Seven times, movies primarily about journalists were nominated for Best Picture: Citizen Kane, Network, All the President’s Men, Broadcast News, The Insider, Good Night and Good Luck, and Frost/Nixon. (That’s not a terrible list.) And then there are all the reporter-centered movies that should have been nominated for Best Picture, and weren’t: The Front Page, His Girl Friday, Meet John Doe, Foreign Correspondent, Ace in the Hole, Sweet Smell of Success, The China Syndrome, The Year of Living Dangerously, Salvador, Almost Famous, Zodiac…and of course that Michael Keaton-led ensemble masterpiece, The Paper. So Spotlight finally answered the un-musical question: do reporters “hype up” movies about reporters beyond what actual Hollywood employees consider excellent? Or at least a certain curse was lifted.
Make that two curses, if we’re counting the half of the internet that’s now obsolete because of old memes about Leo DiCaprio’s inability to win an Oscar. “DiCaprio” is still red-underlined in Microsoft Word though, unlike “Schwarzenegger.” So if you like your Leo as a victim, you’ve still got something to hold onto. His speech will no doubt be the only thing people remember about this Oscars two years hence. I thought it was well articulated, and he certainly stuck the landing. I’ve said it before, no one else says it, and thus I’ll say it one last time, now that he’s crossed over: we wanted Leo to win an Oscar because we unconsciously associate Leo with quality because he won’t do sequels or franchises (he’s been offered dozens, including the original Spider-Man and the adult Anakin Skywalker). Now that our unconscious itch has been scratched, we should try to consciously honor other actors who likewise refuse to do such films (say, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington). Also, will we still flock to Leo’s films now that we know we can’t complain that the Academy will refuse to recognize them?
As for the elephant in the room, if #oscarssowhite was undercover(ed) last year, it was probably overcovered this year. Chris Rock is an absolute comedy genius, and none of his particular jokes were bad or misjudged (except the Girl Scouts and Stacey Dash: what was going on there?), but there was a cumulative sense of too much, too long. Every year, some of the best jokes are about ceremony length, because every year it’s an issue. It’s hard to agree on what to trim. One obvious gesture, one they’ve done in the past, would be to put the five song nominees into one rough ten-minute montage, although this year I would have hated anything that took away from the extraordinary, jaw-dropping finish of Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground.
The race problem may be obscuring the related class problem. The Oscars are a strange beast in 2016, where populist movements are burbling over in unpredictable ways, where everything top-down and ritzy tends to be a little mistrusted. When we see the ceremony, with every man in a tuxedo and every woman in a four-figure, figure-fitting dress, it’s getting harder, during a 21st century where elites have badly, badly failed us (see: wars, economy), to unthinkingly cheer while watching a room of coiffed millionaires. It’s hard to remember that Hollywood hasn’t really been one of the industries letting us down. Deeply relatedly: while connections certainly help you get a first job in Hollywood, the only way to win at the Oscar level is to do real, often impressive work, not simply rely on old-boy networks (in more than one sense). Yes, Leo DiCaprio, but the other three acting winners were Brie Larson, Mark Rylance, and Alicia Vikander. How many Americans had heard of them before last night? And how many of those, a year ago? Isn’t there something problematic about labeling these not-rich newcomers as problems? Granted, they’re white, but Lupita N’yongo was just as unknown when she won two years ago. On several inscrutable levels, Hollywood successfully maintains its representation of the American Dream. Perhaps that’s one reason #oscarssowhite struck such a chord: if “rags to riches” is really so accessible, why not race to riches? Or rage to riches?
And now for random observations:
The two writers who won for The Big Short both pronounced Paramount “Paramont.” Did I mention these are Oscar-winning writers?
This year they “presented” the Best Picture nominees in pairs, and am I the only one who noticed that the two “chick films,” Brooklyn and Room, were sexistly thrown together? Or does that make me the sexist for noticing?
By winning three Oscars of any kind in three consecutive years, Emmanuel Lubeski joined a very exclusive club: Walt Disney (in Best Animated Short), Edith Head (in Costume Design), and the team of Jim Rygiel and Randall William Cook (in VFX; shared with others in different Lord of the Rings years). Not terrible company.
Can you believe Mad Max: Fury Road actually didn’t win anything until the 50th minute of the broadcast? And then, yeah, it rolled off six out of the next seven, making Louis C.K. funny when he “accidentally” read Mad Max as the winner of Best Documentary Short. Few thought The Revenant, as represented everywhere by a big grizzly bear, was going to be quite so trounced in the technicals. If Max and Furiosa had been around to take down that bear, maybe Leo wouldn’t have been so torn up (and maybe he would have waited again for that Oscar).
Next time you’re going to cut Kevin Hart’s sound, don’t cut the apparent pithy statement about #oscarssowhite, instead cut that rambling non-joke about how he didn’t get a front row seat. Thanks.
Funny to hear Mark Rylance talk about how great it is to work with Tom Hanks on the same night that Hanks skipped working with Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, letting his brother Jim Hanks do the voice of Woody. (Hanks is on AMPAS’ Board of Governors and can show up to any Academy Awards he pleases. I’m sure if we talked to him, he’d explain that Jim has taken over a lot of the video-game and other work for Woody, and better to let audiences get more used to him.)
I loved, loved the “So-And-So Would Like to Thank” scroll at the bottom of the screen. Next year, let all the nominees do all the thanking. I was meh, meh on repeated playing of “Flight of the Valkyries” and the science-fiction themes, particularly as “play outs” of acceptance speeches.
Pre-season Vegas favorite Aaron Rodgers didn’t wind up going to the Super Bowl this February, but he did make it to the Oscars (with girlfriend Olivia Munn). Just throwing that out there.
Let’s finish where we started, which is appropriate, because Spotlight won the night’s first Oscar and the night’s last Oscar…and nothing else, becoming the first Best Picture winner to be limited to two awards in 63 years (since The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952). As I mentioned last week, the Oscarazzi mostly predicted The Revenant would win Best Picture. During blog comment-thread arguments, we often heard, particularly from defenders of The Revenant, “voters don’t pay attention to statistics!” I’m not certain that’s true. Last night, they apparently proved reluctant to make Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the first person to direct two consecutive Best Picture winners, even as they awarded him a second consecutive Best Director – that had been done before (by John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz). One is starting to wonder if Director/Picture splits are becoming the new normal, but that’s for another day. Today is a great day for Open Road and Participant, who weren’t supposed to be able to play in the “big leagues” of Oscar, even by indie standards (which are set by Harvey Weinstein, as you know). The ads were particularly impressive in the latest stages of the race. I think some detractors might have missed the point when they called Spotlight “only” competently made. Competence is what the film is about. The style reinforced the message, as the best style does. We should be able to ask for a certain modicum of competence, from filmmakers, journalists, the Vatican, and all our institutions. In a populist year like ours, that’s really all we’re asking for.