Yesterday, all the talk was about that CRAZY sequel to Bonnie and Clyde. Today I want to talk about the rest of the 89th Oscars: what worked, what didn’t, what most commentators have ignored. If you don’t like a drill down, then keep on driving.
I thought Justin Timberlake’s opening was excellent. Why hadn’t anyone ever turned the show into a dance party (however awkward and white)? It’s a shame that the segue to the host, Jimmy Kimmel, didn’t really play: we had no idea why Timberlake was suddenly so petulantly angry (other than knowing it was a bit). Also, Justin didn’t help himself by signaling to Denzel that Denzel should know the song’s black origins, a problem that only grew with the host…
Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue was mostly outstanding. However, the Matt Damon feud is funny on Kimmel’s show but feels like an over-baked in-joke in larger venues. When Kimmel said “The only happy ending was in the middle of Moonlight” and no one reacted, he blamed the audience for not seeing the film. In fact, Kimmel had run over his own joke; it would have landed if he’d paused and emphasized “middle.” As the New York Times said, being the white male host of the #oscarssowhite-recovery year and blaming the audience for not seeing the gay black film is not exactly great optics.
Throughout the evening, Kimmel spent a lot more time on Trump than did most of the other winners and presenters. Putting Meryl on blast began the anti-Trump-itude, in a way, as Meryl had sorta founded the #resistance during her Golden Globes speech. (But it also felt a little forced, the applause too easy and somewhat inappropriate.) Kimmel made very clear his enmity with Trump, Damon, and Mel Gibson (good to see Kimmel razzing him), but less so Kimmel’s alliance with the marginalized. No, nothing as awful as Seth McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number, but more false notes than necessary. Kimmel’s Lion King bit with the Lion kid was awkward. Kimmel’s quip to Isaacs, after her big inclusion speech, “Yeah I know what you mean, I’m also pumped for the Fast and the Furious 8,” could easily have been read as anti-diversity (not only because he mangled the title). Kimmel’s moment of joking (?) that Moonlight and La La Land should share Best Picture was likewise not perfect. And then there was his making fun of names of the tour people he had bused into the theater.
The tour bit was certainly divisive among the people I read. I will say I liked it better than Chris Rock’s Girl Scout cookies routine; it was naturally funnier. The difficult question: who is the joke on? In Kimmel’s defense, this was the sort of postmodern what-the-hell-ism that was meant to make us question why we even ask such questions. I was squirming and laughing. I would say that Kimmel got lucky (or was it scripted?) that the joke boiled down to two African-American “regular people” pointing out their favorite actor who just happened to be able to “marry” them right there in the front row; in theory, what was also being married was blue-state and red-state America, the black people and the “normal” people (kind of like that recent Tom Hanks “Black Jeopardy” skit on SNL). The more I think about it, the more scripted it looks.
In non-Kimmel news, I have nothing against Vince Vaughn or Jennifer Aniston. (Okay, maybe the second season of True Detective). But it’s not like either of them had an amazing year, or that either is known for appealing to millennials. So which genius said, “Best way to react to #oscarssowhite is to get the stars of 2006’s The Break-Up on stage. Separately.” I have a similar complaint about Seth Rogan and Michael J. Fox, although Rogan at least starred in Sausage Party and Fox does represent a very important, and marginalized, community. You will not find a bigger fan of Back to the Future than me; it’s probably my favorite movie (note name of blog). But…I don’t know. I’m more into the Academy realizing that the ageless Salma Hayek and Halle Berry are national treasures, and putting them on stage – well done there.
Also, marketing “a performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda” was a bit of a bait and switch. He performed for less than a minute, in what was essentially an intro. On the other hand, I’d personally like to thank the Academy…for entirely cutting the mid-show interstitial “let’s present this Best Picture nominee” bits. Huzzah. Most years, Price Waterhouse Coopers has a planned appearance onstage: “Hey, look, here are the goofy accountants who know the results!” Before the Best Picture moment, I was thrilled the show had cut this. But somehow those guys found their way onstage anyway. Now I say: for God’s sake, bring them back to their normal part of the show!!
Mahershala Ali was all class. I would have loved a “Salaam Aleikum.” (No, he’s not the first Muslim actor to win; that’s Ellen Burstyn.) Viola Davis’ acceptance speech was heavenly in more ways than one. What amazing generosity with the “exhume the bodies.” Yes, we are missing 99% of the stories that were ever lived/told! And the rest was bold, wonderful.
As a rule, the speeches were hardly as Michael Moore-ish as we’d been told to expect. Mostly, they were about art having no boundaries, but in an anodyne manner. Asghar Farhadi’s proxy speech was fine, if not barn-burning; it called the travel ban “disrespectful,” and at this point the Trump White House isn’t going to argue, since it’s still re-drafting the language. Orlando Von Einseidel, who won for a short about the Syrian war called The White Helmets, had a nice moment of asking the audience to stand in solidarity with Syrians who have been living with war. This was also a moment that no honest Trump supporter could really object to. Gael Garcia Bernal, who was only presenting, had the most strident moment of the evening. When he said “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I am against any kind of wall that wants to separate us,” the crowd’s applause sounded like a balloon that had been ready to pop for hours. It was almost strange that no one did more, similar speeches. Personally, I wish they had.
I was happy for the writing winners, and I was happy for crowned princess Emma Stone. I realize that the backlash against her starts now, as it did for Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. But I already regret such backlash. Stone may not be Angela Davis, but she seems like a nice person and we can’t blame her for the Academy’s tendency to – well, in Sasha Stone’s words, to reward the most fuckable.
Much has been written about newly minted Oscar winner Casey Affleck (at least in the circles I follow), for example “By endlessly forgiving abusive men, we tell women that the abuse they suffer is less important than some guy’s right to get his point of view across.” I get that, but I want to put something out there that I don’t see (and I tried to tell Al-Jazeera in my brief televised interview with them): Affleck didn’t direct Manchester by the Sea, even if he did direct I’m Not There. It is understood that a director on a film set is the boss, and that if said boss tolerates a culture of bullying and harassment, that’s much more serious than if any other person does it. Although I believe genuinely contrite persons should be allowed penance and restitution, I do happen to agree with stigmatizing of Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci, and perhaps Woody Allen. But the articles often cite them and draw a willfully blurry straight line to Casey Affleck, who hasn’t directed since 2010 and isn’t as “threatening” as often suggested. If we’re going to start a blacklist of actors accused of harassment (which would also include Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, and many others), why not writers who have failed to pay alimony? What about cinematographers who have a DUI? Where do we draw the line? Let me make this very clear to the anti-Affleck: if you ever get to the Supreme Court, this is exactly what the Justices will ask you. It’s pretty much all they ever ask any lawyer. They ask “why does it apply in this case, but not this other one?” So make sure you have an airtight argument for why you have a problem with actors but not, say, production designers.
But that twist ending though! Yes, the end of this year’s Academy Awards was epic television. In all the craziness let’s not lose sight of the fact that Moonlight is the lowest-budgeted Best Picture in history (adjusted for inflation), and probably the first with an all-African-American cast (depending how you look at 12 Years a Slave). Come on, that’s not nothing. It’s very much something great. And a terrific rebuke to Trump after all.