Last year, at the end of the Oscars the crowd was left practically speechless over the insane upset they’d just witnessed and how exactly it had gone down. The excitement was palpable. This year, well, the crowd actually booed.
Yeah, it was a different kind of show. It was annoyingly predictable, sometimes painfully unfunny (sorry, Mark Hamill and Star Wars co-stars), needlessly packed with filler segments, like a video package ode to war movies, and ran so long they cut the mic of the Best Picture winner and abruptly ended the show, which is what elicited the light booing.
Oh, this? I remember this. This is what the Academy Awards used to be like every year, right down to a couple of small indie movies winning screenplay awards and nothing else.
But buried underneath all of that was plenty of inspiring, #Resist-era messaging. Through several of the acceptance speeches, video packages that were part of the ceremony, and even in some of the Oscar-themed advertising during the commercial breaks, we were continually encouraged to get off our asses and tell our own stories. Greta Gerwig can’t wait to see the personal stories we’ll tell just like she did with Lady Bird, we learned in one video. Ava DuVernay challenged anyone who keeps making excuses to own the fact that anyone with a cell phone and determination can be a director now.
Perhaps most poignantly, Guillermo del Toro had this to say during his Shape of Water Best Picture acceptance speech: “I was a kid enamored with movies. Thought this could never happen, it happens. I want to tell everyone that is dreaming of a parable and of using genre fantasy to tell the stories that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”
Of course, there was also a fair deal of Trump, #MeToo, and #TimesUp banter, but ala the Golden Globes last year the direct Trump references were kept to a minimum. Instead, the industry was a bit more interested in cleaning house first, striving for equal pay, more diverse representation, and more just treatment. These issues were all lumped together in a video both about #MeToo and the need for diversity, featuring quotes from Geena Davis, Patricia Arquette, Yance Ford, and Kumail Nanjiani, who made particularly persuasive points about the fiscal wisdom of pursuing more diverse projects (better for society, sure, but they also make more money). Some will likely again bemoan the way the women and people of color are still left to do the heavy lifting alone, at least in terms of spreading their message through acceptance speeches. But’s that been true this whole awards season.
To recap the actual awards, everything that had been winning everywhere else won again tonight: Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand in the lead acting categories, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney in the supporting acting categories, del Toro for Director, Get Out and Call Me By Your Name for Original and Adapted Screenplay, Dunkirk for Editing (and Sound Editing/Mixing), Roger Deakins and Blade Runner 2049 for Cinematography (his first win), Shape of Water for Production Design and Original Score (on top of Picture and Director), Coco for Best Animated Film and Song, Phantom Thread for Best Costume, and Darkest Hour for Best Make-Up/Hair (in addition to Oldman’s Best Actor win).
The surprises were Blade Runner for Visual Effects (which was thought to be going to War for the Planet of the Apes), A Fantastic Woman for Best Foreign Film (over The Square or The Insult), and Netflix’s Icarus for Best Documentary (instead of Faces Places), but even then none of those were exactly shocking. Blade Runner is undeniably stunning to look at and had won a BAFTA for visual effects. A Fantastic Woman is a late-charging entry with near universal acclaim and zeitgeisty subject matter. Icarus’ director has been promoting his Russia doping scandal movie non-stop for the past year, particularly emphasizing the parallels between what he uncovered and what Russia is doing to hack elections around the world.
So predictable, but so what?
So, now that Jimmy Kimmel has rushed the Shape of Water people (so much for my crazy Get Out upset pick) off the stage to cap off his water ski bit and force in one last Matt Damon joke I’m left to sit here and stew over the complete lack of surprise of it all. We just saw a lot of the same people deliver a lot of the same speeches, right down to Frances McDormand doing her now-familiar “I’ve got some things to say” routine, and unlike in year’s past there was no a-star-is-born moment; instead, more acknowledging well-known and well-respected career players, most of whom had never actually won before.
But then you just have to get past all of that. Yes, for example, Allison Janney now has an Oscar to go along with her SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice, and Independent Spirit Award for I, Tonya, but, dude, Allison Janney, the star of too many great things to count, has a freakin’ Oscar for a movie in which she disdainfully tells someone to lick her ass. How awesome is that? Same goes for Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards and Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour.
What was that thing Frances said about an “inclusion rider”?
As for McDormand, she used her speech to call upon all of the nominated women to stand in solidarity together (which they did, following Meryl Streep’s lead after she stood up) and advocated for inclusion riders, which Whitney Cummings then explained on Twitter:
The sight of the women standing together, even if scattered throughout the Dolby Theatre’s seating area, was one of the show’s most indelible images, especially on an evening that was otherwise light on spontaneity and which seemed to communicate its political and social messages better through pre-packaged videos and commercials than in actual speeches.
What a great year for movies.
Were there people I would have rather seen take the stage? Sure, some whose work I personally prefer (like Laurie Metcalf), others who simply would have delivered a more entertaining speech (see Timothee Chalamet’s Independent Spirit Award speech for evidence of that). However, I like every film that won this year. Heck, I like just about everything that was even nominated this year:
Dunkirk gave me a filmgoing experience unrivaled by anything I’ve ever seen before. Blade Runner 2049 is a piece of sci-fi spectacle I simply wanted to escape into. Get Out is the horror movie I never knew I always wanted. Phantom Thread left me continually guessing where the heck it was going with its story and by the end I was transfixed by its wildly shifting dynamics. Darkest Hour is a better-than-average piece of Oscar bait and Gary Oldman just the right side of over-the-top. The Big Sick offered me, a white dude, a helpful window into a new world, but it did it in such a relatable and smartly funny way. Lady Bird absolutely nails what it was like to be at that age in the early 2000s. Coco touched my heart and led me to seek out stories about my long-dead relatives I’d never heard before.
I could go on.
Really, this person on Twitter put it better:
The succinctness of his “I loved all these movies” message really struck me. In far too many years, the Academy either gets it totally wrong or the industry, in general, just has a down year. So, sometimes there are really only a couple of good nominees and a bunch of whatevers you’ll have long since forgotten a year later. This year, however, I would have been perfectly fine if anything other than The Post or Darkest Hour won Best Picture and I won’t soon forget Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, or Shape of Water.
Get to Best Picture, already!
The top prize ultimately went to Shape of Water, which has been running neck and neck with Three Billboards for months now. However, Three Billboards was always too divisive to win on a preferential ballot. The Shape of Water, by using metaphor to deliver its message about love and the immigrant experience, is too disarming to hate, unless you simply can’t get past or don’t appreciate the symbolism of the plot’s fishman-on-woman action.
Beyond that, it’s also an undeniable feat of filmmaking. As Erin Brockovich producer and Academy voter Michael Shamberg told NY Times, ““It’s well designed, well shot, well costumed, well acted, well made, and it moves you. What this guy del Toro has done is say something very emotional about human connection and love using the vocabulary of genre. And that’s why people respond.”
Recent years and wins by Moonlight and Spotlight have suggested that capturing the zeitgeist is a prerequisite for winning, which is partially why I jumped on the bandwagon predicting a Get Out upset win. However, Shape of Water is actually more zeitgeisty and relevant than any other nominees. First of all, it’s a female-led narrative. Secondly, it touches on racial and gender discrimination, an immigrant’s hardships, workplace sexual assault, Russian interference with U.S. secrets, and the U.S. as the villain. It just does all of that through a meticulously put-together work of cinema which can also function as a simple fairy tale about a woman, her fishman, and their outsider friends for those not looking to read beneath the surface.
It wasn’t my favorite film of the year, but, ala what the Academy CFO said was their goal in switching to a preferential ballot back in 2009, it’s a Best Picture I can easily live with. What about you?
Looking back at my predictions.
I got everything right other than Picture (Shape of Water bested my upset pick Get Out), Visual Effects (Blade Runner beat War for the Planet of the Apes), and Documentary (Icarus was a surprise winner over Faces Places). I abstained from predicting the short film nominees since I didn’t have a chance to see all of them, but if I had gone in with predictions I would have been wrong about everything other than Best Animated Short, which did indeed go to Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball. Which means the following is now true:
What about the trailblazers fare?
Most of them lost, but at least they were the first people in their categories to have the honor of losing. So, congrats?
Kudos to the groundbreaking nominations: first female for cinematography (Rachel Morrison for Mudbound), first black woman for screenplay (Dee Rees, also for Mudbound), first openly transgender man to be nominated at all and, obviously, the first openly transgender director to be nominated (for his documentary Strong Island). Plus, even though they weren’t the historical first nominees of their kind in their categories, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig’s stronger-than-expected showing for Get Out and Lady Bird was highly unusual for the Academy. Of all of them, only Peele walked away with an Oscar (and a standing ovation), making him the first African American to win Best Original Screenplay. Also, Fantastic Woman became the first movie from Chile and first movie featuring a trans actor to take home Best Foreign Film.
The win I cheered for the most.
It would have been del Toro for Best Director or Deakins for Cinematography if those hadn’t seemed like such foregone conclusions going into the night. So, instead, I was oddly most excited to see Coco take “Best Song.” Yes, it went to the same two people who wrote “Let It Go” and was thus probably always the presumptive winner. However, there seemed to be a lot of potential for Greatest Showman or Mudbound to take the Oscar, and I feared people had started to forget just how important “Remember Me” is to Coco, which is my favorite film of any of the nominees this year.
What did you think of this year’s Oscars?