Monday, March 5, 2018

Oscars 2017: Show Recap

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in "The Shape of Water"
For a self-referential ceremony that exists mostly to celebrate itself, this year’s Oscars were different. Well, not entirely; in its bold strokes, last night’s telecast kept to the same basic rhythms—the clips, the songs, the montages—that the Academy Awards have been refining for the past nine decades. But many of the speeches and presentations that highlighted this year’s show were decidedly of the moment. At a time when Hollywood is facing a long-awaited reckoning, many of Tinsel Town’s brightest stars used show business’ glitziest stage to speak frankly on the issues that continue to engulf the industry. In that sense, at least, this was not your grandfather’s Oscars.

Beyond that, it was a perfectly decent show, which is to say that it was too long, too dull, and too stiff. In his second straight turn as host, Jimmy Kimmell delivered a decidedly adequate performance, with a few hits—in addition to a dry and well-paced opening monologue, his jet ski bit was an inspired touch, with many winners referring to it in their speeches—a few duds, and one ghastly misfire (the insufferable and interminable Wrinkle in Time bit). He seemed to minimize his own presence this year, which served the tone of this year’s Oscars well; with so much attention on diversity—of sex, of race, of orientation, of national origin—there is only so much that a straight white male host has to say. And at least the predictable callbacks to last year’s envelope fiasco were kept to a dull roar.

For my part, I did rather well in terms of my predictions, hitting on 18 of 21 categories, a marked improvement after my atrocious score last year. And while I often preferred one of the losing nominees (as is usually the case), it was difficult to begrudge most of the winners.

On to a quick recap of the awards, in order of presentation:

Best Supporting Actor
Predicted winner: Sam Rockwell—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Woody Harrelson—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Actual winner: Sam Rockwell—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (confidence: 4/5)

No surprise here. Also, kudos to the Academy for rectifying one of its biggest mistakes from last year; rather than replaying footage of past acceptance speeches, they introduced the acting categories by showing lightning-quick montages of actual performances. I’m sure that some found these sequences needlessly self-serving, but the Oscars will always be about its own history, and I for one enjoy being reminded of good movies.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Predicted winner: Darkest Hour (confidence: 5/5)
Actual winner: Darkest Hour

I’m sure Academy voters actually watched the movie, but they probably could have made this decision just from looking at a side-by-side comparison of Gary Oldman appearing as Churchill vs. sitting in the audience.

Best Costume Design
Predicted winner: Phantom Thread (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Phantom Thread
Actual winner: Phantom Thread

Eva Marie Saint presented this award, which was super-cool. Also, this was one of just three times on the night where the predicted/preferred/actual winner all lined up for me. Always nice when that happens.

Best Documentary Feature
Predicted winner: Faces Places (confidence: 1/5)
Actual winner: Icarus

See, I told you I had no idea about this category. Perhaps someday, I will watch more documentaries. Or maybe I’ll just watch another 100 TV shows.

This was followed by Mary J. Blige performing “Mighty River”, the first of the Best Original Song nominees. I’m not going to address these performances individually—of the five, Andra Day and Common’s “Stand Up for Something” is the only one I liked—but, well, maybe the Academy should just scrap them again, as it did awhile back? I know they’re an excuse to bring even more celebrity talent to the show—Sufjan Stevens! Common! Annie Clark!—but most of the songs just aren’t well-suited to being performed on a stage.

This in turn was followed by yet another montage devoted to the general concept of “the movies”; it was outrageously long and entirely unnecessary, and I completely adored it, in no small part because it began with music from Interstellar, which is an excuse for me to remind you that that movie fucking rules.

Best Sound Editing
Predicted winner: Dunkirk (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: Dunkirk

Best Sound Mixing
Predicted winner: Dunkirk (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: Dunkirk

I’m happy for Dunkirk, but I have to say, it was a little weird to make Baby Driver star Eiza González present awards where her movie was in the running (and lost). She looked visibly disappointed when reading the first envelope, and I can’t really blame her.

Also, I generally hate the “host wanders through the aisles” thing, but Kimmell’s quick banter with Steven Spielberg was rather charming. Even more charming: Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani’s “we are dreamers” bit before presenting the next award, particularly Nanjiani’s “the white Chris Pine” line. Remember, it’s dangerous to cast Oscar hosts based on brief presentations—it’s far easier to impress for two minutes than for four hours—but I’m confident Nanjiani would kill in the gig.

Best Production Design
Predicted winner: The Shape of Water (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049
Actual winner: The Shape of Water

Moving right along.

Best Foreign Language Film
Predicted winner: A Fantastic Woman (Chile) (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: A Fantastic Woman

Rita Moreno presented this award, though sadly she didn’t do so in character as Lydia from One Day at a Time. Also, I look forward to seeing A Fantastic Woman when it comes to Netflix in August.

Best Supporting Actress
Predicted winner: Allison Janney—I, Tonya (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird
Actual winner: Allison Janney—I, Tonya

Obviously I was rooting for Metcalf, but it’s hard for me to complain about an actress as talented as Janney scoring an Oscar. (Bonus points for her “I did it all by myself” joke.)

Best Animated Feature
Predicted winner: Coco (confidence: 5/5)
Actual winner: Coco

For the record, the bit between Kimmell and his “9-year-old self” was very cute, and the kid was really good. The Star Wars banter that followed with Mark Hamill, Kelly Marie Tran, and Oscar Isaac wasn’t quite as natural—someday, the Academy will stop putting inanimate objects on stage with human presenters—but I am still happy to be living in the Hamillsance. Also, I’m ignoring the shorts here, but Kobe Bryant has now won an Oscar, just in case you thought he hadn’t accomplished anything in his life.

Best Visual Effects
Predicted winner: Blade Runner 2049 (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: War for the Planet of the Apes
Actual winner: Blade Runner 2049

Ouch. Look, I’m very happy for Blade Runner 2049, which was one of my favorite movies of last year. But it just seems insane that the revived Planet of the Apes trilogy—which set a new standard for the fluid integration of digital wizardry in human environments—has now been denied in this category three straight times. Maybe it’ll fare better when it’s rebooted again in 30 years.

Best Film Editing
Predicted winner: Dunkirk—Lee Smith (confidence: 3/5)
Preferred winner: Dunkirk—Lee Smith
Actual winner: Dunkirk—Lee Smith

Nifty. Of my two favorite movies of 2017, I’m glad at least one of them walked away with a few Oscars. (I will now shed silent tears for Lady Bird.)

This was followed by Kimmell’s most atrocious decision of the evening, the “Let’s thank the regular people” shtick that resulted in him rounding up a group of stars and venturing across the street to surprise viewers watching a sneak preview for A Wrinkle in Time. What bothered me most wasn’t how it completely derailed the telecast, or how horribly awkward the whole thing was. No, what really killed me with this: Can you imagine how furious you would be if you were watching a sneak preview of A Wrinkle in Time, and it suddenly got interrupted? Yes, I’m sure lots of you would be happy to see Gal Gadot or Armie Hammer in the flesh, but would you really want Ansel Elgort shooting a hot dog in your face? Leave me alone.

On the plus side, Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph were great together, and I am totally down for whatever Haddish/Paul Thomas Anderson collaboration they come up with. Also, terrific signed speech from Rachel Shenton, who won for live-action short.

This was followed by a #TimesUp presentation from Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra, all of whom have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. The montage was thoughtfully assembled, but what really killed me was seeing Sciorra, who introduced herself by saying, “It’s nice to see you all again, it’s been awhile.” As a burgeoning cinephile in the ’90s, I remember being deeply impressed by Sciorra in a number of movies—in particular Reversal of Fortune, Jungle Fever, and teenage-me fave Romeo Is Bleeding—and I always expected her to go supernova. She never did, and now we have to wonder if Weinstein had a role in suppressing her stardom. Ugh.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Predicted winner: Call Me by Your Name—James Ivory (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Molly’s Game—Aaron Sorkin
Actual winner: Call Me by Your Name—James Ivory

Not my preferred choice, but I’m happy for the 89-year-old Ivory, who becomes the oldest Oscar winner ever, and who previously made a number of excellent movies in the ’80s and ’90s, in particular The Remains of the Day.

Best Original Screenplay
Predicted winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—Martin McDonagh (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Lady Bird—Greta Gerwig
Actual winner: Get Out—Jordan Peele

This category was one of the night’s biggest toss-ups. I guessed wrong, but Peele’s blistering and provocative screenplay was a worthy choice.

This was followed by the great Wes Studi presenting a montage of classic war films. I’m sure some will perceive this as a feeble olive branch offered to right-wingers who frown on Hollywood as liberal elitists, but I like war movies, so I’ll allow it.

Best Cinematography
Predicted winner: Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins (confidence: 2/5)
Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins
Actual winner: Blade Runner 2049—Roger Deakins

This was my biggest fist-pump of the night. After an inconceivable 13 straight losses, one of cinema’s giants finally gets his due, and for one of his most extraordinary achievements. Bravo.

Best Original Score
Predicted winner: Phantom Thread—Jonny Greenwood (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Dunkirk—Hans Zimmer
Actual winner: Alexandre Desplat—The Shape of Water

Bah. Serves me right for picking an upset.

Best Original Song
Predicted winner: Coco—“Remember Me” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez) (confidence: 2/5)
Actual winner: Coco—“Remember Me” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)

And we’re back on track.

After this, Eddie Vedder soundtracked the In Memoriam montage, which seemed oddly flat this year. Typically, the Academy will show brief clips of the deceased’s contributions, but here they settled for a dull headshot, like we were paging through a funereal yearbook. Weird choice.

Best Director
Predicted winner: Guillermo del Toro—The Shape of Water (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Christopher Nolan—Dunkirk
Actual winner: Guillermo del Toro—The Shape of Water

No surprise. Strong speech from Del Toro. The Shape of Water isn’t his best movie, but he seems like a good dude, and I admire his imagination.

Best Actor
Predicted winner: Gary Oldman—Darkest Hour (confidence: 5/5)
Preferred winner: Daniel Day-Lewis—Phantom Thread
Actual winner: Gary Oldman—Darkest Hour

Again, Oldman has given better performances, but he’s been a great actor for a long time. We could do worse than give him an Oscar.

Best Actress
Predicted winner: Frances McDormand—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (confidence: 4/5)
Preferred winner: Saoirse Ronan—Lady Bird
Actual winner: Frances McDormand—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Jodie Foster/Jennifer Lawrence duo (subbing in for Casey Affleck) was absolutely delightful, even if it also looked like a female reenactment of Twins. McDormand’s speech was fire, obviously, and it also sent all of Film Twitter to frantically Google the phrase “inclusion rider”.

Best Picture
Predicted winner: The Shape of Water (confidence: 1/5)
Preferred winner: Lady Bird
Actual winner: The Shape of Water

Had it all the way. But seriously, one cool thing about this year’s Oscars was that the big prize remained in doubt throughout the night, particularly after Get Out won for Best Original Screenplay. And again, while The Shape of Water was far from 2017’s best movie, it’s a lovely film, full of beauty and vigor and heart.

Till next year.

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