It was a very predictable telecast. Astoundingly, I guessed the winner of every single award correctly, except the “who cares?” short film categories. I mean, when even the technical categories don’t inspire surprises, something is up. And usually, there’s at least one mild upset in the major categories (like if Laurie Metcalf had won over Allison Janney or Saoirse Ronan over Oscar’s favorite crazy aunt, Frances McDormand), but no such luck here. Still, there were some stand-out moments…
Best Jimmy Kimmel Joke, Opening Monologue: The old-timey radio intro where he said Meryl Streep’s greatest accomplishment “is being a mother to her four kids, just kidding, she can’t remember their names” and saying Armie Hammer was created “when a witch put a curse on a Ken doll.”
Best Jimmy Kimmel Joke, During the Telecast: Making a crack that for those who say the Oscars are Hollywood elitists out of touch with real people, each of the millions of expensive Swavorski crystals on the Oscar stage “represents humility.”
Best Acceptance Speech Joke: Allison Janney, kidding when she said “I did it all on my own.” I’ve always wanted someone to ditch the tradition of thanking a list of people, and just saying “it’s all me,” even as a joke.
Worst Straw Man: The perception that “straight, white men” have refused to watch movies starring anyone else (most literally said by the great Kumail Nanjiani, unfairly snubbed for the terrific “The Big Sick” but this was hinted at by several comments) in decades past. As if white men have never seen a Sidney Poitier or Omar Sharif film, a mostly black sitcom (from “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” to “Family Matters” and “Fresh Prince”), a Bruce Lee movie, etc. As if they used to see a poster with Denzel Washington or Will Smith and say “I’m not watching this shit!” As if diversity in Hollywood is not just expanding but freshly created, and women from as early as Bette Davis’s time have not been giving speeches similar to the one Frances McDormand did last night. The biggest illusion of our time may be the idea that things really change rather than ebb and flow in cycles, and all of our battles are new and specific to us somehow. “Those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” indeed.
Most Absent Villain: Jimmy Kimmel and others made jokes they were sure would enrage the easily-enraged Donald Trump (“Lupita N’yongo is a Kenyan born in Mexico, and the most likely person to set off a toilet tweet storm from the President.”) But I guess Trump has more immediate concerns like being prosecuted for treason, because so far he has yet to respond to the Oscars. At times, it seems like Trump is a tank that runs on the media’s hatred, but is he finally able to resist being baited?
Most Quietly Touching Moment of Inclusion: The Social Justice Warrior theme was deafening at the Oscars, but the least blowhard-y and most actually inclusive moment (not just talk) was Rachel Shenton signing her acceptance speech and giving tribute to the deaf. She’s not the first person to sign her speech (Jane Fonda, Louise Fletcher, and Marlee Matlin did in the 70’s and 1987), but she’s the first person to do so in 30 years. This was a nice moment of contrast with speeches that are mostly just that. [Sorry Frances, but a quick look at the “Best Actress” montage will give you snow-blindness as Halle Berry remains the only non-white woman to win that category in Oscar’s 90 year history.]
Most Likely Icon to be Torn Down Next: Meryl Streep. I know it sounds crazy, but there were so many jokes about her last night–yes, good natured “ribbing” but that’s how it starts. [It’s how it started for Anne Hathaway and Gwyneth Paltrow before they were suddenly hated. And there’s now more people making jokes about George Clooney than actually watch his movies.] In six months time, there will begin to be little pieces popping up on Jezebel here and HuffPost there like “Has Meryl Streep enabled Hollywood’s misogyny problem?” They’ll notice how even men that hate women generally like Meryl Streep and question what she’s actually done to stop sexism in Hollywood (other than being a woman over 60 starring in movies which is no small feat). Rose McGowan has already started the shade, and many of the “jokes” by other actresses last night may contain a hidden twinge of jealousy. If she’s nominated again next year, expect the backlash to begin in earnest.
Most Touching Musical Performance: I could see people getting choked up during Coco’s “Remember Me” or Mudbound’s “Mighty River” or The Greatest Showman’s showstopping “This is Me.” And they were all great, but I literally teared up during Eddie Vedder’s performance of Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top” during the In Memoriam segment. The others were rousing or affecting in different ways, but Vedder is the person you’d most want to sing at your funeral, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Best Speech Overall: Gary Oldman, who acknowledged his immigration to the U.S. not so much by lambasting Trumpers but by talking about how much the United States has given him, not just his job opportunities but his family. [I honestly feel that approach wins hearts and minds. In too much of the immigration debate you don’t hear enough about why people are even fighting to be here or want to be here rather than it’s just something that’s owed to them, and anyone who even needs a reason is a villain.] But more than that, it was a humble, gracious speech after a lifetime of worthy work. Oldman has been giving great performances (even in genre films like “Dracula,” “Fifth Element,” and “Harry Potter,” he was pulling Heath Ledger-s way back when) for longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s not only never won, but scarcely been nominated—only one nom for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” before this. People sometimes complain about older actors winning “Gold Watch” near-retirement Oscars for a body of work, but I’d rather Oldman win won of those in a relatively weak year for Best Actor than see him get treated like Donald Sutherland—who won the lifetime achievement award off-screen at a separate ceremony, and mostly because he’s never even been nominated before.
Worst Snubs: The actual best films of the year or Films about real issues. Sure, I loved that “Blade Runner 2049” was awarded for Roger Deakins’s superb cinematography and visual effects, but the rest of my “Best of 2018” list was either barely nominated and lost (“The Big Sick,” “The Disaster Artist,” and “Ladybird” all went home empty-handed) or not nominated for anything: I’m talking about the superb “Beatriz at Dinner,” which should’ve won the kudos “Get Out” did for being a much more realistic, grown-up culture-clash-from-hell dinner party horror-comedy. [Not to mention “A United Kingdom” a true-story about what an interracial couple might actually go through.] I’m talking about “Mother!” and “An Inconvenient Sequel” that deal with the frivolous topic of the end of the world through environmental destruction, but keep pretending “The Shape of Water” is more ecological minded. And then there’s “Wind River,” which deals with the lightening-rod topics of the moment (oppressed people, indigenous communities, the rape and murder of a Native American woman, vigilante justice) but is completely shut-out in favor of the goofier, more cartoonish “Three Billboards From Ebbing, Missouri.”
I know genre fanboys (and girls) are thrilled that the Academy is no longer snubbing sci-fi or fantasy films, but favoring “The Shape of Water” or especially “Get Out” over movies about real people dealing with real problems feels not that different from the Comic-Con-ization of America that seems to suggest non-genre films aren’t worth watching. That real life is “boring” without a sci-fi, fantasy, or horror twist to it, and “who wants to watch movies about things that are really going on? We want escapsim!” Which would be different if the surreal unreality of social media (where we’re made into sound bite tweeting, two-dimensional versions of ourselves debating “people” that are sometimes troll-bots), reality show politics, and commercialization of activism (Common using “empowerment” in a Microsoft ad) didn’t make real life indistinguishable from escapism.