On to the The Show itself…
It was…fine, I guess. Solid. Flashes of brilliance. A few more flashes of glaring failure. A considerable amount of curious-to-poor decisions.
We know the scenario leading into the ceremony. #OscarsSoWhite dominated Phase Two to such an (appropriately) embarrassing degree that the Oscar-watching world was prepared for Chris Rock to take aim. And he did…except those missiles took some odd turns around questionable targets before landing on the bullseye. Lines like, “Of course the Academy is racist…but it’s ‘Sorority Racist’” are so entirely perfect that they are damn near transformative in their brilliance. But diverting from there into shaming any Oscar boycotters as “unemployed” borders on conservative racism itself. Rock picking on low-hanging fruit by calling out Jada Pinkett-Smith with “she wouldn’t be nominated anyway” is cheap for one, and inaccurate for two. Not like Magic Mike XXL had any shot by virtue of the prestige bias, but ask any lover of that movie and they’ll tell you Pinkett-Smith killed it and truly should’ve been given more consideration for Best Supporting Actress.
Similarly, the premise Rock introduced about “just add ‘Black Categories’” is brilliant in concept, but then it just devolved into “Do women really need to be separated from men IN ACTING!?” which removes any focus on the #OscarsSoWhite issue and puts a target on women, an especially unsavory move since part of the Academy’s diversity issue is GENDER BALANCE! There’s a way to make the “Black Category” concept work, but it would’ve required acknowledgement that, if there weren’t male-female separation in the acting categories, likely eight of the 10 nominees would be male, thus highlighting the discrimination in gender as well as race. Make no mistake: the Oscars are, indeed, “So White,” but they’re also “So Male.” AMPAS has been exposed on multiple fronts this year – finally, at long last. Steps have been taken to address those issues and we will see how they pan out. But it’s no help when this year’s Oscar host – in a very unique and powerful position to absolutely roast the powers-that-be and add a few layers of highlighting on these important issues – diverts into…let’s call it ‘Office Sexism.’ The end bit about “Ask Her More” essentially sidestepped racial issues entirely and continued the process of implicating women for the offensively reductive questions they’re asked on the red carpet.
“If they nominated host, I wouldn’t even get this job,” however, was the most perfect joke of the night.
The Black History Month celebration of Jack Black’s work was awesome.
Tracy Morgan as The Danish Girl was unquestionably funny…but also kinda racist. The Stacey Dash bit was an awkward disaster. The man-on-the-street bit outside a Compton theater was solid, but in attempting to take aim at the Academy’s choices, it ended up taking shots at the films this ceremony was supposed to be celebrating.
The whole thing just seemed like it needed to be more precisely calibrated. Rock – who is, make no mistake, brilliant – wasn’t as savagely incisive when he needed to be, then stressed focus on the issues when it wasn’t appropriate. You can’t totally blame him, since it’s a thankless task anyway – hosting the Oscars always is, and this year especially so. But there was a way for Rock to pull off something brilliant, and this was not brilliant.
Ratings once again slipped for this year’s telecast – in spite of a change in the producing team, a new host, and a tidal wave of controversy. It may well come down to the movies themselves – maybe this year wasn’t as flashy in terms of its nominees. But I always kind of hate the intense focus on ratings numbers – since the Oscar are, after all, a celebration of movies and not merely a ratings grab. But reality is what it is…there’s a TV show, and money/ratings become important. Whatever. The Ellen DeGeneres year nabbed huge ratings. I’m fine bringing her back. But I’m also fine bringing back Neil Patrick Harris or Chris Rock, in spite of the ratings slippage these past two years. Hugh Jackman returning would be a dream come true. Or someone new and exciting creatively. Leslie Jones could be home run. Amy Schumer. Tina and Amy. Kevin Hart would probably be ideal…although there he goes stealing Chris Rock’s jobs again. What if Morgan Freeman served as emcee/voiceover while Hart or a similarly funny person filled the on-stage role? And then you could have skits and sidebars where they interacted. That’s what I’d be into, regardless of ratings. But that’s not my consideration.
In general, Reginald Hudlin did a solid producing job. He will likely return next year, and that’s cool. I would advise against the inordinately stupid “Thank You” scroll and the despicably swift early play-off music that resulted from it. I’d also *demand* that they return to allowing all five Best Original Song nominees to be performed live, regardless of how famous or noteworthy the performers are to American audiences. Guess what? The show still ran over three-and-a-half hours even with those would-be time-condensing hustles, so just stop it.
The winners? Happy for all. Leo’s had it coming for a while – for those of us familiar with Oscar history, it should come as no surprise that he didn’t win for the “right” performance or film. Good for him; the best parts of The Revenant were the ones focused squarely and silently on him. Brie Larson is an absolute gift to our movie world, a bright shining light who deserved this and deserves much more. She’s solid gold – selfies with Tremblay, wearing Chuck Taylors to the after parties, and making sure to hug each and every one of the survivors as they walked offstage after the Lady Gaga performance.
On that subject, if the Academy permitted a re-vote after the on-stage performances, “Til It Happens to You” would’ve won that Oscar going away. But the situation is what it is…another way in which AMPAS needs to tweak the system. Plenty of voters surely don’t watch all the nominated films…nor do they listen to all the nominated songs. And the performer’s name doesn’t appear on the ballot. And the Academy failed to nominate The Hunting Ground in Best Documentary Feature, thereby further fogging its visibility. Unfortunate. But that moment on stage was pure magic, not dissimilar from the Common/John Legend performance of “Glory” last year. I also hate to take anything away from Sam Smith, who is also brilliantly talented, and whose song I really liked (sorry, Film Twitter), but this year, in this moment, the wrong song won.
(I’m also not gonna go all bitchy about Smith’s “first openly gay Oscar winner” comment…he’s young, and he read something outdated, and he even caveated with “even if that isn’t the case,” and that’s that.)
So happy for the Mad Max below-the-line windfall. Only wish it would’ve also taken Best Director, as it should have. Vikander was lovely and deserving – another industry treasure. It still stings to even write about Stallone, who has been a gem this season, lapping it up, making himself available, looking less like a legend and more like a giddy first-timer. He even took the idea of an Oscar boycott seriously (ya know, cuz he’s so unemployed). He deserved this, truly. And I refuse to say anything negative about Mark Rylance, who is also wonderful, and whose performance was the best part of Bridge of Spies, and whose speech was perfect. Couldn’t be happier for him…but it stings. At the end of the day, I think Stallone’s absence from SAG and BAFTA and the like created a void in the bulk of the season. If he had won SAG then there would’ve been more momentum. His lack of nomination there had everything to do with a late start and poor campaign by Warner Bros., who failed to realize what they had in Creed. It should’ve been nominated for at least five Oscars.
Inarritu…a great speech, more graceful about diversity and inclusion than any of the Rock bits. And yet the dude had to cross his arms and throw side-eye at Jenny Beavan (as did most of the peeps in the aisle, frankly). They obviously didn’t read any prediction charts…that win was a foregone conclusion, and Beavan is an *Oscar veteran*. So Alejandro can be as bitchy as he wants…it won’t change the fact that the chick in the leather jacket has as many Oscars for Costume Design as he does for directing.
When all was said and done, the right film won Best Picture. Spotlight book-ended the night, winning the first and last awards presented. Perfect symmetry. *Michael Keaton fistpump* *Fuck yeah* *Cookies for all*
And so, year five of Projection: Oscar is in the books. I’ll keep my Thank You Scroll short: so thankful for Chris Misch’s support; for this wonderful, passionate platform at Next Projection; and for you wonderful readers who follow along through my weekly ramblings. I hope it’s as fun for you as it is for me.
Yet again I find myself with melancholy at the thought of the season coming to a close. I think the six “on months” recalibrate my brain to Oscar Mode and there’s withdrawal in the immediate aftermath. And while I’ll still be here on the regular with reviews and such (ProjectionCast shall return imminently, technical difficulties be damned), this Oscar stuff feels like “my place,” and I hate to leave it vacant. So there shall be a few offseason Projection: Oscar check-ins between now and August, when festival season looms.
And before you know it, we’ll be back at the start of another awards season. I may try to feign cynicism, as I tend to do, like “oh, what a slog,” but you know that’s all bullshit. Love you all, love this mess…talk to you soon…