Oscars So RIGHT

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?

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening

Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell