Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Wrap-Up of This Year's Oscars Season

The winners of this year's acting categories
This is it for another awards season. It has been a fun past 13 months (since technically Get Out started the prestige talk early), and it only feels right to look back on the highs and lows of this season, specifically as it relates to the Oscars ceremony. To me, the biggest issue with the ceremony is that it was both an exciting year, but also one of rather predictable courses. All of the acting categories went to the blazing front runners who had been winning awards since December. However, it was still a period of change the likes of which The Academy is still surprising us with. In a conventional year, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would've won Best Picture. Instead, it went to the first monster movie to win Best Picture: The Shape of Water. Say what you will, but this was one of the best Oscar seasons in recent years.

It did seem a bit suspicious that the ceremony wanted to be a repeat of the previous year. On one hand, it was a smart move in large part because Jimmy Kimmel is arguably the rightful heir to Billy Crystal. He has a natural charisma to him that makes even the most confrontational remarks roll off without stalling the show like Chris Rock, nor is he someone like Neil Patrick Harris or Seth MacFarlane who gets bogged down in idiosyncratic sketches. While he brought all of this to his two performances as host, he inevitably shined because of how well he knows the Hollywood streets. It's because of him that certain bits could work, since he has likely schmoozed with every nominee on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, filmed right across the street. Even his access to the El Capitan Theater meant that he could do some elaborate stunts that other non-regional hosts could do.

But then there's the sense that some things were a bit too familiar. For instance, the choice to have Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway present Best Picture again was a joke about how poorly last year went. The emphasis on the past was an integral part of the evening, but when even the announcers were getting in on the envelope snafu, it felt like this wasn't a ceremony but a four hour apology. Even if none of the winners were repeats, there was still the sense that this had all been done before. How would Kimmel liven it up? Thankfully, he did so with some memorable gags, such as the presence of a jet-ski contest where the shortest speech won (though jet ski model Helen Mirren didn't come with it, as far as I know). Even then, there were gags such as breaking into an advanced screening of A Wrinkle in Time that felt like repeats that didn't have the same flair as before.

The ceremony itself was at odds with itself in that regards. For as much as it wanted to paint 2017 as a year of progressive change, it couldn't help but point out that this new Academy had made a few mistakes. Not since John Travolta screwed up Idina Menzel had The Academy created a running gag of such prominence. Still, the show's look back into its past was also done impressive service by mixing young presenters with more established talent. To hear Eva Marie Saint and Rita Moreno provide interesting tidbits about past Oscar ceremonies showed just how rich the history was, which was all the more relevant thanks to the 90th anniversary. While some of the montages arguably ran a little long, the choice to look into The Academy's past was enough to make it a special evening without derailing the very fabric of the ceremony.

Thankfully the winners weren't an example of the past however. Even if winners like Frances McDormand or Gary Oldman were seen as seasoned vets, most of the other winners felt more inclusive than in past years. For instance, transgender Oscar nominee Anohni was banned from performing at the Oscars only a few years ago. So to see A Fantastic Woman's Daniela Vega present a category showed that the chance that former Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs requested was actually coming to fruition. This was a new Academy, full of voters who would nominate a more diverse group of films, presenting a more inclusive agenda through programs such as Time's Up. For the complaints of how long Hollywood has taken to feel inclusive, the fact that this change was present in the past two Best Picture winners (Moonlight and The Shape of Water) more than suggests that this is the biggest shake-up for Oscar voters in quite some time.

If anything, the 90th Academy Awards was an indication of what The Academy is. It's not exactly just young people running the business, nor is it old hats continuing to vote safe bets into Best Picture winners circles. What is present is a sense that movies are beginning to matter again, and the fact that genre cinema is also evolving in significant ways does suggest that things will only get more interesting and unpredictable. It's far from completely different, but change is slow. We've come a long way since the Oscars So White movement, and even the choice to not nominate actors of notoriety (such as last year's Casey Affleck or Mel Gibson) shows that the idea of an Oscar is also changing rapidly. One has to wonder what comes next now that The Academy has given their past two Best Picture winners to a black gay movie, and a horror love story. 

This has been a year defined by the shifting tide, notably with the Me Too movement taking down powerhouses like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey in the process. When Frances McDormand stated that she wanted to have people include an "inclusion rider" in their contracts, it was a powerful moment that introduced a large audience to something important if Hollywood wishes to move forward in any meaningful way. It's far better than Oprah Winfrey grandstanding at the Golden Globes for equality, and in fact was done with an emphasis that read like more than soapbox jollies. One can hope that this shift that started last year is only going to continue to change in the years to come. Even if this wasn't the most exciting or controversial ceremony, the fact that The Shape of Water could even win is a great miracle, and one that hopefully is taken as a symbol of what strange winners are to come. 

No comments:

Post a Comment