pushing the edges of public consciousness for a political cause versus falling off a cliff into the abyss.
Tonight, I expect we will see many winners falling into the abyss.
Persuasion is an art form that often works best when it’s subtle. To Kill a Mockingbird and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? opened far more White American eyes on race relations than either 12 Years a Slave or Selma. There’s some talk the recently-released Black Panther, which is breaking all sorts of box office records could finally shatter the old-guard corporate entertainment mindset that “Black movies” don’t do well financially. That still remains to be seen.
The bottom line is, we remain tribal — not just politically, but culturally. This is reflected in the movies we go to see and enjoy. We tend to flock to movies about people like us. After World War II, over the 25 years which followed, several dozen war movies were churned out which appealed to the millions of proud veterans and their families. Kids like seeing movies about other kids. New York Jews have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of Woody Allen’s movie audiences (at least until his recent scandals). Blacks gravitated to Spike Lee. Italian-Americans continue to worship everything put out by Martin Scorcese. However, it’s the directors, writers, and actors who have either broken down or ignored barriers of race, gender, and sexual orientation who usually make our most memorable films. That’s worth remembering.
Meanwhile, the masses willingly ignore most of the films nominated for Oscars, choosing instead to engulf themselves in a constant deluge of mindless action movies, shitty shlock with limited dialogue and little character development. This mediocrity problem is worsened by Hollywood’s fixation on international receipts, which have become the standard benchmark of success or failure.
Yes, I will watch the Oscars because no one knows what will happen or what surprises are in store. Besides, I haven’t missed a presentation since Brando’s win in 1973, which was my first. It’s been downhill ever since.
My picks for the 2018 Academy Awards major categories:
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Sam Rockwell will win. But I thought Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Richard Jenkins were at least as compelling to watch onscreen. Rockwell will win because his unexpected character transformation is absolutely vital to the story and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has garnered such rave reviews.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
I wasn’t overly impressed with any of these performances. Sure, they were all fine. But nothing stood out for me. I didn’t like Lady Bird, but also thought the two lead performances were very good. Hence, I’d give the Oscar to Laurie Metcalf, who plays a mother struggling to raise a rebellious teen.
Gary Oldman. The only award that’s certain. Oldman’s body of work is astounding. I’m glad he’ll finally get his due tonight.
Sally Hawkins deserves this Oscar for playing a complex role which required far more skill than Frances McDormand, who always seems to play herself in every movie. Of course, McDormand will likely win.
Guillermo del Toro should be a lock for The Shape of Water. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t win.
I’ll be pleased if either The Post, Get Out, or The Shape of Water win. However, Three Billboards Outside Ebbling, Missouri appears to be a solid favorite.
Finally, one thing is certain. Composer John Williams is nominated for another Oscar. This marks his 51st nomination, more than anyone else. The music of John Willilams in a treasure. He deserves mention among the greatest composers in history.