Monday, March 5, 2018

An Oscar night with few surprises

For its 90th anniversary, the Academy Awards showcased an unusually diverse crop of films in an evening that unfolded in utterly predictable fashion.

Marked mostly by an evenness of tone and few memorable displays of personality, the ceremonies took place on one of the most unfortunately garish sets ever. I read that the LA Times had reported that the set was designed to look like the inside of a geode. Question: Why in a year that was supposed to celebrate openness why did Hollywood choose the inside of a rock as its set? Answer: Perhaps because it afforded an opportunity to build a 10-ton proscenium arch made from 45 million crystals.

As for the show …

Jimmy Kimmel opened the proceedings with a relaxed, well-delivered monologue that may not have killed but was funny enough. Kimmel didn’t do much after that, aside from adding a distracting bit in which he took a bunch of stars to a nearby theater to hand out goodies to an audience that was watching a preview showing of director Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time.

For a moment, Kimmel's stunt gave the Oscars a ridiculous game show aura. I don’t know about you, but my list of things I’d hoped never to see includes Lupita Nyong’O handing out Red Vines.

The excursion outside the Dolby Theater wasn't the only game-show-like flare. Kimmel did another bit in which the Oscar recipient who delivered the shortest acceptance speech would receive a Jet Ski. Helen Mirren rode the Jet Ski onto the stage. Oh dignity, where art thou?

References to dreamers, #TimesUp and calls for inclusion were accompanied by a tribute to military-themed movies, a transparent attempt to show that Hollywood isn’t totally full of left-leaning liberals who have no idea what happens in mainstream America.

In the days leading up to the Oscars, prognosticators were calling the best-picture race too-close-to-call, a near dead heat between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

In the end, Shape of Water won the Oscar for best picture. The movie won four Oscars in all, including best director for Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro, who grew up in Mexico, proudly and pointedly called himself "an immigrant" in his acceptance speech.

The evening perked up quite a bit with Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech after she took the Oscar for best performance by a lead actress for her work in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

After the customary thanks, McDormand set her Oscar on the stage floor and wound up for what felt like it would be a scolding from a principal at a school assembly. Instead, she asked every female nominee to stand. She not only called for more diversity in movie-making but insisted on it.

McDormand probably also sent viewers to Google to look up the two words with which she ended her speech: “inclusion rider." She was calling for additions to contracts that mandate gender and racial diversity.

Three Billboards, which had both avid supporters and angry detractors, had to content itself with acting Oscars for McDormand, and for Sam Rockwell, who won in the best supporting actor category.

Allison Janney won the best-supporting-actress Oscar for playing Tonya Harding's mother in I, Tonya. Janney began her speech with a memorable first line: "I did all by myself." Of course, she immediately made amends, continuing with the obligatory list of people she needed to thank.

Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra — three women who have gone public with their accusations of Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct — called for more diversity in film.

This year’s awards seemed to follow a something-for-everyone arc:

-- Many were hoping Get Out would win best picture; it didn't but it did win best original screenplay for writer/director Jordan Peele.

-- Phantom Thread won an Oscar for best costumes.

-- Dunkirk took some technical awards (best editing, best sound editing, and best sound mixing) but couldn’t work its way to the top in the major categories.

-- James Ivory’s adapted screenplay for Call Me By Your Name was recognized, making the 89-year-old screenwriter the oldest person ever to receive an Oscar.

-- Darkest Hour not only netted a best actor Oscar for Gary Oldman -- unrecognizable as Winston Churchill -- but for the folks who did Oldman's phenomenal make-up.

-- No one should have been surprised that A Fantastic Woman, a Chilean movie about a transgender woman who fought with the family of her late lover, took the award for the best foreign-language film. Its victory had been widely predicted.

Lady Bird, an early-season darling that began the evening with five nominations including best picture, went home empty-handed, as did another best-picture nominee, The Post.

I wasn't unhappy that Icarus, which helped call attention to the Russian doping scandal, won an Oscar for best documentary, but I really wanted to see 89-year-old Agnes Varda (Faces Places) give an acceptance speech.

I agree with those who watched the show and suggested that Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph, two of this year's presenters, should be frontrunners to host next year's show.

After last year's fiasco, it probably made sense to have Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announce the best-picture winner. You could almost hear the show's producers calling, "Faye. Warren. Come home. All is forgiven."
I don’t know how many people saw the Oscar shorts programs, but those who did may have been a little surprised to see Kobe Bryant holding an Oscar for Dear Basketball, a self-serving animated short about his love of the game.

During the Oscars, Wesley Morris, who writes for the New York Times, perceptively tweeted: “Kobe Bryant has an Oscar. And Stanley Kubrick does not.”

Oh well, who said anything about Hollywood makes sense?
A complete list of winners can be found in today's edition of Variety.

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