OK, I have to admit I missed the chaos and unexpected moments of last year’s Oscars when Dunaway and Beatty announced that “La La Land” had won best picture of the year only to be corrected on the air and be told they needed to actually give the Oscar to “Moonlight” instead. I felt bad for the filmmakers who had to hand off the award, but it did make for the most exciting finish of an Academy Awards show ever.
But last night’s show ran without any noticeable hitches and without much excitement. Almost everyone who won was predicted to win (you can check out all the winners here) and everyone behaved very nicely onstage even when he or she offered up political comments.
Older female celebrities such as Eva Marie Saint, Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren made up a good chunk of the presenters. It felt like a show where everyone was trying their best to say the right thing and be on their best behavior. It was as if Hollywood was saying, “Look we can do better” and those who felt outside of Hollywood were saying, “we want a change and for now we will ask for it in a polite manner.”
The Academy has been trying to rebound from the #OscarSoWhite hashtag that started a few years back. It worked to purge some older, white male members and replace them with younger and more diverse new members.
It also succeeded this year in delivering a pretty diverse list of nominees and in actually handing out awards to some of those people like Guillermo del Toro and Jordan Peele. And the Oscar show made every effort to hit every politically correct button starting with host Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue addressing diversity, Me Too and Time’s Up movements to providing a montage of actors and filmmakers talking about what Hollywood needs to do to truly let more diverse voices have a platform. It also allowed three of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek to have center stage to address both the issue of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and the need for more diversity in the industry.
“The Shape of Water” took home four of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for including the big wins for best picture and best director for Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro’s film is like a poster child for what the Academy seemed to want to say with the night. His film was about outsiders, and it included a mute woman, a gay, an African-American, and a non-human character plus a diversity of film genres. It was also co-written by a woman and was helmed by Mexican-born Del Toro. Del Toro identified himself and an “immigrant” and noted that he watched “foreign films” like “E.T.” growing up. His genuine and heartfelt speech provided the perfect close to the evening
“Growing up in Mexico I thought this could never happen,” Del Toro said in accepting his best picture Oscar. “It happens. And I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of a parable, of using genre or fantasy to tell stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door, kick it open, and come in. Thank you very much.”
Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell took best actress and supporting actor for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” while Gary Oldman (overcoming social media backlash over an old domestic violence allegation) took home a predicted best actor award for “Darkest Hour” and Alison Janney finished up her awards run with an Oscar for best supporting actress in “I, Tonya.”
McDormand took a moment at the end of her acceptance speech to make a point: “And now I want to get some perspective. If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight, the actors — Meryl, if you do it, everybody else will, c’mon — the filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographer, the composers, the songwriters, the designers. C’mon! OK, look around everybody. Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
Backstage she answered questions about what an inclusion rider was: “I just found out about this last week. There has always been available to all everybody that get, that does a negotiation on a film, an inclusion rider which means that you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting, but also the crew. And so, the fact that we, that I, just learned that after 35 years of being in the film business, it’s not, we’re not going back. So the whole idea of women trending, no. No trending. African Americans trending, no. No trending. It changes now, and I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that. Right? Power in rules.”
In an attempt to let everyone go home a winner, awards were spread out among a number of films. “Dunkirk” took home tech awards for best editing, best sound mixing and best sound editing, while “Call Me By Your Name” got to claim a best adapted screenplay award for James Ivory’s adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel.
One of the most welcome wins of the night was Jordan Peele for best original screenplay for “Get Out.” For once the winner in this category delivered something that was truly original on all levels. The film was his feature debut, and he received nominations for best picture, best director and best screenplay. He was the first African-American to receive that trio of nominations. His acceptance speech emphasized the need for giving diverse voices an outlet.
“This means so much to me,” Peele said. “I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it, and people would see it. So I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie.”
The most satisfying award of the night was cinematographer Roger Deakins finally winning an Oscar on his 14th try. It was so sweet to see him finally rewarded for a career of brilliant work.
“I really love my job,” Deakins said accepting the best cinematography award last night. “I’ve been doing it a long time as you can see. But you know, one of the reasons I really love it is the people I work with, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. Some of my crew on ‘Blade Runner,’ I’ve been working with for over 30 years, and others I met for the first time in Budapest. And this is for every one of them, every one of them.”
The Oscar was specifically for “Blade Runner 2049” although any of the films he’s done with the Coen Brothers would have been equally deserving. The cinematography category also chocked up a first by nominating the first woman cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, for “Mudbound.” She just lensed “Black Panther” so I have no doubt that she will have more chances to claim the gold.
It was a predictable night in terms of who won and many winners addressing trending political issues ranging from heartfelt to obligatory. The show itself ran efficiently but with only a few genuinely funny or good moments (Helen Mirren doing her best Vanna White, and Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph taking off their high heels for a lively bit of fun onstage).
Ironically, the montages designed to highlight the past winners ended up this year seeming to highlight the Academy’s lack of diversity and sometimes poor judgment in choosing its winners. At one point a montage of best picture winners cut together scenes that seemed only to point out how trope-filled so many of these Oscar winners are with their identical shots and lines.
But in the end, it felt deeply satisfying to see a veteran filmmaker like Del Toro finally be embraced by Oscar along with first-time feature filmmaker Peele getting an award. And both “The Shape of Water” and “Get Out” hail from the horror genre. I am so delighted to see genre filmmakers win big.
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