How is it that after 92 years the Oscars finally came up with both a telecast and a list of winners to be proud of?
Hitting the right notes, literally, for just about everything, the 2020 Oscars will probably be best remembered as the first time in history a foreign… ahem… INTERNATIONAL film won best picture.
Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST
Not only that, Parasite writer-director Bong Joon-ho took home THREE more Oscars for best director, best screenplay and best international (formerly foreign) film.
The hottest name in Hollywood!
And it was only a mere five decades ago when another Oscar winning writer-director, Billy Wilder, famously quipped to his cameraman:
Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.
That Parasite managed to touch the hearts and souls of a majority of Oscar voters is not in doubt. But what also seems clear is that the choice of a non-American film about economic inequality as the Motion Picture Academy members’ big winner was a very clear and very present way for voters to send out another message to the world. And that message is:
2020 America, and Americans, are NOT living in a bubble or behind a WALL. We are not isolationists who want to disengage with you. We, in fact, do get IT, even if it doesn’t always seem that way these days So don’t give up on us…yet.
I’m paraphrasing, of course.
In fact, I might be reaching or making this up out of whole cloth. Though truly, I don’t think so.
How I will try to think of 2019 in America
Hollywood might not literally speak for all 327 million people living in the U.S. but as an industry it is one of its chief representatives to the rest of the world. American movies reflect America to international audiences and what the Oscars choose to represent as the best of the best carries that weight.
Taken in that light the major category victories for Parasite were no small thing. No, they certainly don’t change the state of the world but, at the same time, they proclaim that things aren’t staying stagnant. If the same staid Academy that made the safe choice of Green Book as last year’s best picture is now doing a full 360 and saying a South Korean film dealing with class warfare is the gold standard, well, who knows what else is in store from any number of American industries looking to project some message to the outside of who we really are.
Don’t ever look back!
Oh yes, hope springs eternal. But then again, why not?
This message of change, or perhaps inclusion was reflected all throughout the Oscar telecast on Sunday night.
Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Janelle Monae had Oscar’s best musical opening in history as she went from mock Mister Rogers garb to full blown, self-proclaimed, queer Black artist singing revamped lyrics to her 2010 tune Come Alive. Sashaying her way through a panoply of back up dancers and celebrities, she actually managed to make the Academy Awards seem hip and happening for the first time in…..well….EVER.
At one point THIS happened
But that was only one of a string of ingenious, nostalgic and just plain awe inspiring musical moments.
We had Idina Menzel belting a Disney song along with belters from more than a dozen countries in THEIR native languages.
Then there was Eminem appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rap his 2003 Oscar winning song Lose Yourself with some updated lyrics evoking the era of Trump.
OK so the song is as old as Billie Eilish, so what?
Soon Elton John was pounding on his red piano and singing the soon-to-be Oscar winning song he co-wrote with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for their autobiographical film Rocketman.
That followed twice nominated Cynthia Erivo also bringing the house down with her inspirational ballad Stand Up from her film about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet.
And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming
Then, as a capper, we got a haunting version of the Beatles’ Yesterday sung by this year’s multi-Grammy winner, 18-year-old Billie Eilish, in memory of the many film artists we lost this past year.
And amid all of that was this quite subversive high comic moment of the evening:
Rebel Wilson and James Corden entering in the crazy train makeup and costumes from their 2019 film disaster, Cats, to give this simple introduction to the award they were tasked to present:
As cast members of the motion picture CATS nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.
Proving it’s never to soon…
Certainly one could gripe about a few misfired jokes from various presenters or any number of times when any one of us knew the wrong person, or people, were standing center stage with an Oscar in their hands that we felt belonged to someone else.
Still, it is difficult to argue with what most of those who did win were trying to say in their acceptance speeches.
They rambled, but we stuck with them
Aside from thanking their immediate families, or their teams, or their friends or cast mates, almost every major speech felt like a sincere outreach to an international audience for us all to find some way come together rather than to continue to be pulled apart by the circumstances of our times.
While the ceremony theoretically honors the art and craft of film, this year’s Oscars somehow felt more like a hand extending far beyond Hollywood and the borders of the U.S. towards the rest of the world in solidarity.
PLUS This is now Oscar-winning, so really, all is right with the world
Though on second thought, perhaps it’s more like a cry from those of us within to everyone watching on the outside for…help?
One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation. She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.
Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things. (Note: I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).
They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. Needless to say, that era has ended.
We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution. What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election? Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.
Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling. (Note: You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is? Um, I beg to differ).
Oh, you know me.
But back to what really matters here – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.
I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary. Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care. Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars. So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?
But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following. I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters. This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.
The Golden Gal?
It will be too long. Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane. It will get boring at parts. You will get tired. And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some. Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.
1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time. What will she sing? Hmmmm, let’s see. The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.
Speaking of Bettes…
Prediction #1: Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.
2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show. How do you not love Pink? And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show. Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….
Prediction #2: Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz. Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do. Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!
Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd
3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations. It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious). Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.
Prediction #3:Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked starBrie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter. But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg. What a shame.
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her
Betting Meter: Sure Thing
the future is now
Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year. Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far. For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year. Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment. And wager the rent.
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
Betting Meter: Safe Bet
Oscar eyes his competition
There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script. The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note: Last year’s winner in this category was Argo). Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo. The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times. Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar. Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
Betting Meter: Slightly Favored
The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere. That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g. Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).
Girl, you know you got my vote
The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle. But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita. Though I wouldn’t bet for money – it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club
Betting Meter: Sure Thing
Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared
Bet the house. I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club. And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here. Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility. That wasn’t the case in this instance. When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick. That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen. Brava.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Betting Meter: Closer Than You Think
If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category. Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season. Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category. Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.
Both fierce suits
But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.
Okay, consider it. But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Betting Meter: Safe Bet
All right, All right, All right
It’s his year, plain and simple. Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.
Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well. Which it was. So deal with it.
The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.
But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose. Chances are he won’t.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.
The magic man
No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents. But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward. The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.
It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien. Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.
Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology, a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity
Betting Meter: Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!
Can she snag it?
My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way. In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind. What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year. Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.
That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice. American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores. Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).
12 Years fulfills both of these requirements. It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note: There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).
Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes. Not that that means anything at all.
These are the ones that win and lose the pool. Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best. Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.
Animated Feature: Frozen.No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note: The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)
Documentary Feature: 20 Feet From Stardom. No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working. Plus, it’s good.
Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.It’s technology and Gravity wins.
Costume Design: American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson. Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.
Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger. Technology wins. Again.
Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.
Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!! (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you).
Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews. I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:
No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the wordsJackass Presents: Bad Grandpacome out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.
NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:
Guaranteed to lose your shirt
Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.
You should NOT bet on these. Or even include them in a pool. Or even think about doing either. That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters. I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you. Maybe.