2018 Oscar Thoughts

Oh, my. Where do you start covering this year’s Oscars? Do we cover the awards, the show itself, the politics, the dresses, the awards as a window into….whatever?

The best I can do at the moment is a series of random thoughts:

The set was extraordinary, and the various numbers were imaginatively staged. The montages of films and actors spread throughout were intelligent and engaging.

Jimmy Kimmel wasn’t as cutting and negative as I feared, and not quite as political either (I’d set the bar low on purpose). Considering his move from talk-show host to self-appointed national social and political commentator, this was surprising. The first several minutes of the show were so fun and smart, I thought we were in for a great show. Well, at least it was a good start.

I am usually appalled at the degree of self-congratulation apparent at the awards, but was happy to see much of that energy moved into activism. The activism was occasionally coated with the same self-congratulatory spirit, but the theme of “Time’s Up,” etc., while ultimately overplayed in the context of an awards show, is at least legitimate and of genuine lasting value. Perhaps, unlike the era after Thelma and Louise (as noted in the broadcast), we are seeing the beginning of a new moment in film art and industry.

The awards were not surprising at all, and the lack of suspense, and the general low quality of films this year together conspired to lower viewer ratings. The top three contenders were cool (Dunkirk), hot (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), and warm (The Shape of Water). This was a warm year, apparently. (Would Dunkirk, considering its rapturous reviews when released, have won Best Picture if it had been released in December?) I would have preferred a Dunkirk win in both the picture and director categories, but ‘twas not to be. I agree that The Shape of Water is beautifully designed and (generally) exquisitely acted, but has several glaring screenplay holes in it, and I think it misses the balance between magical and realistic in its magical realism in several key moments. Time will tell, of course, but Dunkirk may well be better remembered in the future.

Nothing was surprising, either, about the acting awards, which have been set in stone for months. I would have preferred Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf every so slightly to I, Tonya’s Allison Janney, but no real com plaints. Question: Since Casey Affleck bowed out (or was asked to bow out?) of the presentation for Best Actress this year (which traditionally belongs to the previous year’s Best Actor), will Gary Oldman be forced out next year in the light of his past accusations? And as much as I love Frances McDormand, who is an American institution, she may be getting a little full of herself in her speeches lately. And to say she was a little “over the top” may be under-describing her moment. I may be old-fashioned, but I thought these were acting awards that ought to be gratefully received. Silly me—I forgot they were just springboards for whatever one is passionate about at the moment

Folks are saying Lady Bird was “snubbed,” a word I’m coming to dislike as much as “dystopian,” but it just came up short in all the categories—that’s all. Take another look at all the nominations, and we’ll see it wasn’t “snubbed.”

Best Song was a surprise, especially after the live presentations. “This is Me” (The Greatest Showman) was rousing, engaging the audience with energy and powerful enthusiasm. It almost seemed inevitable that it would win after such a performance. This was especially in comparison to the winner, “Remember Me” from Coco, which was earlier presented with a barely-there vocal start by the wonderful actor and pretty awful singer Gael Garcia Bernal, only to be followed by two real singers who seemed to have their own vocal struggles. Perhaps the winner peaked at the right time for voters, while “This is Me”’s popularity came just a little too late.

The highlight of the night for this writer was Rogers Deakins finally winning an Oscar after 14 nominations, for Blade Runner 2049. He could have easily and rightly won any number of times in the past, and he was deserving of both the specific award for this film as well as the career award that it also was. James Ivory, a spry 89, won both a specific and well-deserved career award for his screenplay for Call Me By Your Name, becoming the oldest Oscar winner in history, joining seasoned presenters Rita Merino and Eva Marie Saint as reminders that we still have some legends around.

As seems to be the new habit, there was one crazy idea carried to excess that wasted time, involved food, and really didn’t work. The idea of thanking the moviegoers was fine in theory and worthy of a quick mention. But to be honest, that’s not what the evening is about, and it seemed an awkward stretch to a general public that wasn’t out there in TV-land to be reached. The visit across the street to interrupt the viewing of a preview of A Wrinkle in Time must have sounded good to someone on paper. But the joy of the interrupted movie-viewers didn’t make its way to those of us in the home audience, and the greetings from the Oscar participants to the viewers were somewhere between silly and forced. I’ve rarely gotten the impression that the folks involved in the Oscars genuinely cared about the movie-going public. There are some who honestly appreciate their fans, and hearing them express those thoughts is touching. But the evening is about peer recognition (and to quote Seinfeld, there’s nothing wrong with that).

I’m not sure if the Oscar show even knows what it is anymore. This year there were sub-par films, little to no suspense in the awards, a host trying to restrain himself from instructing us all in how to think, some genuinely well done production numbers, and a show trying to reflect an industry struggling between fierce anger and hope that this is a time of real change. In spite of frayed edges, the show managed to squeak through well enough—this time. The awards aren’t really going to affect anyone’s career this time out, but last night’s show may well be studied as an example of where and how Hollywood is struggling to remain viable and relevant.

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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