With everyone's "favourite" representation of the best in Film (yawn!) over for yet another year (a surprisingly solid one if I'm honest), here's my spin on the awes, wows and...gaffes of OSCARS 2017!
The closing montage of the OSCARS regularly has me heaving one gigantic sigh of relief at the prospect of the hideously drawn-out drama of awards season and it’s snobfest of old white men in suits attempting tell us what they consider to “the best Cinema has to offer” being over for good. This is the Academy that once voted ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998) to be the best film of its year! Of course it always comes at the cost of slagging off most films not released within the last 4 months of the year as “inelligable” and a rampant favouritism towards the safest, weepiest, most melodramatic of bets. In the meantime, there’s a constant refusal to recognize any film that dares to think outside the box, isn’t a self-indulgent drama and has a budget of over $50 million - such films are simply not “high-brow” enough! (ONE MASSIVE SIGH)
It’s pleasantly surprising then that – at least for me – Mr. OSCAR didn’t do entirely too badly this year. Yes. There were the almost obligatory oversights of big-budget popcorn blockbusters (those hoping potty-mouthed, limb-slicing ‘Deadpool’ would pull a ‘Mad Max’ and secure a Best Picture nod would certainly be disappointed!). Daring, bold, original films such as Tom Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ were massively overlooked in favour of undemanding fare like ‘Lion’ or patriotic propaganda in the form of ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. Oh and obviously there was the usual head-scratching, puzzling, baffling nominations decisions that yearly make film lovers question whether these Academy voters should really be doing their jobs at all.
Why was Viola Davis nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 'Fences' when she was clearly the movie's leading lady? Same for Dev Patel in the Best Supporting Actor category – is he not the poster boy of ‘Lion’? And what about Andrew Garfield? – nominated for the clunky ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ when clearly his best performance was to be found in the far better ‘Silence’. A classic case of the Academy favouring the wrong performance in the wrong film!
Yet – for me – the most unforgivable sins in this year’s snake pit of snubs were undoubtedly the outrageous overlooks of two of the year’s finest female performances. Neither awards favourites Amy Adams or Annette Benning managed to find their way onto the leading ladies’ longlists for some of the most adventurous turns of their careers – the former in both ‘Arrival’ and ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and the latter in ‘20th Century Women’. Once again the Academy’s very easily snort-worthy love affair with 68 year old 20-time nominee Meryl Streep largely stripped most of her younger contenders of any chance of recognition.
Those are pretty much the pompous unwritten rules we’ve come to expect year in, year out from the ceremony – along with an utterly dire host (in this case Jimmy Kimmel and his hatefully unfunny stabs at Hollywood Mr.Nice Guy Matt Damon!). However – if you could get past all that – when it came to awards night, Mr.OSCAR made some pretty decent picks for what they were. First of all, I couldn’t help, but be utterly delighted at the sight of Emma Stone skipping rather than stumbling up the stage to collect her well-earned Best Actress award (following her unfortunate on-stage trip-up at the BAFTAS!). While I personally may have considered Natalie Portman’s body-inhabiting rendition of Jackie Kennedy in ‘Jackie’ to be the slightly better performance, I was filled with joy to see Stone standing at the podium - gold-tinted OSCAR in hand.
I've long had a soft spot for Stone ever since witnessing her earliest roles in ‘Superbad’ (2007) and 'The Amazing Spiderman' films (2012-2014) – not only for her drop-dead gorgeous looks, but also for her adorably bubbly persona and wonderfully sassy sensibility. Few actors or actresses have Stone’s ingenious ability to draw on personal experiences along with the unique kind of genuine giddy passion for her profession she brings to every one of her roles. This never felt more of the case than in ‘La La Land’ – a film which seemed almost entirely written as Stone’s road to awards glory.
Having battled and overcome severe Social Anxiety in her adolescence, there frankly couldn’t have been anyone better suited to the role of an aspiring actress struggling with her self-confidence in a material-obsessed industry and one who uses their immense love of acting as way of breaking through their shell and into the limelight. While some may attempt to argue that Stone’s obvious cuteness is less “artistic” than some of her fellow Best Actress nominees, there’s no question that – when it came to the contender who’d slogged more tirelessly, more passionately and more heartachingly for that immaculate statuette in her handbag - no one could claim this title more deservingly than Stone.
Undoubtedly – other than a rather unfortunate fumble – there’s no question OSCARS 2017 will go down in history as quite possibly the most racially diverse awards season in the ceremony’s history. Having buried my face in my fists with deep-seated rage every bit as much as the rest of the world last year during the ludicrous #OSCARSSOWHITE Row, I couldn’t agree more with the sighs of relief and sheer pleasure reflected by the Best Picture nomination selection of black-led films (‘Moonlight’, ‘Fences’, ‘Hidden Figures’) and the further triumph on the night itself of Viola Davis scooping up her 100% Best Supporting Actress statuette for her extraordinary work in ‘Fences’.
However OSCARS 2017 ultimately proved to be far more than just a reason to feel proud for the African American community. Not only was Mahershalla Ali’s rousing Best Supporting Actor victory for ‘Moonlight’ 100% deserving and a ‘stunning representation of black acting talent, but Ali will go down in history as the first Muslim actor ever to take home the big prize – a strong indication that the Academy are finally willing to put aside to their misguided social stereotypes and base their judgement purely on the quality of what’s seen on screen.
The OSCAR’s political stereotypes were massively subverted too this year which saw Ashghar Farhadi’s ‘The Salesman’ bringing unexpected success for Iran in the Best Foreign Language Film department. I am yet to see the film so will wait to pass judgement yet – given animosity with Iran has never felt more relevant than it does currently – it’s a credit to the OSCARS for looking past American political opinion and judging a film on its own terms. Plus Director Farhadi's widely publicized decision to boycott the ceremony in protest of Donald Trump's 7 Country Travel Ban made me a very happy man indeed!
Oh and once again there was a hoard of “shocking” controversies involving the shady pasts of contenders which undoubtedly sent the attention-seeking social media hacks into Twitter meltdown. This year’s most “shocking” came within the last 4 days of the OSCAR campaign when details of previous sexual assault charges against Casey Affleck threatened to rob the actor of what had been - until then - pretty dead cert OSCAR glory for his magnificently understated performance in ‘Manchester By The Sea’. Thankfully this was not to be the case as Affleck climbed down the stage with that gold statue he really should’ve won a decade ago – though this didn’t stop Brie Larsson from refusing to clap for the alleged sex abuser. I can only imagine the tirades of violent verbal aggression from the world’s feminist extremists that populated the blogs and Twittersphere – branding the Academy “abuse-enabling monsters!”. OH GIVE ME A BREAK!
Finally one cannot possibly look back over OSCARS 2017 with what I would actually consider to be the night’s finest example of diversity and triumphing over racism and conventionality. Sadly – for the masses however – the hysterical saga of #WRONGBESTFILMGATE will not only go down in history as the biggest on-stage cock-up in awards history, but yet another example of the OSCARS simply choosing the lesser film.
Yes. ‘Moonlight’ – the little-seen, obscure tale of homosexual, adolescent black masculinity – trumped ‘La La Land’ – a musical crowd-pleaser of epic proportions that has captivated the romantic hearts of couples worldwide in a way few films have since ‘Titanic’ (1997) – to arguably the biggest prize of the night. However not before chaos erupted on stage when poor Faye Dunaway and a very confused Warren Beatty wrongly read the people’s favourite sensation as the 2017 Best Picture winner. ‘La La Land’s widely anticipated moment of on-stage golden glory was soon to be very quickly upstaged – however - when Producer Jordan Horowitz abruptly announced a gaping error – “Moonlight – you guys won Best Picture”. Of course chaos ensued as the stage became a laughable frenzy of panicky, embarrassed cast and crew members of both parties much to the sniggers, snorts and devastating cringes of virtually every viewer on the face of the planet. Oh dear, oh dear.
Look. I’ll be honest. As some people might already know, I hated ‘La La Land’ (THE HORROR!) – apologies to virtually every ‘City of Stars’ singing superfan on the planet are in order. Beyond the fact that I have never been a musical man in the very slightest, I detested the film’s self-reverential celebration of cosmetic, fake tan-obsessed Hollywood as being the kind of dream lifestyle everyone should aspire towards. Frankly even Emma Stone’s glowing presence couldn’t save the film itself for me – regardless of how much I love her.
However – having spent the last 2 months hearing mostly nothing, but 5 star songs of love at first sight from even the most snob-mouthed of critics and seeing the film sweep up every award in it’s pathway – I couldn’t help, but feel a slight dose of of shock that the Academy didn’t award the film the prestigious Picture prize regardless of whether the gaffe happened or not and despite a swooning night of 11 OSCAR wins. After all, the OSCARS have a rather tedious fondness for feel-good flicks that play to the widest possible demographic. On this level, ‘La La Land’ certainly ticked every box. Not to mention the film’s glittery, gold-surfaced production design, lavish shots of L.A’s most beloved locations and pastiche of 1940s-50s American classics all gave the film an undeniable sense that it almost could’ve been made by the OSCARS themselves.
For better or for worse, the Academy generally can’t resist shouting a HUGE “WELL DONE!” to themselves. Previous wins for the likes of ‘The Artist’ (2011), ‘Birdman’ (2015) and even ‘Argo’ (2012) – films that celebrate and critique the history of Hollywood – have all wholly indicated this. On top of this, who doesn’t root for the underdog, right? That’s usually what the OSCARS want to us to believe and frankly seems to have worked with the global multiplex audience whether I like it or not. With it’s $360 million knockout Box Office takings (which make the film’s modest $30 million budget look like mere pennies!), it simply seemed as though there was no way the Academy could possibly not honour it’s swansong. Given 2016 had made the masses question whether an apocalypse was nigh, the world was certainly in dire need of some old-fashioned escapism to cherish and ‘La La Land’s paved path to trophy glory looked set to do just that.
Sadly – as we know - the grand moment for all those who gazed in loving admiration of Ryan and Emma came only to be stolen right from under it’s feet by a film with a budget of $1.5 million and a Box Office intake of $42 million – statistically the lowest costing and lowest grossing Best Picture winner in history. Whatever you thought of ‘Moonlight’ (I adored the film on every level), it’s difficult to claim it’s dark, dreary themes of bullying, systematic homophobia and status disillusionment are ideal material for a movie-going population quite frankly not in the mood for yet another saga of doom and gloom. There’s also the sad truth that a great number of particularly the American movie crowd are still yet to shrug off their own fundamentally racist and anti-homosexual stereotypes. This largely sums up my quite simple conclusion that the OSCARS really never seem to manage to please everyone as reflected time and time again over the course of history and I have no doubt 2017 will long be considered yet another example of this.
Unquestionably countless film critics have ragingly ranted for years that the OSCARS are simply a gigantic showcase for the mainstream face of cinema that refuses to recognize what are widely considered to be the altogether more revolutionary accomplishments of Auteurist Arthouse cinema. However – in the case of the general populous who usually view the cinema as pure, populist entertainment – there’s been a deep-seated hostility towards what is often seen as OSCAR obscurity over public popularity.
There’s no question of the fact that ‘Moonlight’s victory over ‘La La Land’ falls into the latter public OSCAR scepticism. The sobering facts remain that – in the years to come – I find it hard to imagine ‘Moonlight’ having much of a following in the history books - other than the aforementioned mess-up. Of course completely the opposite of ‘La La Land’ – which despite not achieving it’s wildest dreams – I don’t question for one second against the fact that it will no doubt become an enduring, instantly rewatchable cinematic classic.
Ultimately, however, it all comes down to personal opinion and frankly I myself can’t tell you how utterly jumping with joy I was that for once the OSCARS got it pretty bang-on right. Whatever the future holds in store for it, ‘Moonlight’ is a swooning work of breathtakingly beautiful artistery and I cannot salute the Academy more for going beyond their underlying, installed racial / homophobic ideologies. For me, OSCARS 2017 was a ceremony to celebrate a cultural turning point in the Academy’s political and social agenda. It finally looks as though Mr.OSCAR might just be opening his mind a little bit and ‘Moonlight’s triumph tops this off with spectacular style. Hopefully this is not a just a sobbing apology for the offence caused last year and whether such diverse lack of bias will translate as successfully into next year’s awards remains to be seen. Yet for now – TWO THUMBS UP!
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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