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Embroiled in controversy, the Oscars are coming

Academy Awards ruminations

By David Josselyn

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has frustrated and insulted its own people to the point is has lost respect and credibility with they very people it is trying to honor. This coming Sunday, February 24, is the 91st awards show, but with all the missteps, it is a show that almost did not happen. Beginning last August, the Academy announced a new Best Popular Picture category without any definition of what makes it best and how pictures are qualified for the nomination. One month later, Academy president John Bailey tabled the idea in response to heated pushback. In December, Kevin Hart was announced as the host, but then years-old tweets with homosexual slurs were brought to light; and even with the full endorsement of Ellen DeGeneres, Mr. Hart stepped down in early January leaving the show without a host; the first time since 1989 (the resulting show was “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion-picture industry” per Paul Newman and Julie Andrews). The next decision of poor judgment was announced in late January; the show would only feature two of the five songs nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga, who performs one of the chosen songs to be featured, “Shallow,” refused to perform unless all songs were featured. The very next day, the Academy announced all five songs would be performed, but truncated. For fans of Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins, you may be disappointed to find out Bette Midler will be singing Blunt’s song, “The Place Where Lost Things Go.” On February 11, the Academy chose four categories to be handed out during commercial breaks: Cinematography, Editing, Live-Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling. There was an immediate outcry from the industry with an open letter in protest being signed by Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino, among others, saying the decision is “nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.” Three days later, that decision was reversed with the president announcing all 24 categories will be shown live. Pounding nails in the coffin of the Oscars, the long-standing tradition of having the prior year’s winners hand out the trophies to this year’s winners was thrown out the window. Allison Janney (Best Supporting Actress for “I, Tonya”), Frances McDormand (Best Actress for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Gary Oldman (Best Actor for “Darkest Hour”), and Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor for “Three Billboards…”), had not been asked to present as of early February. Both Rockwell and Janney had reached out to the Academy about presenting and told they would not be asked, to which Janney said it “breaks her heart.” Just last week, the Academy reversed its decision and invited last year’s winners to present awards. This is a short list of missteps by the Academy, and it is incredible that the show will go on. Hopefully, the Academy will learn for these mistakes and work to regain the trust and respect from the people in the industry.

In the meantime, there are eight films nominated for Best Picture, so without further ado, here is my take on the movies. I use a ten-category scoring system in which each category: plot, characters, acting, special effects, editing, costuming, sound, adult material usage, music, and meaning; can receive up to ten points. The total score is divided by 20 to get a value out of five.

“Black Panther”

A nomination for a comic-book movie is unprecedented, and it was this movie that motivated the Academy to create a Best Popular Category due to support of it being nominated for Best Picture. The story is about Prince T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, who assumes the mantle of king after the assassination of this father. T’Challa struggles between tradition and his own vision which is quickly put to a head when his cousin comes to challenge his authority. Themes of racism with allusions to the American Black Panther party, slavery, and reparations gives this comic-book movie depth and meaning. The movie also stars Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o. My daughter rates it 4.9, my wife 4.9, and I rate it 4.75.

“BlackKklansman”

This film, set in 1972, chronicles the time Ron Stallworth, played by John David Washington, a black man, worked for the Colorado Springs Police Department and successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan using fellow Jewish officer Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, as his stand-in for face to face meetings. This is based on a true story and highlights the racial tensions and outright bigotry of the time-period. Director Spike Lee ties those issues with modern events involving Klansmen and the Black Lives Matter movement. The movie also stars Laura Harrier as the president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Black Panthers. My daughter rates it 3.75, my wife rates it 3.95, and I rate it 4.2.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

As the title suggests, this film is about the band Queen and its colorful frontman, Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek. The movie tells the story through Freddie’s eyes from the formation of the band to their epic performance at Live Aid. The director, Bryan Singer, chooses to stop telling a story and recreate the Live Aid concert to end the movie which I felt cheapened Freddie’s emotional and inspirational story; however, it is worth noting that a side-by-side comparison of the movie to concert footage reveals the scene was mastered move for move. Singer was fired during production and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel stepped in to finish the film (he remains uncredited for Direction). I am not clear which director is responsible for the ending. The movie also stars Lucy Boynton and Gwilym Lee. My daughter rates it 4.55, my wife rates it 4.3, and I rate it 3.95.

“The Favourite”

I would have walked out of the auditorium in the first 45 minutes, had I not been watching at home. This film has been getting accolades in England winning Best British Picture among many other awards and has been getting a lot of traction here in the states, so I am in the minority. This movie loosely reflects the story of Winston Churchill’s ancestor, Susan Churchill, played by Rachel Weisz, who was Queen Anne’s maid in 1708, but was replaced by her cousin (not sure if the relationship is historical) Abigail Hill, played by Emma Stone, and the new favorite of the queen, played by Olivia Colman. Billed as a comedy, I did not find a single scene funny; oddly, it was billed as a drama in England and my perspective may be different with that approach. Outside of the characters and their influence, there is nothing historical about this movie. One of the costumes looked like the faux satin child’s costume made from plastic. There is no regard to time period other than where it was filmed and most of the costumes. The language, the dancing, the rabbits, the lewdness, and the sexuality are all the sordid imagination of the filmmaker, which I could not get past to enjoy the story telling. My daughter rates the film 1.55, my wife rates it 1.5, and I rate it 2.55.

“Green Book”

This movie is based on a true story of black musician Dr. Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, and his Italian driver, Tony Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen, in 1962. Tony has a cultural prejudice against black people, but when his bouncer job ends, he takes a position as Don’s driver to pay the bills. The evolution of their relationship and Tony’s reversal of his world view make for a sometimes awkward, sometimes tense and crushing, but mostly laugh-out-loud funny story. Don chooses to do a musical tour through the deep south because it takes courage, along with genius, to change minds. The film also stars Linda Cardellini. My daughter rates the film 4.85, and I rate it 4.95.

“Roma”

This is a Netflix original movie that had a limited release in theaters for three weeks only, and was then available via Netflix online streaming and is the first shot in the war between online streaming services and theaters. Netflix has refused rights for theaters to show the film with their Best Picture marathons, so it will be interesting to see if the Academy snubs it in response. The film follows live-in housekeeper Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicia, and her family in 1970s Mexico in the Roma neighborhood. Cleo faces several challenges and endures pain and hardship, but remains true to herself and her employer. In fact, she is hardly phased by her experiences, they are barely an inconvenience. Director Alfonso Cuaron chooses to portray the story as a literal art film; several times the camera stays on a specific frame as if it were living painting. The result is a dull, dry drama without emotion or purpose. The movie also stars Marina de Tavira and Diego Cortina Autrey. My daughter rates the film 1.4, and I rate the film 1.7.

“A Star is Born”

This is the fourth film of this title that features the same plot, but from different perspectives. This one tells the story of a night club singer, Ally, played by Lady Gaga, whose fortunes take a turn when she meets and falls in love with rock star Jack, played by Bradley Cooper. Their relationship and lives are challenged as her stardom grows and his fades, leading to a shocking conclusion. This modern take features liberal uses of the ‘f’ word to an extreme, but the acting and singing is extraordinary. The movie also stars Sam Elliott. My daughter rates the film 4.6, my wife rates it 4, and I rate it 4.15.

“Vice”

This film is the story of Dick Cheney as he rose to power through the George W. Bush presidency and reshaped what it means to be Vice President, not to mention the country. I have not had the time to see this movie before press time, but it is on my list to see before the Oscars are handed out and a review will be forthcoming.

Best Picture

Those are the nominations and based on what I have seen, I would put “Green Book” at the top of my list to win. When I consider the Academy and the history of how they vote, my prediction of who will really win is “The Favourite,” mostly because it is strong with the #metoo movement and it has done well overseas. I think the nomination for “Black Panther” is just an acknowledgment that a comic book movie is Oscar worthy, but the Academy will never vote for it. “Roma” is certainly a contender because it focuses on the lives of Mexicans showing that they go through the same struggles and challenges we do and it correlates directly to current politics. Regardless of the mistakes the Academy has made, I hope people will respect and honor the work of actors, cinematographers, editors, directors, costumer designers, special effects, and all who work hard to create visual stories that can touch our lives and change our hearts. May the best picture truly win.

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