Some Thoughts Before the Oscars

by Davey Jones

I’ll confess my personal Oscar and 2017 movie opinions up front: I think “Mother!” is the best film of 2017 and everyone involved deserved a nomination in their respective categories. The most exciting things about The Post are the shots of the newspaper printing blocks and the credits rolling. Daniel Day-Lewis is still better than Gary Oldman with makeup, but Daniel Kaluuya should win Best Actor for “Get Out.” Margot Robbie or Sally Hawkins should win Best Actress. “Logan” should win for Best Adapted Screenplay and “The Big Sick” should win Best Original. 

Roger Deakins deserves the Oscar for Best Cinematography, but please please please don’t give it to him for that vulturous zombie of a sequel feeding on the bloated carcass of one of my favorite films. Sufjan Stevens should win two Academy Awards for Best Original Song or at least have two nominations. The Academy doesn’t deserve to deliberate on Best Foreign Film.

They should change the name of Best Animated Feature to Best Disney/Pixar Film, though I wish “The Breadwinner” would win the bread. “Baby Driver” should win something for Editing or Sound because that has fuck all to do with Kevin Spacey’s fall from grace (I’m guessing it won’t). Outside of the Oscars, “Thor: Ragnarok” was the year’s most purely enjoyable film, and I didn’t even see the first two. That should be enough to keep the internet troll fires burning. Alright! Let’s dive in to the politically and financially motivated appreciation of film…

Welcome to the 90th Academy Awards! The Oscars have long been known to reward films that cater to a certain kind of opinion. Hollywood has always loved movies about Hollywood, movies that tread the familiar and marketable grounds of established genres, movies that feature celebrities with established track records playing into or against the expectations of audiences, and movies that celebrate values appealing to the broadest number of voting members in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – traditionally white and overwhelmingly male. 

The crack in the armor of Hollywood’s self-serving, slow-grinding wheels of cultural justice may finally have widened in the year 2018. White dudes still have the lion’s share of say in who gets what awards this year, but there’s been a lot of ink – digital and otherwise – spilled on the Academy’s recent dedication to diversity. Whether informed by #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, or Jimmy Kimmel’s conscience… the Academy has seen fit to nominate films like “The Shape of Water,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” and “Call Me by Your Name” for Best Picture.

Collectively, these progressive films represent the shift away from a world in which “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” would have been the only films in the running. If you’re counting, part of that is due to the expansion of the category from five to nine nominees. Since that move was calculated to include animated features and films based on comic books, however, it’s especially telling that neither were included in the Best Picture category this year.

Perhaps the Academy’s intentions are not as sunny a disposition as I’d like to paint them; maybe it’s got to do with a steady year-over-year decline in ratings. Maybe all this diverse inclusion is simply casting the widest net for the greatest potential return on viewers. The fight for Best Picture will be a tale told over the course of hours: the red carpet eye candy for people who don’t actually watch movies, the short films that no one has seen, the technical  awards for people we never get to see, and lots of advertising money from companies that couldn’t or wouldn’t advertise during the Super Bowl. 

Perhaps that’s why it’s exciting to look at the Best Director category and realize that this year represents only the fifth time that either a black man or a white woman have been nominated to receive this award. Unfortunately, I think Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig cancel out each other’s chances to win. Maybe that paves the way for Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical parable of acceptance, although it might not indicate what happens at the end of the night. A recent trend of Best Pictures divorced from their directors still means del Toro could win for directing while Americans too squeamish to embrace his creature-feature-romance push Three Billboards to Best Picture.

Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor are still solidly white categories. While certainly not undeserving, Frances McDormand is the night’s most predictable winner: standing on the shoulders of her previous work while appealing to white men, white women, and others with her tough-as-nails-mother-of-a-dead-child. McDormand’s supporting co-stars, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, have their category locked down. While I’m a dedicated fan of Rockwell’s work, I prefer Harrelson’s character arc and his delivery. This is not a year for nuance, however, and the Oscar will go to Rockwell because his character outlives Harrelson’s for both screen time and  Recovering Racist™ points.

Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress each feature two people of color out of the five, but the odds are stacked against them. You try going up against Gary Oldman in Oscar-winning (prediction!) Makeup and Hairstyling. Meanwhile, Allison Janney as Tonya Harding’s scene-chewing mom is at least half of the reason you should watch that film. There is no way these categories affect Best Picture, unless somebody rigs the votes for shock value and a ratings spike.

So, really, the most exciting possibility for progressive wins at the Oscars could be in the Best Screenplay categories. As a writer, that amuses me. As a fan of movies and the way in which they shape us culturally, I’m telling you to get out of the house tonight and don’t watch the Oscars. Go live your life. Write your own screenplay. Pretty sure Lady Bird would say the same thing.