The 91st Academy Awards are beckoning. The Annual Ron and Jon Academy Awards Contest is on! Ron is back from his fab “Down Under” vacation. While I’ve been chilling out here in Torrance. Aikido. Work. No movies to see. This might be the movie “winter of discontent.”
Meanwhile, I’ve no desire to watch, say “The Favourite” again. I love Emma Stone. Superb storytelling. Brilliant acting. Exquisite cinematography and costume design. Elegant period piece narrative. “The Favourite” checks all the boxes of poster-child Academy Awards Best Picture.
Yet, for me I was not on the side of any of the characters in “The Favourite”. Everyone in the movie was, say: “It’s all about me.” This is brilliant dark comedy at its finest. So dark, it’s onyx.
Director Yargos Lanthimos explores the darker side of humanity in his design. “The Favourite” might also be the paradoxical spin on the #MeToo movement, which is really a good thing. In “The Favourite” Women are in power in the foreground and background of society. They are depicted as abusive and as Machiavellian as their male counterparts could be. I’m guessing that’s Yargo’s intended narrative epiphany. Perhaps. Yet, that’s just not inspiring. That’s not at all what makes me go to the movies.
That being said, “The Favourite” looks to be the predominant Oscar favorite this year. It was 2019’s critical darling: Topping many movie critics’ Best of the Year Lists. So was “Roma.” Director Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, the movie being from Mexico. Yes, the Academy Awards recognized film-making diversity.
Curiously, “Roma” streamed exclusively on Netflix: never playing in the movie theaters. “Roma” redefines the distinction of what constitutes movie. Perhaps, movies in the future can be viewed on multiple media platforms and be Oscar-nominated. That’s something to pay attention to in the coming years.
I like Alfonso Cuaron, although I was not in any rush to see “Roma.” For one thing, I don’t have Netflix. If I’m not watching movies at my favorite theater, I’m home watching ESPN. There are only so many hours in the day. Go figure. The story of “Roma” doesn’t occur as unique, at least for me. Although, “Roma” reflects the timeless theme of love and family. It is a very worthy and deserving film.
Many people love “Roma.” I’ve also spoke to others who thought “Roma” was just okay. My friend Jonathan told me that “Roma” is reminiscent of an Ingmar Berman film: a slice of life, very plodding, overly long. Everyone’s point of view is valid. Still, that didn’t make me want to subscribe to Netflix any time soon. Just saying.
The 2019 Academy Awards Nominations were the yin and yang of movies. In this era of conscientious diversity, some nominations were truly inspired. Yet, some of the omissions made you scratch your head: WTF? Some omissions were just f—ing stupid. Just saying, again.
On the upside. “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler with its mostly African American cast, was nominated for Best Picture. “Black Panther” grossed over $700 million in the U.S. and Canada. It grossed $1.35 billion worldwide. Not only was “Black Panther” the box office hit, it was the cross-cultural phenomenon. Movies about heroes of color and diverse cultures could actually make a shitload of money. Hollywood Studios had to acknowledge that, particularly in terms of the bottom line. Perhaps, the blockbuster paradigm is shifting? We can hope.
Director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book”, the story of racism and prejudice told with a genuine sense of humor, was nominated for “Best Picture” as well. Viggo Mortensen well deserved his Best Actor nomination. Viggo has blessed us with remarkable performances over the years. Mahershala Ali is simply sublime. I watched in tears in the theater when Mahershala says, “So if I’m not Black enough! If I’m not White enough! If I’m not man enough! So tell me what am I?” “Green Book” is something special.
Disgraced Director Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was nominated for Best Picture, because of the authentic inspired performance of Rami Malek as the late Freddie Mercury in this “Queen” biopic. Rami’s Freddie struggled with his own sexuality in discovering his true voice.
Ironically, openly gay Bryan Singer didn’t receive a Best Director nomination. The Studio had fired him with about a month remaining of filming. The Assistant Director completed the movie. Since then, Bryan has been accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse. Has he become the justified pariah in this age of #MeToo? Perhaps. Outwardly, this occurs as karma. Bryan proclaims his innocence in all accusations brought forth.
I believe at the heart of diversity is being to free to be who you are. Rami poignantly embodies this ideal along with singing Queen’s iconic songs, no lip syncing here. I also believe Rami beats Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in “Vice.” And I’m a Christian Bale fan. Christian is perhaps the finest actor of his generation. He’s amazing and unrecognizable as Cheney.
First-time Director Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” received eight nominations. Deservedly so: Bradley, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliott were nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Bradley was also nominated for co-writing the adapted screenplay.
There’s a point in “A Star Is Born” where Bradley’s Jackson tells Gaga’s Ali, who suffers over her looks, “So if there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people wanna hear it.” Amen. “A Star Is Born” is about having something to say from inside that shall define you. The movie is something special, so is Bradley.
Gaga is amazing; however, she’s likely to lose Best Actress to Glenn Close for “The Wife,” which I have not seen, along with most people. A couple years ago the Academy Awards were labeled #Oscarsowhite both rightly and wrongly so. The 2019 Nominations made tremendous strides in addressing the diversity vacuum.
However, the Oscars continue as they have been for so many years: elitist. ABC laments the decline in ratings over the last ten years or so. Maybe it’s the Host, or lack thereof, in Kevin Hart? My take on Kevin and the words we say to come later.
No, the viewership of the Academy Awards Show is down, not because of the hosts nor the lack of musical numbers. Here’s the deal: no one watches the Academy Awards, other than movie geeks like me, because NO ONE SEES THE NOMINATED MOVIES. Audiences just don’t f—ing care. Period.
Does nominating box office hits for Best Picture like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born” make a difference? Maybe.
Perhaps, these are the corrective baby steps required to move in the right direction. As with most things, it will take time. Rather more substantively: What makes a movie great is relative, much like politics. For now the Academy Awards might be labeled: #Oscarsoutoftouch. That’s how they occur to the masses.
On the downside, the Academy made some boneheaded omissions. Bradley Cooper not nominated for Best Director? WTF? His direction on “A Star Is Born” was as great as it gets. It was good enough for the Directors Guild Association (DGA) nomination for Best Director. Peter Farrelly not nominated for Best Director for “Green Book?” Viggo and Mahershala’s performances don’t just mysteriously appear on screen all on their own. Apparently, Peter’s snub was the aftermath of stories of his transgressions back in the 1990’s. Warranted? I really don’t know—although Peter was nominated by the DGA for Best Director. Obviously, his peers thought he was good enough.
Ryan Coogler not nominated for Best Director for “Black Panther?” Truly WTF? That omission dilutes the “Black Panther” Best Picture nomination as mere tokenism. Too bad. Yay for Spike Lee’s Best Director nomination for “BlacKkKlansman.” This is Spike’s first Best Director nomination. On the surface it occurs as the Academy’s version of making up for sins of the past, when he wasn’t nominated for “Do the Right Thing.” Way more people saw “Black Panther” than “BlacKkKlansman.” Just saying. Acknowledging diversity can also be imperfect.
The Academy failed to recognize Emily Blunt for her amazing reinvention of Mary Poppins in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The front-runners in Oliva Coleman for “The Favorite” and Glenn Close for “The Wife” didn’t command a large viewing audience unlike “Mary Poppins Returns,” which was the critical and box office hit for Disney. Visibility and accessibility need to account for something. One might surmise. If a noteworthy performance occurs in a movie that no one sees, did it really count? Rather, do we really care? Just saying, again.
What often defines or breaks a movie are the supporting performances. Two prominent omissions come to mind. Michael B. Jordan was amazing as Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther.” Michael B.’s Erik is the villain who has the same noble cause as the hero Black Panther but chooses the violent path. His Erik was wronged as a child and suffered for that. Michael B. was both powerful and vulnerable. He arises as the brightest star of his generation. He deserved the Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Michelle Yeoh poignantly grounded “Crazy Rich Asians.” In the defining scene Michelle’s Eleanor tells Constance Wu’s Rachel, “I know this much. You will never be enough.” Michelle’s eloquent gravitas make you see: she’s really talking about Eleanor. She deserved the Best Supporting Actress nomination.
The Academy failed to nominate “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” the documentary about the late beloved Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” for Best Documentary (Long Subject). Truly WTF? “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was the highest-grossing documentary in 2018. It had won several pre-Oscar awards. This occurred as the completely lame-ass omission.
The Power of Our Words
So the 2019 Academy Awards is host-less. The Academy initially chose actor-comedian Kevin Hart to host this year’s Academy Award show. However, soon after their announcement tweets and YouTube videos of Kevin’s stand-up routines surfaced from 2008 on social media. They were without a doubt homophobic. Social media outcry arose. Kevin dismissed the haters, saying that he had already apologized in the past. He said, “I’m done.” Well, he was done. The Academy withdrew Kevin as host.
Yes, Kevin was the victim of social media trolls, who revel in the demise of anyone’s success. Yet, is Kevin absolved of his past actions? Not entirely. I believe that Kevin is a good man. I have nothing but mad love for him. But he just didn’t get it. He didn’t listen to his audience. He didn’t listen from his heart. Yes, pun intentional.
I thought about what he did in context. Say for example that the Academy Awards were so f—ing desperate and said, “Hey, Jon, we want you to host the 91st Academy Awards?” Yeah, ridiculous, but stay with me here.
Then as soon as I said, “Yes,” YouTube videos surfaced on Facebook. Several of my friends from high school remembered that I often used the homophobic slur—that other f-word—when I was 16.
Well, they would be right. I could say that I was young and stupid at the time. And I could be right, more or less. But here’s the deal: it still wasn’t right back then, and it’s not right now. Granted it was a different time in the 1970’s. Culture was different. Fitting in with other kids was so important.
I went to an all-boys private school. Some of my classmates and friends were gay, but could not, would not “come out.” Truly I didn’t know at the time that they didn’t have the freedom or the luxury of being who they were.
Years later a couple of my classmates died of AIDS. One had a gender reassignment. Others came out and thrived in life. That was so awesome to see. Being young and stupid is one thing, but irresponsible words hurt regardless. It matters very little if I were joking or not.
I can’t go back and unsay what I said. I’m sorry for what I said. I believe that I’ve become the greater man for those mistakes and misspoken words. And enduring my own trials and circumstances, I’ve learned that I have to be kind to others and kinder to me as well. I have to have compassion. I truly don’t know what another is going through inside.
The world is constantly changing, and perhaps I’ve done the same. If I could say anything to Kevin: it’s far greater to get over yourself. And I would know.
In all of this, I hope that the 2019 Academy Awards recognizes the greatness in film, the diversity of culture and people, and acknowledges that we all have something inside that people want to hear.
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