The 90th Academy Awards: Always overblown, newly relevant

The Academy Awards felt as relevant and fresh as they could while yet maintaining all the cheese and slight odor of staleness that marks this large, ponderous institution. 

Achariya: Full disclosure, although I unreservedly love the red carpet of any Hollywood event, I haven’t watched the Academy Awards for years, in part because it felt like there was little point to watching Hollywood wank itself over movies that I generally find uninteresting. I’m a geek and like action/spy/fantasy/sci-fi/arthouse movies, and the stuff that tends to win is what garnered best actor last night, movies like Darkest Hour (which, ok, I kinda liked).

Jen: Even though I appreciate the fanfare and pageantry, the Oscars have become a thing I’m aware of rather than look forward to. I appreciate filmmakers and crews and such receiving much-deserved recognition because it usually results in more work for them and more creative control, but for me actually making time to sit down and watch is less a priority than knowing what’s nominated and what won.

Achariya: I watched the show last night because after the #MeToo movement pointed out all the flaws in the Hollywood system, I wanted to see how the Academy Awards producers would handle it. And in fact, they handled it subtly and well.

Achariya: It wasn’t like the Golden Globes, where the show was one big searing indictment of Harvey Weinstein. In fact, I felt like everyone at the Academy Awards were trying to move beyond hashtag activism. Some discussions on the red carpet indicated that the #MeToo participants wanted the movement to stand for more than just awards show participation, and encompass women outside of the Hollywood bubble too.

The best moment that highlighted the lasting impact #MeToo had on Hollywood was probably Frances McDormand’s best actress speech, which she ended with, “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” I had to Google this. Basically it’s a part of an actor’s contract that says the movie production has to reach a minimum level of inclusion of minorities and women before the actor will agree to be part of it. If people take McDormand seriously and inclusion riders are added to contracts going forward, then we know that all of Hollywood has changed for the better due to this one moment at the 90th Academy Awards.

Jen: It’s a hell of a great use of platform to move the needle.

Achariya: As for the movies themselves, I have always been deeply skeptical about the nature of voting, and in fact it’s weirdly complicated. Vanity Fair explains it neatly in this video:

Achariya: And therefore I was surprised and pleased to see our favorite woman-bleeps-a-monster story win the biggest awards. The Shape of Water won best picture, along with a best director nod for Guillermo del Toro! The movie also won best score and best production design. Jen and I both loved it when it came out, and it felt like the best way that Hollywood could celebrate diversity without going all-in on less accessible arthouse movies like Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird.

Jen: I was a little surprised Nolan didn’t win for direction only because of the logistical nightmare that filming Dunkirk must have been (water shoots are generally difficult, throw in thousands of extras and inclement weather and life just becomes terrible), but again, I loved The Shape of Water so I’m biased. Or I would have appreciated Jordan Peele winning Best Director given the difficult material he tackled, but best original screenplay is nothing to sneeze at. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Achariya: Agree. I noticed that it was a Latin-heavy night. Coco won best animated film and best original song (sung in part by the endlessly hot and aging-like-fine-wine Gael Garcia Bernal), and A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign Film. Am I sad to see Coco’s best song victory when I preferred the Sufjan Stevens’ song for Call Me By Your Name? It’s fine, winning an Oscar would’ve trashed Stevens’ indie cred.

Jen: HA! I’m surprised but also not that Timothee Chalamet didn’t win; maybe that’s for the best as he will continue to push himself with amazing projects. He doesn’t seem like the type to rest on his laurels, but you never know.

Achariya: Call Me By Your Name did garner James Ivory a best adapted screenplay Oscar, its only victory of the night. I figured that the Oscar voters wouldn’t touch this somewhat controversial movie with a ten-foot pole in most categories, given the naughty-feeling age difference (17 and 24) between the roles. Timothee Chalamet was 19 and Armie Hammer 28 when they acted the parts, but various people tweeted negatively about how it looked on screen. The Gay Times took this on in a pretty good editorial, though.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the other kinds of inclusion that were emphasized during the night. Daniela Vega, the lead actress in A Fantastic Woman, was the first out trans woman to take the Oscar stage, ever. And when The Silent Child won best live-action short, the director delivered her acceptance speech in British sign language. Jordan Peele was also the first-ever black man to win best original screenwriter for Get Out.

What did I find not so great? Here’s a small list:

  • Kobe Bryant won a best animated short, which was a jarring note in a production otherwise free of accused rapists.
  • It was the Academy Awards so as always I cringed a lot with secondhand embarrassment at the deeply staged jokes, some of which fell flat. (I’ve had enough of Mark Hamill’s “Jedi Pension Plan” joke, for example.)
  • Did the Academy Awards have to point out the difference between the haves and have-nots by making a bunch of dressed-to-the-nines actors invade a normal person showing of A Wrinkle in Time? Okay it was neat that Armie Hammer had a hot dog cannon, but again — what?
  • Lady Bird was totally shut out, which is wild given how good it was. Not even best original screenplay.

Jen: Wait, what? Hot dog what now?

Hot Dog Gunnery at 2:27.

Achariya: And that concludes what I have to say about the Academy Awards this year: they felt as relevant and fresh as they could while yet maintaining all the cheese and slight odor of staleness that marks this large, ponderous institution.


2 thoughts on “The 90th Academy Awards: Always overblown, newly relevant”

  1. Honestly, I missed the Oscar’s this year. I totally forgot about it as I was immersed over the weekend in the Lord of the Rings movies and Gulf Wars prep. However, I made it a point to try and watch all the best picture noms, though, I didn’t get to a few of them. No surprises, all the predictions were pretty much on the mark, especially the actor categories. I liked Shape of Water, but I thought Dunkirk was the clearer winner. But that’s just me.


    1. I am surprised that Dunkirk only walked away with two for sound related things, but in the end I’m sure the complicated voting process (in the video above) is what split the “white-dude war movie” vote between Dunkirk and Darkest Hour and allowed Shape of Water to win.

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