Saturday, January 16, 2016

observations & pronouncements

The big movie news of the week isn't who or what was nominated for an Oscar but who or what wasn't.  But, in the end, who really cares?

Well, the studios and stars who reap the monetary rewards of a lauded film certainly care - and perhaps a few hundred die-hard movie geeks.

Ricky Gervais got it right during the recent Golden Globes Giveaway Show:  These awards mean ... nothing. And the notion of picking "the best" is a fairly futile exercise considering that 6,932 films, both domestic and international, were released in the United States in 2015, if one is to believe the statistics on IMDb. That's right, 6,932 titles. Insane, right?

So, it's kinda suspect that with that many films, employing what must be tens of thousands of actors, directors and writers, only white people were found worthy of recognition in the top categories.  White people and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. This isn't exactly a new phenomenon. It's as old as movies themselves - or at least as old as "Gone With the Wind" (1939) when Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar and was still treated shabbily.

"No young whippersnappers here!"

So I don't buy into the popular but naive conspiracy theory that there's this entitled Hollywood-&-Vine clique that operates nefariously to decide who is or isn't worthy. The problem is that the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has grown to approximately the same number as the films released in 2015 - 6,000-plus - but it hasn't changed in its demographics.  It remains an Old White Men's Club.  These numbers are in constant flux, I'm sure, but the Academy membership that votes for the Oscars is 94% white, 77% male and the average age is 63.

It's still 1939, see?

The Academy is the G.O.P. of the arts, still living in the past and unable (or unwilling) to accept progress and change.  It is afflicted with all the -isms.  In addition to its innate racism, which gets all the attention, the Academy is especially guilty of ageism.  A child actor rarely is honored, which explains the absence of Jacob Tremblay of "Room" among the nominees.

And Tremblay arguably received better reviews than his co-star, the talented Brie Larson, who was nominated.  And if Tremblay had made the grade?  Well, he would have been put in the supporting category, even though he is the male lead in his film.  Child actors who are the stars of their films have routinely been relegated to a supporting classification.

Think Tatum O'Neal and Patty Duke.

"She's just not good enough!"

And let's not forget the snobbery factor.  Kristen Stewart turned in one of the most acclaimed performances of the year for her work in Olivier Assayas' "Clouds of Sils Maria" as the assistant to Juliette Binoche's aging film star.  The New York Times' film critics predicted a supporting-actress nomination for her in their Oscar-preview essays.  But Stewart's association with the popular "Twilight" film franchise and her popularity with tabloid reporters and paparazzi somehow disqualified her from consideration.  She's good enough to make Hollywood rich with her participation in a franchise, but unworthy of artistic recognition.

One would think that her alternate persona in a string of impressive independent films would be enough to offset the "Twilight" curse.  She's given terrific performances in "Still Alice" (for which she also should have been nominated), "The Runaways" (as Joan Jett), "Adventureland" (with Jesse Eisenberg), "On the Road" (based on the Jack Kerouac book, of course), "Into the Wild" (the Sean Penn film based on the Jon Krakauer book) and especially "Welcome to the Riley's" (opposite James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) and "The Yellow Handkerchief (with Eddie Redmayne, William Hurt and Maria Bello), to single out but a few of her achievements.

Could it be that she's still too young for recognition?

Well, Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence are the same age (both born in 1990), but Lawrence receives the respect that's denied to Stewart.
  The Voice!  

Overshadowing the calculated Oscar mania was the passing of the extraordinary actor Alan Rickman, whose death on January 14th eerily coincided with the announcement of the nominees - and, in my mind, trivialized them. It was sobering to hear names of the usual suspects being announced (Leonardo DiCaprio! Cate Blanchette!) while being keenly aware that Rickman, he of the deep, mellifluous voice and perfect enunciation, never won an Oscar or was never even nominated for one.

How could that possibly be?  Well, it be.

"This is no laughing matter!"

Finally, the utter strangeness of the Academy is perhaps best exemplified by its selection of hosts.  For some reason, the Academy gravitates towards comics, usually outrageous, irreverent comics.  Actually, to be fair, all movie-awards shows do, not just the Oscars.  And, each year, there is deep-seated fear and hand-wringing over who the comic in question will insult and how stinging and pertinent the insult will be.

Chris Rock, this year's Oscar host, was ruthless when he had the same gig about a decade ago.  (Remember his gratuitous tirade against Jude Law?)  If I recall, the Academy said he would never be invited back.  Gervais took no prisoners when he hosted the Golden Globes a couple times a few years ago. The audience was appalled but he was back on stage in the Beverly Hilton banquet room again this year. Jane Lynch hosted a recent "give-me-an-award!" show and was supremely sarcastic and the incorrigible Seth McFarland was suitably smarmy when he did the Oscars.

Then there's Tina and Amy who smiled sweetly as they sandbagged the invited guests and nominees - and they were as funny as hell.  Even Ellen DeGeneres had fun bursting bubbles.  But how dare they play so unfairly?

So if the Academy wants to free itself of this yearly, self-inflicted torment about its selected host, maybe it should simply stop hiring comics and stick to James Franco and Anne Hathaway, who were inadvertently funny (so memorably awful they were funny) a few years ago, or Neil Patrick Harris who, for all his talent and charm,  somehow bombed at last year's gala.

There will be no suspense (as usual) during this year's Oscarcast, as least as far as the winners are concerned.  Expect Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Jason Leigh to thank their mothers and agents for their awards and blessings.

Award winners usually tend to forget to thank their spouses and co-stars.

Now, that's funny.


Marvin said...

I LOVED Clouds of Sils Maria; thought that Kristen Stewart was a "revelation" in it. She should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. ( agree totally with that position.)

Walt said...

Holy Moley, this is like reading ' Gone with the Wind '....ha,ha,ha......

Sheila said...

Complaining about the Oscars has become the thing to do in the past decade and, at first, the gripes were unfair. But now they are with merit. The show itself is a lumbering embarrassment and the winners become predictable way before the nominations are even announced. There's no surprise or unpreditability - about either the winners or the jokes about them. Consequently, I feel as if I've already seen this year's show.

Alex said...

Kristen Stewart was always treated by the critics as an especially promising young actress - until she made "Twilight" and was embraced by tween girls. Then they turned against her. Then the tweens dumped her when she broke up with Pattison. Her ability never changed, only her "image" which became distorted.

Tim K. said...

Yes, the Oscars are traditionally condescending towards child actors who are almost never nominated and, on the rare occasion when they are, they're considered "supporting," as you say, no matter how large the role is or how important the child is to the plot. Bad form!

Veronica said...

Is it presumptuous to think that the Academy's attitude towards child actors reflects the relationships that movie stars have with their own children? We've all read the stories - and the books - about estranged parent and child in Hollywood, kids who are abused by their star parent or simply neglected. So how can we expect respect for children from the Academy when some of its members are alienated from their own kids?

joe baltake said...

I get your point, Veronica, and appreciate, but it's pretty simplistic. There are also stories of star and child who are BFFs.

c.g. said...

How much does Hollywood (and the Academy) love Jennifer Lawrence? She retained her credibility after doing no less than two franchise series, "The Hunger Games" and "X-Men" - while Kristen Stewart has been penalized for "Twilight." Awful place.

John said...

Everyone says how much more fun the Golden Globes are than the Oscars, but no one has pointed out that the Globes are much more diverse. Instead of complaining about the Oscars' racism, we should be cheering the Globes for its fairness and open-mindedness.

McK said...

I'm cynical. I'm turned off by films that are made strictly to win awards. "Concussion" struck me as that kind of film. It wasn't bad. It was pretty good, but it was strictly by-the-numbers-for-Oscar's-sake. As good as Will Smith is in the film, I don't see it as an award-worthy performance. Now that it came up empty in terms of awards, I predict it will fade fast.

Jim said...

Just had to comment. Watched the Critics' Choice awards last night, hosted by yet another comid, T.J. Miller (who was quite good). But I was floored that this awards show actually has a category for child actors and honored Jacob Tremblay. Take that, Oscar!

Charlotte said...

The best actor of the year is Jacob Tremblay, not Leonardo DiCaprio. Sorry, Leo!