Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Top Five Pet Peeves of the 2015-16 Oscar Season

The Oscar derby has been dead and buried for over a week now, but as usual I still have a few nuggets to get off my chest before calling it a year. Read on, if you dare, and behold my final purge of negativity, after which I can say "Okay, I'm over it" (hopefully).

5. The Big Short's Adapted Screenplay sweep
I know I've been harping on Adam McKay and Charles Randolph's well-meaning housing crisis comedy for months, but I just don't see what made this such a unanimous choice for writing awards. Especially when the competition hasn't been this stacked in years. I mean, good God: Carol, RoomBrooklyn, The Martian, inexplicable snubbee Steve Jobs, and even the long shots from 45 Years to Mr. Holmes write circles around The Big Short's misguided gimmickry, which gets by on sounding a lot smarter than it truly is. The lone bone tossed to Aaron Sorkin by the Golden Globes is going to look very good ten years from now (Heck, it looked good the moment it happened). At least other season sweepers like Inside Out and Son of Saul can be justified on quality, but I'm not drinking the Koolaid on this one.

4. The Return of Gervais
Anyone they could have chosen to host the Globes was going to be a step down from Tina & Amy, but why do the HFPA have to keep going back to this poisoned well? The crassness of his material is not the problem. The problem is that the jokes aren't funny, or even well delivered. To be fair, there are some contexts in which the persona of the "unlikable comedian" can be effective, but awards show emcee is not one of them. Someone new next time, please and thank you.

3. Best Original Song
It's always something with this category. Mind you, we can't blame the music branch entirely for their sorry selection this year given the weak crop they had to pick from, but there were certainly some better options out there. The callous decision to only perform three of the songs on the show was even worse, and the dirge that ultimately won was the cherry atop an already vexing sundae. Even when her competition is as bad as her, Dianne Warren still can't catch a break. Honestly, the only good thing to come of the category this year is the amusing (for all the wrong reasons) fallout over Sam Smith's infamous acceptance speech goof.

2. Category fraud
Pundits are no strangers to this form of seasonal skulduggery, but it reached rancid new depths this year, with all organizations but the Globes sullying themselves by playing along with that dirty pool. Now I'll hear Supporting arguments for borderline leads like Paul Dano, Tom Courtenay and Mya Taylor, sure. But Jacob Tremblay? Rooney Mara? Eventual winner Alicia Vikander? Certainly not. I fear her success this year will only encourage future shenanigans for performances that just aren't good enough to get nominated in their proper category.

1. #OscarsSoWhite and the narrowness of “diversity”
Three years running now, the awards conversation has contorted into a racial politics conversation, and rarely a constructive one. The din was mostly quelled in 2014 when 12 Years a Slave eked out a Best Picture win over Gravity, only for the knowledge to disseminate thereafter that may voters didn't even see the film – reportedly feeling badgered into “owing” the slavery drama their top honour.
Last year, the kneejerk outrage over an all-white acting lineup birthed the infamous #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, with many angry tweeters refusing to acknowledge (or simply blind to) the nuance of Selma's late release and under-prepared campaign. But this year, things reached a tipping point.
Now I won't be the one to posit that a second consecutive roster of 20 white actors isn't symptomatic of a serious problem, but I'll maintain that anger towards the Academy continues to be misdirected. For starters, those of us who live and breathe Oscar culture need no convincing that it's the ingrained racial bias of the Hollywood system, and not AMPAS itself, that is to blame and lack of opportunity for people of colour. Not that the Academy is absolved of its complicity, but to point a lone finger at the purely Caucasian acting lineup as evidence of institutional racism is fundamentally flawed, and allows the organization's real diversity problems to coast under the radar unscathed and undiscussed.

The acting branch, who chooses those 20 nominees, is arguably more diverse and inclusive than most of the Academy's other factions. Where are the column inches devoted to the overwhelming whiteness of the executives branch? Where's the uproar over no woman being nominated for Best Cinematography in the Oscar's 88-year history? The year's one trans nominee (a rarity in any year), Anhoni, had her song unceremoniously nixed from the telecast – A decision that had more to due with the song's dullness than gender identity politics, but still.
Despite some devoted voices on the Oscar-web doing terrific reporting this year to shed a light on these and other less conspicuous injustices, the public's wrath as clearly been reserved for the celebrity categories, and the Academy responded in turn with a show whose comedic direction bore an equally narrow view of “diversity”. It's embedded right there in the first 30 seconds of Chris Rock's painfully hilarious opening monologue, in which he cites the controversy of the year as, “no black nominees”.

No black nominees (and by "nominees", he specifically means actors).

Whether a calculated angle to appeal to a larger demographic or merely insensitive to other minorities, that's a dangerously limited criteria for diversity, and the theme seemed to play on loop all night long.

Are we to expect a season of outrage every year there doesn't happen to be a black acting nominee? After these last two, I don't think I can do another one.

(Top five highlights of the season still to come...)

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, but I just don't see why you have such a fuss over The Big Short. Even if it may not have been your favorite adapted script of 2015, that doesn't mean that it should be considered a terrible film. None of the Best Picture nominees, for example, fall outside of my top 30 films of 2015. There's this sad mindset with Oscar nominees, in that if I don't like one more than the other, that does not guarantee that the "lesser" films suck. That treatment was given especially to more divisive films like The Revenant and The Big Short, which I found to be quite unfair.

    With regards to the other adapted screenplays...Steve Jobs was by far my favorite screenplay of the 2015. Its Oscar snub is a damn shame, but hey, the Academy likes what they like and I accept that I have no control over that. At least it has its Golden Globe win.

    The Big Short, then, becomes my favorite nominee of that category by default. The more I watched it, the more I came to love its manners of making the audience pay attention to what happens because that's the big bombshell reveal by the end.
    "Writing circles around this script"? "Misguided gimmickry"? Okay...Well it still won and deservedly so. Some can continue to complain and what not, but given how inevitable both its win and Spotlight's win was...would it help?

    Carol was always going to be a film that relied more on its execution than on its story, which comes off to me as an almost cold, pulpy-like melodrama. The beautiful sensuality captured in the film is on Todd Haynes, Ed Lachman, Carter Burwell, the other craft players, and the actresses. I just don't see how it's a masterwork of screenwriting at all, despite the strength of all the other crafts. And I don't mind at all that Carol didn't make the Best Picture list. The Academy likes what it likes and it got a nice handful of other nominations in categories where it certainly deserved them.

    Brooklyn...it's good, but it's actually the Best Picture nominee that's beginning to pale the most in my mind. Outside of Ronan, Walters, Gleeson, and Cohen, the film is much simpler. It's as much of a throwback as Carol, but I like Brooklyn more because of its relatability. We've all been Ronan's character. Still, not exactly a masterwork of screenwriting. It just lets simplicity develop in an organic manner.

    Room...probably my 3rd or 4th favorite of the nominees, but I often wonder if the script is lacking in substance in the second half. The acting and directing make the film and the story pop.

    The Martian...a great script if you can get away from your main character and not lose the gravity of his situation. Still, if it wasn't a box office smash, I doubt the film might've made any headway at the Oscars otherwise, sensing that it wouldn't've received Editing and Directing nominations anyway.

    And 45 Years (which was just okay, elevated a bit by the two leads) and Mr. Holmes (which I loved, and then McKellen's performance elevated that more)...I'd nominate the latter, but either one would be no better than 4th best of a category.

    When it comes to all those films vs. The Martian vs. The Big Short vs. Steve Jobs, I see the dynamic as a matter of (Not really that much) vs. Unexpected Blockbuster vs. So much/In your face vs. So much/In your face/innovative.

    In the end, Steve Jobs was my favorite adapted script/script in general of 2015, while The Big Short was my 2nd favorite adapted script. I never saw either one as misguided. Their "gimmicks" in your eyes are curious innovations in my eyes. The more I ponder their innovations, the more I love the films. And to be honest, it's just too much to spend time hating the other films when they also have their merits.

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