' ' Cinema Romantico: Meet the New Oscars. Same as the Old Oscars.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Meet the New Oscars. Same as the Old Oscars.

It was the immortal Hollywood producer Stanley Motts who once observed how three principal actors died two weeks before the conclusion of principal photography on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Producing, in other words, is rolling with the punches, which is just what Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss did, much to their immense credit, in guiding the 91st Academy Awards through its great no-host fiasco and all other manner of productional setbacks. If just a week ago, in reversing their decision not to air several categories during commercial breaks after public blowback, the whole ceremony seemed destined to collapse, it not only ultimately held together but moved at the brisk sort of pace they promised, not getting in under three hours but coming as close as anyone could reasonably expect for such a live TV behemoth. And if Gigliotti and Weiss remained committed to playing Oscar winners off after their allotted time, they nevertheless kept the spotlight firmly on the winners throughout the night.

The show began smashingly as Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Tina Fey took the stage to (not) host. (Queen, subject of multiple award winner “Bohemian Rhapsody”, opened the ceremony with Adam Lambert substituting for the late Freddie Mercury. In a Red Carpet interview Lambert claimed he’d been told by Queen that Mercury would’ve been cool with this replacement. I found this odd because if there was anything “Bohemian Rhapsody” taught us, which wasn’t much, it’s that Mercury probably would not have been cool with it.) If any combination of this awesome comic trio has long been the dream hosts for a certain sort of movie fan (read: me), this trio is also fiercely intelligent and had long grasped that hosting the Oscars is a no-win proposition. So, they set the telecast’s refreshing template of brevity by riffing about not really being hosts and cycling through a few rapid fire Best Picture jokes, departing the stage almost as soon as they arrived, going out on a glorious high note. It made me dream of Poehler, Rudolph, and Fey as the modern variation of Bob Hope, (not) hosting on into forever.

It proved that losing most of the host’s traditional superfluous bits – think: jet skis, magic acts, and candy falling from the ceiling – will expedite the affair. True, had the telecast cut performances of all five of the original Best Song nominees, it might have come even closer to the fabled three-hour mark. But if great movies often contain great paradoxes, so did these Oscars, because if I maintain the Best Song nominees should not be performed, perhaps the show’s high point was this blog’s beloved, Lady Gaga, singing her “A Star Is Born” power-ish ballad “Shallow” with co-star Bradley Cooper. Gaga literally did not get an introduction because she literally doesn’t need one, the camera watching from the stage as the duo ascended from their front row seats, sat down at a grand piano, and proceeded to indulge in some serious Bruce & Patti Circa “Tunnel of Love” cosplay.

Gaga won the Oscar, along with Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, and Anthony Rossomando who rightly deferred to Ms. Stefani Germanotta. “A Star Is Born” was Gaga, all Gaga, which Cooper, as director, both did and did not recognize, so her earning its lone statue was apropos. Ditto “Vice” winning Makeup & Hairstyling since that movie got by entirely on Christian Bale’s fake jowls. “Black Panther” won for Production Design, Costume Design, and Original Score, evincing its ace Afrofuturistic world-building, while “Bohemian Rhapsody” winning both Sound Categories probably just tied back to some Academy members thinking that Queen music on the soundtrack equates to, like, good sound. Right? “Bohemian Rhapsody” won Best Editing too, which felt wrong on a pragmatic level, though John Ottman’s put in his time and it’s reasonable to think that a movie which fired its awful excuse for a human being as director midway through might well have been salvaged in the editing bay.

The acting categories nearly went as expected, with Regina King winning Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk” and Mahershala Ali winning Best Supporting Actor for “Green Book.” Rami Malek won Best Actor for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and, mimicking his whole awards season run, politically walking between the raindrops in his acceptance speech, forgoing any mention of his awful excuse for a human being as director. If Malek walked between the raindrops, or tried to, in winning Best Actress for “The Favourite”, Olivia Colman seemed to walk on air. It wasn’t an acceptance speech so much as a flabbergasted real-time reaction, where her concluding observation of “Lady Gaga” to Lady Gaga came across like disbelief that Gaga was down there and Colman was up here. If Best Actress had seemed like a coronation for Glenn Close going in, it had become something else, and Colman comically, movingly referenced it, instantly transforming them into equals rather than Winner/Loser. Hell, Close was nominated for “The Wife”, playing a woman that propped up a man and made him famous; I found myself dreaming of an alternate reality where Oliva Colman won Best Actress and Glenn Close won Best Actor.

In a year that came on the heels of Me Too, which came on the heels of Oscars So White, the winners parading across stage were frequently diverse. After the first few awards, in fact, there had been more people of color than old white dudes. For the fifth time in six years a Mexican director – Alfonso CuarĂ³n for “Roma” – won Best Director, and Cuaron doubled down by winning Best Cinematography too. Ah, and then there was Spike Lee. Like he can capture your imagination just by sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, he seemed to partially dominate the festivities by just being there. When Ruth Carter won Best Costume Design, she shouted out Spike with whom she got her start, and you could feel how his legacy was spiritually connected to all the “Black Panther” love in that room. And though Lee is first and foremost an auteur, meaning his first Oscar deserved to be one for Director rather than Writer, whatever. Seeing him win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” was sheer blinding jubliation that manifested itself in his jumping into an embrace of presenter Samuel L. Jackson. Lee fumbled reading his notes, I suspect, because his heart was beating just as wildly as mine. That Oscar was long, long overdue.

To paraphrase old Rose DeWitt Bukater, alas, the Oscars can always be counted upon, and in the end, much of their inclusive goodwill was undone just two short years after “Moonlight’s” it didn’t/it did triumph in one of the most mind-bending one step up-two steps back decisions you will ever see with Best Picture going to the rote “Green Book”, evoking inevitable shades of 1989. It was the evening’s most profound, confounding and disappointing paradox: a movie purporting to be both black/white conspicuously only seeing things from one perspective culminating what had organically become a celebration of the industry’s increasing diversity. The Academy might be changing, the Oscar telecast might be doing its best to improve, but the Oscar themselves stubbornly try to stay the same.

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