Pre Oscar Buzz

The Oscars will be held this coming weekend and it’s time for some random observations.


Well, we finally got our complete response from Chris Rock and it did not disappoint.

It was broadcast Saturday night on his live Netflix comedy special, Selective Outrage.

If you did not tune in, just know the entire set is great – smart, candid and brilliantly written and delivered.  

But most importantly, it’s really funny.

Oh he did not hold back

Nevertheless, it was the last 10 minutes that viewers will most remember, one that built to a well-earned mic drop to the question most of us have been waiting a year for him to answer:  

What was it like and how do you feel about being slugged really hard on live TV in front of 16 million plus people at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the world by one of the biggest stars in the world because he couldn’t take a joke? 

Well, first of all – it REALLY HURT.

And birthed an A+ NY Post headline

In terms of movies, think of it as the big guy who played Muhammad Ali (Smith) slugging the skinny kid who played Pookie (Rock) in New Jack City.

His words, not mine. 

But that was just the start.  Suffice it to say that in 10 minutes every ounce of massaged and manicured new age apology offered in pretty much any context by Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was expertly shredded into origami and virtually shoved down their throats.

And we love a good shredding

But more importantly, it served to neuter the need for whatever obligatory dumb jokes that had been scheduled to address last year’s incident on the show, thus freeing this year’s ceremony to be as clever, dull, silly or timely as it chooses to be on its own.

Score one for team Rock and know that the festivities will likely achieve only two of the above four.

#2 – EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE OSCAR NOM-NOMS – This film grew on me and deserves the best picture and director wins it is clearly going to get next Sunday night.

James Hong sealed the deal at last week’s SAGs

I confess that after I viewed it the first time, barely holding on to middle age me didn’t quite get all the hoopla.  I mean, it was okay, but…huh? 

However, after watching it a second time it quickly became one of my favorite films of the year and, by any standards, one of the most original. 

Those of us who are not into multi-verse realities (Note: This includes myself AND most of my middle-aged friends) were a bit lost with EEAAO’s scattershot approach to reality.

But at its heart the film is actually nothing more, or less, than a very clever contemporary take on The Wizard of Oz.  Who doesn’t want to run away from a family that doesn’t listen to them when they are never truly seen?  On the other hand, what do you do when you suddenly realize that you are the one who is equally not seeing OR listening to them?

That’s one way to describe the multiverse

That’s a pretty good hat trick to pull off thematically, especially when the Mom who is substituting for Dorothy has to alternate between being a martial arts master, a glamorous movie star and a tired-looking working stiff, not to mention the voice of a googly-eyed rock.

A different kind of Oscar Rock this year

Here’s hoping that Michelle Yeoh makes history and wins a well-deserved best actress Oscar alongside the sure thing supporting actor Oscar win for Key Huan Quan as her sweet, put-upon husband. 

I think she will and that we’re looking at a big EEAAO sweep of all the top honors it’s nominated for in the making.

#3- THE VAGARIES OF THE VAGUE – There is something going on with films in the last few years for this viewer, aka ME, and it’s much more than having to watch EEAAO a second time to truly get it.

It seems there is a groundswell among critics and many industry-ites, nee Academy and other guild members, to go crazy for movies that feel slow, undone and vague.  Two examples this year are the multi-Oscar nominations for Tar and the near lock Women Talking has for the screenwriting award.

And we know how the Chair feels about ol’ Lydia Tar

Both films deal with the power struggles of women in unusual but incredibly obtuse ways.  Both are interesting looking, well acted and well made.  Yet both lack narrative details, drive and urgency, often choosing to stay mired in a miasma of talk and pretension.

It simply feels odd that Women Talking is a shoo-in for a best adapted screenplay win for writer-director Sarah Polley and that Tar’s Cate Blanchett is the top contender to snatch the best actress Oscar away from the more deserving Ms. Yeoh.

Don’t put that out into the universe!

This is especially true when two far superior films about women and their struggle for and against power, She Said and Till, were totally ignored by the Academy, 

Having seen all four films it’s hard not to conclude that the clear, well-crafted narratives of the latter two were judged not hip or happening enough for accolades by film critics and voters that believe something different always means something better.

I wonder what Miranda would have to say about this

For them I say, there’s a reason I can still wear the classic white shirt I bought at Agnes B a full 35 years ago but long ago gave away my beloved purple Armani suit that at the time I was convinced would be perennially flawless.

 #4 – THERE IS NO BEST ACTOR THIS YEAR – All of the people in this category, not to mention in most categories, are great.  But anyone who can say for sure whether Austin Butler will win for his startlingly shape shifting performance in Elvis or Brendan Fraser will take home the Oscar for his raw, heartbreaking acting turn of a lifetime in The Whale, is lying.

Some years it’s simply a tie.  Or an upset for Colin Farrell, who could squeak in for his subtle work in the much Oscar loved Banshees of Inisherin.

A tight race

Put a gun to my head and I’d say it’s probably Austin Butler’s ability to not only physically resurrect but also sing beloved Elvis Presley back to life.  On the other hand, I’m not gonna publicly deny one of the best male performances I’ve seen in years, by George of the Jungle, no less, from getting his much deserved Oscar win.

Which brings me to:

#4B – Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale received a handful of Oscar nominations but has received middling critical reviews pretty much across the board.  I don’t get it.  It’s one of the best, if not most disturbing, movies of the year.  It’s a tough watch but watch it.  It’s the anti-hip and happening and vague film stylistically (Note: Lucky for us) though ironically it seems to me that its in your face emotional rawness is exactly what we need in the world right now.

Not an easy watch — but should it be?

And finally:

#5 – THE OSCAR ARE ICONIC BUT…As fun as they are for all the right and wrong reasons, at the end of the day they don’t mean a lot.   And they’re often wrong.

I watched a double feature this afternoon on Turner Classic Movies of Born Yesterday (1950) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

One of the best lines ever

They are classic movies at their best – superbly entertaining, perfectly crafted and more than able to stand the test of time against most of their contemporaries.

Judy Holliday won the lead actress Oscar in Born Yesterday for recreating her much acclaimed Broadway performance.  But let’s remember in doing so she beat out Bette Davis, who gave one of the best female performances in film history as Margo Channing in All About Eve, and Gloria Swanson, who created one of the most enduringly iconic as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

All tea no shade

As for Some Like It Hot, it’s a movie that has been consistently rated by writers, directors and critics as one of the top five comedies of all-time, if not THE top.  Yet its only Oscar win was for best costumes and it failed to even receive a nomination for either best picture or best director.

The film that received the most Oscar nominations that year was, um,…Ben Hur.  And it was awarded the best picture, best director (William Wyler) and best actor (Charlton Heston) Oscar, among others.

Yep, this.

Try sitting through all 123 hours of Ben-Hur after watching Some Like It Hot.  And if you manage to, report back to us on which one you liked best.

“Running Wild” – from Some Like It Hot

Change for the Good

America is part of a global multi-racial community whether the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 like it or not.

This is a fact and it’s not going to change.  Ever.

Get used to it!

If anything, thanks in part to social media and social revolution, we are only going to get more multi-racial and more global.

Despite all the bellyaching from those preferring to benefit from our traditionally white, male heterosexual power structure.

Numbers don’t lie no matter how many times those doing their best to suppress the truth tell us a fork is actually a spoon…or a salad bowl.

If you want to put politics aside, and who doesn’t right now, one way to consider just how much things have changed is to look at this year’s Oscar nominations.

Huh? Chairy?

Flee, a mostly animated movie that tells the harrowing story of a young gay Afghan refugee’s nail biting escape from his war-torn country, was nominated for best documentary, best animated feature AND best international film.

That’s a first.

OK… good start

Japan’s Drive My Car received four nominations, including breakout ones for best picture and director, and Norway’s The Worst Person in the World nabbed an unexpected screenplay nod aside from the one it got for international film.

In the acting categories, four people of color received nominations (down from last year’s record high of nine).  But among those are top contenders like Will Smith in King Richard and Ariana DeBose in West Side Story, both of whom are favored to win in their categories.

Bonus points for the openly queer nominees!

Though before we start to believe we’ve truly toppled the Oscar Confederacy and, in turn, the international Confederacy of straight white, American maleness (Note: Don’t worry guys, we still want to include you always), here’s a very brief recent history of Oscar numbers to chew on.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences began a real diversity push in earnest more than five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite became a shameful international hashtag due to the lack of diversity among that year’s nominees and winners (Note: Not a single Black actor was nominated in either 2015 or 2016 in any of the 20 possible slots).

But this had a great deal to do with the voting members in the Academy.  At that time 92% of the membership was white and 75% was male. 

You know… him

After a push to recruit a more diverse membership, these days approximately 84% of the members are white and 16% are non-white.  Its female membership also increased to more than 32%.

The statistics among new members are a lot better.  For example, of the 819 new people who became Oscar voters in 2020, 45% were women and 36% were people of color.

If the Academy keeps going at this rate, who knows, it might not even be news when a woman receives a nomination as best director (Note: Jane Campion actually became the first female in history to be nominated twice in that category this year for The Power of The Dog, following last year’s nomination and win for Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), the first female POC to be so recognized).

Yes queen!

Though it still might break a few insurrectionists hearts when Ava DuVernay or use your imagination finally, finally, FINALLY gets their turn at the podium.

Still, we digress.

The real story of this year’s Oscar contenders, and inevitably surprising winners, really lies in the number of new international members welcomed into the Oscar voting fold during the last five years.  For a deeper dive, check out these stories in the Hollywood Reporter, Vox and Slate:

But if you want to truly understand the slow but steady shifting tide of one of our top entertainment cultural signifiers – the Oscars – and, in turn, all the kicking and screaming and spitting up from Fox News watchers– here is one simple way in.

The membership of the Academy has swelled to just about 9400 active members in 2021 compared to the 6261 it had in 2016.  That’s a 47% increase.

Consider me intrigued…

But even more interesting is that a significant portion of those new members came not only from a minority population but from outside the U.S. 

In 2022, more than 25% of all Academy members (nee voters) are from countries other than America, vs. a mere 12% just six years ago.

This gives deeper meaning to what Oscar-winning writer-director Billy Wilder was famously quoted as saying to the cameraman on one of his movies way back when: 

Shoot a few scenes out of focus.  I want to win the foreign film award.

Closeups remained in tact, Norma, don’t worry.

Now I love Billy Wilder as much as the next movie fan, perhaps even more.  But he was speaking at a particular place and time.  And as a European immigrant who embraced the style of American cinema while helping to significantly redefine it with lacerating wit, strong characterizations and unrelenting social commentary.

The Academy these days has wisely decided, though long overdue, to actively move forward from his now somewhat provincial, though still cringingly funny, dated point of view.

Its slow, somewhat steady embrace of international cinema (Note: Starting with South Korea’s Parasite best picture win in 2020), as well as its recognition of various minority and female viewpoints among this year’s nominated crop of films and members, is a welcome change and, yes, love overdue.

Meryl approved

And though I clearly can’t be sure, I’d bet, as an immigrant, even Wilder would fully endorse it.

Because ironically, when you think about it, it’s just about the most American thing the Academy, in its new and present form, can do to move the industry and the culture forward.

Evolution vs. insurrection.

Sebastián Yatra – “Dos Oruguitas” (from Encanto — Disney’s first Spanish language song nomination, second in the history of the Oscars)