Monday, March 15, 2021

Oscar: more inclusion, fragmentation


    I’m not the first person to say this, but the Oscars have become another emblem of our deeply fragmented culture. 
     Times have changed in other ways, as well. Mank, this year's  most-nominated movie, had a limited theatrical run and was mostly seen on Netflix. The movie topped the list of nominees with ten.
   As many already have pointed out, the shift from theatrical viewing or at least toward theatrical-plus already has taken place. Sure there has been plenty of moaning about not being able to attend theaters, but I know more than few people who put theatrical viewing in the rear-view mirror even before the pandemic.
   None of this is to say that Oscar shouldn't be commended for making some long-overdue changes. Among them: two women (Emerald Fennell of Promising Young Woman and Chloe Zhao of Nomadland) nominated for best director; six black actors in major categories; and a willingness to recognize the accomplishments of small movies such as Minari, Nomadland, and (surprisingly) The Father in the best-picture category.
    If Oscar wants to broaden its base, though, why ignore a movie such as On the Rocks, which was generously entertaining and had something close to general-audience appeal -- albeit without sacrificing its smarts.
    I'm not going to dwell on other Oscar snubs. Some feel that Spike Lee should have gotten a best-director nod for his Vietnam movie Da 5 Bloods. Similarly, many argue that Delroy Lindo should have received a best-actor nomination for his incendiary work in the same movie. 
   I wonder whether Glenn Close will have to break out the smile she wears when someone else wins the best-supporting actress Oscar, although I wouldn’t bet against the Academy finally giving Close a statue after seven previous nominations and no wins. 
   Close is nominated in for best-supporting actress for her portrayal of a flinty, hardened grandma in Hillbilly Elegy.
   We should celebrate Chloe Zhao’s best-director nomination for Nomadland. She’s the first Chinese woman to be nominated for best director, even if we (by which I mean only me) feel Nomadland has been slightly overrated.
    The Academy did no favor to Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, nominating both of them in the best-supporting actor category. The only way that makes sense is if they tie and each takes home an Oscar for his work in Judas and the Black Messiah.
   Oscar always produces head-scratching contradictions.
   Judas and the Black Messiah, the story of how the FBI infiltrated the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, was nominated for best picture and best original screenplay. Shaka King, the movie's director was snubbed in the best-director category.
    The same goes for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which earned a best-picture nomination but recognized the movie's director Aaron Sorkin only in the best original screenplay category.
   Here’s a link to the full list of nominees in case you need one.
   Yes, I'll be watching when the awards are handed out on April 25th. But Oscar won’t regain its primacy until its various ambitions (diversity, independence, studio work and streaming) converge to create a movie that spends at least a month dominating the pop-cultural conversation.
    Quick. Without thinking tell me which movie won last year’s best picture?
    It was Parasite
    Well, wasn’t it?

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