Same Ol’ Oscar

The 92nd Oscar nominations were reliably predictable.  No, this year’s list of honorees cannot rightly be categorized as #OscarsSoWhiteStraightMale.  But neither could the group even vaguely be considered #OscarsSoColorful, #OscarsSoInclusive or even #OscarsSoPurelyArtistic.

It does seem a bit quaint to even be discussing what Hollywood (Note: Whoever or whatever that is) deems deserving of its annual golden statuette when the world is falling apart around us but perhaps that’s the very reason to spend a bit of time on it.  We all need a diversion or two, or twenty-three, and well, every year the Motion Picture Academy never fails to both come through AND simultaneously disappoint.

The Academy always comes through…

That said, it was interesting to see just how aware the Academy was of just how white the awards had the potential to be.  You could tell by their choice of not one but two people of color – Issa Rae and John Cho – to announce the nominees to an international audience.  That’s twice as many non-White people that were nominated in all four acting categories combined!

It’s a sad state that Green Book was more diverse

Meaning, Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of color to be singled out in an acting category this year for her lead performance as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the fine historical drama, Harriet.  Does it count for diversity that Antonio Banderas was also nominated for his lead role in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant semi-autobiographical pic Pain and Glory? That’s for social media to decide so you’re on your own there.

Leading the list of this year’s nominated films with ELEVEN nods was…Joker? Well, the title of that film alone says everything you need to know about the times we live in.  Close behind were: The Irishman and 1917 and Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood with ten each.

More like a TEN (but really, this did factor in right?)

The aforementioned Ms. Erivo was also one of a handful of recipients to receive two Oscar nominations in two separate categories this year.  Her second was as co-writer in the best song category for Harriet’s “Stand Up.”  Also double nominated were: Scarlett Johansson as both lead actress and supporting actress for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, respectively; and David Heyman as a producer on two potential best picture winners, Marriage Story AND Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.

Here is a full list of the nominations along with some (accurate? snide? bitchy?) opinions on those chosen and those left out of the major categories.  Let’s save the rest for when the awards are handed out on Feb. 9th.   In the meantime, get your Joker masks ready, the next four weeks promise to be….memorable?

My mantra to get through these nominations

BEST PICTURE

FORD V FERRARI  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT  Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER  Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN  Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY  Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917  Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE  Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

The question is, what DIDN’T get nominated?  Pretty much all the films predicted to get a nod in this category managed to squeak through.  The possible exception was Knives Out, which nevertheless received what more and more seems to be the consolation prize of a writing nomination, in this case for its director Rian Johnson.

Still gets top honors for best knit!

What else MIGHT have been nominated in this category even though you’d be crazy to expect it?   Well, the indie movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco should not have to rely solely on the Independent Spirit Awards to be named among the best films of the year when it is clearly that and more.   But don’t get me started on the #OscarsSo……. Again.

DIRECTING

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese

JOKER  Todd Phillips

1917  Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Bong Joon Ho

Here’s the thing.  Greta Gerwig, Little Women, Lulu Wang, The Farewell, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alma Har’el, Honeyboy and Kasi Lemons, Harriet.  When you have five women who directed the aforementioned Oscar caliber films and not one gets nominated in this category, well, this is why people begin to talk.

We riot at dawn #burnitdown #justiceforGreta

Though whenever this subject comes up I point to the SOLE FEMALE to WIN best director, Kathryn Bigelow.  She got the award for her work on The Hurt Locker, a war movie with a male protagonist.  What this tells us, aside from the fact that Bigelow is a great director, is that the subject matter of a movie has as much to do with the gender of a director where the Oscar nominees (and winners) are concerned.

Anyone hungry? #sausagefest

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

ANTONIO BANDERAS   Pain and Glory

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

ADAM DRIVER  Marriage Story

JOAQUIN PHOENIX  Joker

JONATHAN PRYCE  The Two Popes

There are those who might rightly be grousing that the performances of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman should have gotten a nod.  But truly the best performance of the year NOT in this category was in Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler did the best acting of his career as a Jewish, compulsive gambler jeweler who can’t get out of his own way in an unrelenting and uncomfortably riveting film.  Does he deserve the Oscar for it?  Yes.  Do I care if you disagree?  No, cause it’s true.

Get ready for Grown Ups 3 #sigh

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOM HANKS  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

ANTHONY HOPKINS  The Two Popes

AL PACINO  The Irishman

JOE PESCI  The Irishman

BRAD PITT  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

Brad Pitt is really the only one who matters here…for so many reasons.  Least of which is that Mr. Pitt is the sole person in this category NEVER to have won an acting Oscar.

This category is so 90s, you have to watch all the nominees on VHS

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 CYNTHIA ERIVO  Harriet

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Marriage Story

SAOIRSE RONAN  Little Women

CHARLIZE THERON  Bombshell

RENÉE ZELLWEGER  Judy

Yeah, it was between Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina (The Farewell) for the female of color slot and Cynthia won.  Just kidding, sort of, but not…really.  However, it won’t matter.  Renee Zellweger’s daring recreation of Judy Garland at the end of her life, singing and all, will win and should win.

Although Charlize wins for inspiring the most gasps (and nightmares)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KATHY BATES  Richard Jewell

LAURA DERN  Marriage Story

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Jojo Rabbit

FLORENCE PUGH  Little Women

MARGOT ROBBIE  Bombshell

Did you really think J Lo would be nominated for doing her Oscar pole dance in Hustlers?  Really?  No, I mean…really???  Really????????

MAYBE WE DID CHAIRY?!?!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

THE IRISHMAN  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT  Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER  Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN  Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES  Written by Anthony McCarten

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

KNIVES OUT  Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY  Written by Noah Baumbach

1917  Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

You could have read three or four articles predicting the screenplay nominations and scored close to 100% in both of these categories.  But for my money, the big omission is Booksmart, a coming of age/last night of high school story chock full of memorable characters in hilariously awkward situations you felt you had both seen and never seen before.  So imaginative, heartfelt, funny and extremely difficult to achieve that it took four writers – Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Of course the fact that they’re four women writing a female driven narrative had NOTHING to do with the snub!

What does the Oscars have against girls and poles?

Not to downgrade the rest, but I got up at 5:15 am for this!  So, here they are without comment:

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD 

I LOST MY BODY 

KLAUS 

MISSING LINK 

TOY STORY 4 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE IRISHMAN  Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER  Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE  Jarin Blaschke

1917  Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Robert Richardson

 

COSTUME DESIGN 

THE IRISHMAN  Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT  Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER  Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN  Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Arianne Phillips

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

AMERICAN FACTORY 

THE CAVE 

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY 

 FOR SAMA 

HONEYLAND  

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

 IN THE ABSENCE 

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL) 

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

WALK RUN CHA-CHA 

 

FILM EDITING

FORD V FERRARI  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN  Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT  Tom Eagles

JOKER  Jeff Groth

PARASITE  Yang Jinmo

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

CORPUS CHRISTI  Poland

HONEYLAND  North Macedonia

LES MISÉRABLES  France

PAIN AND GLORY  Spain

PARASITE  South Korea

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BOMBSHELL  

JOKER 

JUDY 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 

1917 

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

JOKER  Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN  Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY  Randy Newman

1917  Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER  John Williams

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I CAN’T LET YOU THROW YOURSELF AWAY  from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

(I’M GONNA) LOVE ME AGAIN  from Rocketman; Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin

I’M STANDING WITH YOU  from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

INTO THE UNKNOWN  from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP  from Harriet; Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

THE IRISHMAN 

JOJO RABBIT 

1917  

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

PARASITE 

 

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

DCERA (DAUGHTER) 

HAIR LOVE 

KITBULL 

MEMORABLE 

SISTER 

 

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

BROTHERHOOD 

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB 

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW 

SARIA 

A SISTER 

 

SOUND EDITING

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER 

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA 

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER  

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVENGERS: ENDGAME 

THE IRISHMAN 

THE LION KING 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Motor City Mayhem

Detroit is a movie you won’t forget. Or at least I won’t. It is brilliantly infuriating, difficult to watch and necessary to experience. If we as a country – or really as a people – are to begin to figure out how to move forward with the remnants of 2017 life, it’s a starting point. Not the only one but a possible one.

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are both white and yet have chosen to tell a historical story that can be read as part of the ongoing story of the White patriarchal repression of Blacks. This has already created a side controversy that one realizes, after seeing the film, provides endless intellectual fodder but is sort of beside the point.

More to the issue is that if the arts can play some small part in bridging the gap between where we were, where we are and where we hope to be, Detroit should become a potent and powerful conversation starter. It’s that unrelenting and uncompromising.

…. but this time, the hype is real

Watching the film at a Writers Guild screening of people of all sorts of colors, ages, shapes, and sizes, it was clear the entire audience was emotionally gutted and awake. This was a Hollywood film made by whites where no white savior came in to save the day or even the score for the poor, put upon downtrodden.   We will never know what any other filmmaker of any other color would do with the same material – for better or worse – but at the moment Detroit is what we have of one hideous incident in one particularly hideous moment in our past.

This, by the way, is not meant to be congratulatory in any sort of way. There are no congratulations to be had in any discussion of this debacle.

Fifty years ago a racist patrolman in Detroit led a small group of law enforcers to alternately beat, torture and murder a small group of innocent Black men hanging out at the local Algiers Motel.

Detroit burns in July 1967

It was an explosive, ugly time of race riots and social injustice in big cities all across the country, but most especially in in the Motor City where an almost all White police force (93%) were tasked with holding the line on the residents of a fast-growing Black city (30%).

The unfolding story of the movie Detroit uses the ever-growing popular method of plopping its audience directly into the dramatic center of its narrative and trusting that in the age of web surfing, iPhone clicking and incessantly intense game-playing it will be able to play catch up.

Recent films like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk do this and go for the big overall visceral reaction at the expense of individual character development and emotional nuance. Others like Atomic Blonde provide a couple of Irving the Explainer scenes of incoherent exposition and then have us settle down so we can watch the real entertainment – some larger than life extended violence where an unlikely hero/heroine (and who better than Charlize Theron) beats the crap out of everyone in slight we’d like to pulverize if were we six feet tall and had the benefit of hair, makeup and extensive martial arts training by stunt coordinator experts.

Charlize looking a little different from her Mad Max days  #oliviapopejacket

Detroit, however, is not about sensationalized hollow victories or a dramatic retelling of heroism under the thematic banner that War is Hell. It only starts out as a generalized expression of the Big Idea and a pastiche of characters one never gets to really know yet follows along into over-the-top battles. Its power is that it does all of this and then, at some unsuspecting point once this is all established, gets real specific, real fast. And stays there and unfolds for the essential body of the work – a kind of American horror movie gone wrong in a period motel hallway. And then goes on from there to show something about how we lived then. And ask the question if, at the end of the day, it’s really all that different than the way we live now – or is now just a cleaned up version?

Suffice it to say that at the end your visceral nerve endings are not only more than met but you also didn’t need chunks of exposition or violently musical YouTube-like video sequences to do it for you. There are actually real people to watch doing unfortunately all too human things that prompt all too human reactions that go on and on and on. As we say in screenwriting class, in science and in psychotherapy – cause and effect, real cause and effect. For every action is there is a reaction – one that is logical and one, in the movie Detroit, anyway, that you can follow.

… and countless other movies used for the exact opposite purpose

When asked the often-dreaded question of how he approached the material in a talkback afterwards, screenwriter Mark Boal said that he essentially saw this as a movie about an artist whose life was derailed. That, and a good deal of research, and talent, is probably a large part of the reason that the script for Detroit works so well. Call me old-fashioned but if you don’t know or care about the people (in this real-life case an aspiring young Motown-type singer) what do you really have? As a writer you need to find a way in. You can’t effectively write an issue or a historical event.

Sure, you can film it and use all sorts of technique, CGI and camera tricks to forge effective mass entertainment. But at the end of the day, what do you really have? What are you telling us that we didn’t already know, or need to be reminded of?

Certainly, movies can succeed solely on mass entertainment value, escapism, cheap thrills and recycled messages. Many of these films are highly watchable and superbly executed. But we’ve reached a point in the business where we have gotten used to the former and forgotten films like Detroit. Go see it and consider this a reminder.

But you can still go see Jon Hamm and this terrible haircut in Baby Driver #iunderstand

That might be a good way to end but it would be an oversight not to single out the mammoth filmmaking skills of Kathryn Bigelow here.   A two-year DGA study at the end of 2015 noted women account for 6.4% of film directors and just 3% of major box office films.  But let’s be kind and say the numbers have gone up slightly in the last year and a half. Still, that’s pretty piss poor.

When you watch Detroit you don’t so much ask yourself, how did she do that shot but in what world was she able to integrate all those disparate scenes and themes so convincingly, recreate an often botched decade of American history (the sixties) on film so convincingly and get those performances out of those actors so effortlessly? Heck if I know.

That girl #shesgotit #sheknowsit

It makes you wonder how many hundreds of other potential Kathryn Bigelows there are out there. Filmmakers who are female, or perhaps non-white, non-heterosexual or non gender binary, who might never get the chance. And how many of those stories are yet to be told. Not only through the entertainment industry but in any other American industry.

That would be one way to truly Make America Great again.

The Dramatics – “All Because of You”