Drama. The certainty of it is sure to bring viewers to the Oscar telecast tonight. But how many viewers? The awards show has been bleeding viewers in one steady decline to match that of the overall box office: we are just not going to the movies as often. Streaming devices have proved so disruptive that movie fans like me should be alarmed. Our beloved and immersive art form is in threat. Yes, wondrous things are happening on small screens, yet watching anything that way is a different way of interacting with art. Not a worse way, just a different way. If you can pause the film, get up and let your dog whining at the door out, you are not immersed; and that will fundamentally change the way these stories will be told in the future. Already, wizards are at work interpreting data of this very nature.
Now, there are things that should be killed off immediately. Let’s start with the casting couch. Set all of them on fire. I’ll dance around that blaze.
Other things I’d like to see gone forever? Read on:
The red carpet. Who cares? I’m entirely sick of it all, or at the very least the inane small talk surrounding the shallows. Every time someone is asked what they are wearing, we sink deeper into the mud. Fashion is for the streets, the runway, the social activists who employ marginalized cultures to tell stories, however embarrassed we are for JT’s sartorial sashay. Gowns on the red carpet are so, enough already. Diane Keaton knew this a couple of decades ago. Wear whatever you want and celebrate yourself and be done with it. Poof, let it be done. Will you really miss it?
Late night talk boys as hosts? Yawn. Give me my girls Melissa McCarthy or Tiffany Haddish or Mindy Kaling. If ever there was a time to let women run the show, it was this year. What the hell were they thinking?
A bloated and boring format. I love movies because of the way they make me feel; the trips I take there in the dark, without ever leaving my seat, the puzzles my mind sorts through, and the great thread of humanity coursing through telling me I’m not alone. The Oscar telecast rarely reflects any of this. It’s just one speech after another; most bereft of wit. Why don’t we see more about the craft of these films? Give us more glimpses into the various pegs of the tent: tell us about creating the costumes, makeup, editing, a breakdown of auditions, or bloopers even from the dailies…Give us peeks behind the curtains (and not the kind that result in predatory creeps exposing themselves either). Far too infrequent in past ceremonies have been fantastic segments of actors sharing what, or who inspired their own work. Old clips of films may be troublesome now as the woke culture reexamines history, but seeing our own evolution on screen is an opportunity, and one to celebrate. Give us the movies and lose the noise.
There is just way too much noise around the craft.
Yes, some noise is crucial and long overue to topple down an archaic system. I’m with all the hashtags. Employ new faces; let new voices herald in a new age. I may not live long enough to see it but I know one thing: storytellers have been on this planet forever. We’re not going anywhere. Storytelling will be here in one format or another as we march on.
But if we must have conventions (and that’s what this is: a political convention), have one that truly celebrates artistry, craft and performance.
Gary Oldman will win for playing Churchill and his was a sterling performance indeed in Darkest Hour. But Timothy Chalamet was my favourite in this category. That swoony trip of a film, Call Me By Your Name, was given a pulsing heart by this luminous talent: I can’t imagine the film without his performance which was simply a thing of immense beauty. The only currency traded here was compassion, tenderness, and joy. I’m for that.
Leading women is a trickier category, as is always the case: fewer roles for women mean the ones who rise are routinely incredible performers: the only one who doesn’t belong was Margot Robbie: she’s miscast here. I didn’t believe her as Tonya Harding. Frances McDormand is formidable in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and I always want to be on her team, but I think the less showy work, and one I’d like to see rewarded, is done by Sally Hawkins, playing a mute in love with a sea creature: she’s captivating. Or Saoirse Ronan for her work in Lady Bird. Ronan might just surprise the crowd tonight and scoop the trophy as the Academy membership is still tilted towards old white men who love to crown a comely ingenue (see Julia Roberts. See Marisa Tomei. See Jennifer Lawrence). If that happens, I’ll clap wildly along with them for Ronan, and for that awesome gem of a pic.
Richard Jenkins is outstanding in The Shape of Water. Then again, so is everyone in this category. But Willem Dafoe inhabits the supporting element so perfectly here: his gentle turn as a motel manager in The Florida Project is incredibly moving, and without him, this film would not have taken flight as readily. Sam Rockwell will win here for Three Billboards…we will applaud happily for he is indeed very strong, but it’s a predictable kind of award for a zeitgeisty kind of film.
As for the supporting women, I’d like a tie between Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread (she, not Daniel, is the very best thing about that film) and Laurie Metcalf as the tough love mom in Lady Bird. I believed in her fully. She’s up against Allison Janney for I, Tonya: it’s the duel of the crazy moms. But Metcalfe is the better here, despite Janney’s deliciously evil turn.
Adapted Screenplay: Give it up to James Ivory, a master like no other, who interpreted a beautiful and acclaimed novel, Call Me By Your Name, by taking a man looking back on his life, and putting him smack in the present of a summer of love. Or give to Dee Rees for Mudbound. She’s a wonder and we will see her again and again if #timesup has any teeth.
Cannot pick one here. These are my peeps, these scribes. All of these films are fantastic. Force me to hand a trophy and I’d make the five of them come up to hack it out. That would be truly creative producing on an Oscar telecast. Writers always give the best acceptance speeches, after all. (Jordan Peele for Get Out, Guillermo Del Toro for The Shape of Water, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjami for The Big Sick, and Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards)
Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049
Production Design: The Shape of Water
Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Sound Mixing: Dunkirk
Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049
Original Song: Mystery of Love, Call Me By Your Name.
Original Score: The Shape of Water
Makeup: The Darkest Hour
Don’t make me choose. This is a ridiculously tough category. All of these nominees are deserving, but let’s face it: Greta Gerwig batted one out of the park with Lady Bird in her debut as a director. Who does that? Not many, and certainly very few women. My vote is with her, but split it with Guillermo Del Toro, a master of magic.
GO SEE ALL OF THESE MOVIES. This is where the expansive nature of filmmaking is most evident. Can’t travel? Take a voyage with these nominees. My favourite of the five nominations is Loveless but A Fantastic Woman also wins my tremendous admiration.
Documentary: Last Men in Aleppo
Best Movie: This is a great list. I will be happy to see any of them win, except Phantom Thread, or Darkest Hour, maybe an inch less worthy. If you haven’t seen the nominees, you will not wasting your time investing in any of them. I enjoyed them all but I was wowed the most by Dunkirk and The Shape of Water: both are remarkable achievements in filmmaking. Both will, and should be, studied by students of film from here on.
NEED MORE, MOVIE NERDS? I’ve been a student of film for three decades. You can’t keep me away.
From a year ago: