Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Academy Picks Its Oscar Favourites

Melissa McCarthy and bunnies

 Some folks in the Dakotas consider me an Oscar expert. I’ve long been a regular guest of Don Briscoe at KSDN in Aberdeen, South Dakota as well as Bob Harris at KFGO in Fargo, North Dakota, giving my predictions over the airwaves as to who will go home with golden statuettes. In truth, though, my insights into Hollywood jibe nicely with the dictum of screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

This year’s Oscar ceremony was supposed to be a disaster because it had no host. It was supposed to be (even more than usual) several long hours of endless self-congratulation, interspersed with failed attempts at humor. And, because of the political climate we’re living in – as well as logistical controversies within the Academy itself -- it was supposed to be marked by a good deal of negative emotion. Instead, surprise! This was the briskest show in years, a host’s opening monologue was not missed, and the evening played out in a spirit of “Can’t we all just get along?” If you enjoy listening to angry diatribes, this was not the show for you. Basically it was a good-natured lovefest for those passionate about the joy of making movies.

Which is not to say that it lacked lively moments. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph were cheeky and funny as presenters. Keegan-Michael Key descended from the rafters with an umbrella: shades of Mary Poppins. Melissa McCarthy (a deserving Best Actress nominee for Can You Ever Forgive Me?) took the stage in a regal costume that was an hilarious tribute to the bunnies of The Favourite. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were touchingly passionate in their rendition of the soon-to-be Oscar-winning ballad, Shallow.

Among the winners were women (including Asian and black women) making history. A victorious short documentary called Period. End of Sentence brought the subject of menstruation into the open. A gracious Mahershala Ali, claiming his second Supporting Actor Oscar in three years, was the first winner I can remember who thanked his on-camera double. (This was the pianist who both coached him and provided the hands for many of Ali’s character’s most vivid musical moments, so he was certainly worthy of a shout-out.)  I agreed with most of the honors, but was sad to see Glenn Close lose for the seventh time. How ironic that she was overlooked by the Academy for her brilliant portrayal of an overlooked wife. Still, it was priceless to hear Best Actress winner Olivia Colman exuberantly burble about how she was delighted, amazed, amused, even embarrassed by her victory over someone she’d long admired. And of course any event that features Spike Lee, in head-to-toe purple, rejoicing in the victory of his BlacKkKlansman script by leaping into the arms of Samuel L. Jackson, has got to feel special. 

Lee didn’t stay happy for long. He kept his seat when Alfonso Cuarón was named Best Director for Roma, but apparently couldn’t stomach the Best Picture victory of Green Book, the feel-good road trip movie that has raised hackles among some in the African American community. That’s when he tried, without success, to head for the exit. It fascinates me that some people are so upset by a movie that sees American life through an optimistic lens. (Others with genuine civil rights credentials, like Harry Belafonte and Representative John Lewis who was present to introduce the film, have given it their unbridled support.)

Significant factoid: There were eight nominees for 2018’s Best Picture. Each one of them nabbed an Oscar (Vice’s was for Christian Bale’s makeup). So a good time was had by most.

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