Monday, February 27, 2017

89th Annual Academy Awards (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/ABC-TV, February 26, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s 89th annual Academy Awards was a typically lumbering spectacle, marked by host Jimmy Fallon dragging in some of the regular features of his late-night show on ABC (probably not coincidentally the network that telecast the Oscars as well), including “Nasty Tweets” and a lot of vicious barbs attacking actor Matt Damon (who apparently is to him what Rosie O’Donnell was to Donald Trump all those years), including one making fun of him for not playing the male lead in the film Manchester by the Sea (he produced the movie but hired Casey Affleck to star — and Affleck won the award for Best Actor) and instead playing a “ponytail role” in the film The Great Wall, which Fallon declared a flop. (I don’t know how he knows because the film has barely opened — yes, I know it’s common these days to declare a film a hit or a flop based on how it does on its opening weekend, but The Great Wall was the second most-popular movie in the country on its first weekend in theatres. Besides, when I saw the TV ads I thought I came up with a better joke about it: “Matt Damon plays Donald Trump in The Great Wall.”) There were a lot of Trump jokes during the awards — interesting the Los Angeles Times had hired a rather kvetchy Right-wing columnist to denounce the whole idea of celebrities speaking out on political issues, arguing that they’re basically society’s court jesters and shouldn’t presume to do more than entertain us both on- and off-screen (what this author didn’t realize was that in medieval times court jesters regularly commented on political and social issues because they were the only ones that could: in these highly repressive, authoritarian societies the only way you could criticize the king or the feudal lords was by pretending to be “just” making fun of them), but to me there’s a big difference between what Meryl Streep said on the Golden Globes (she carefully avoided using Trump’s name and spoke from the heart like the class act she is) and the sniggering comments that peppered last night’s show. At the same time Trump is virtually irresistible as a butt of humor — probably the real reason he’s not attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (it would require him to sit in a room of people making fun of him, and you know how much the famously micrometer-thin-skinned Trump would enjoy that!) — including one in which Kimmel announced that reporters from any paper with the word “Times” in its name (“even the Medieval Times,” he said) would be barred from the event.

The big news last night was that the expected sweep for the film La La Land (a musical starring Ryan Gosling as an aspiring jazz musician and Emma Stone as the aspiring singer and actress he falls in love with — as I noted about this film after the Golden Globes, it seems like they simply took the plot of the 1978 musical New York, New York and moved it to L.A.!) didn’t materialize, and instead it won six awards out of its 14 nominations, including Best Director, but did not win Best Picture. Instead there was one of the most spectacular snafus in the history of the Academy Awards, as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were dragged out 50 years after they became stars through their roles in Bonnie and Clyde to present Best Picture, and for some reason Beatty was given, not the envelope containing the Best Picture winner, but a duplicate of the one that had already been read announcing that Emma Stone had won Best Actress for La La Land. Just seeing the title, he announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner, and the gaggle of producers involved with it (I joked, “It takes a village to produce a movie”) came up on stage to accept the award — the Academy once had a rule that only three producers could be named on an awards citation but they’ve long since given up on that one — only one of them noticed that the real Best Picture envelope named Moonlight (the “other” movie about Black people, besides the seemingly more prestigious Fences which starred and was directed by Denzel Washington and was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson) as the winner. So another, only slightly smaller, gaggle of producers came up on stage to accept the award, and of course I couldn’t help but joke, “La La Land won the popular vote, but Moonlight won the electoral vote.” Aside from that it was a lumbering spectacle (after the even more interminable red-carpet prologues featuring the pretty ghastly costumes the women in attendance were wearing) that started at 5:30 and droned on until 9:15, and Jimmy Kimmel was an O.K. host except that he rather annoyingly treated it as if it were just another episode of his late-night show, complete with gimmicks like steering the passengers of a Hollywood tour bus into the Dolby (nèe Kodak) Theatre and putting them on camera in the middle of the awards, and periodically having candy and other snacks lowered to the Academy audience on miniature parachutes.

There was a ballot to make predictions handed out at the viewing party I was attending but I didn’t bother with it because, though I might have guessed a few of the awards just from the “buzz” in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, I have hardly seen any of the movies nominated and therefore I really didn’t have any skin in the game in terms of who won — though I suppose one could interpret the Best Picture going to a movie about a young Black Gay man coming to terms with his identity as itself a slap in the face at Trump and everything he stands for from a celebrity culture that’s clearly on the other side of America’s Great Divide from the self-proclaimed “real Americans” who elected Trump and the Republicans to take their country back from all the “libtards” who seized it when Obama won. I did see an hysterical (in both senses: crazy and funny) post on Breitbart News ( calling on people to boycott the Oscars, reporting on a campaign launched by something called Tempe Republican Women that “went viral” — most of the story consists of various tweets from Right-wingers endorsing the boycott call, but the story did contain this good call: “Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of the Oscar-nominated film The Salesman, will sit out the awards show to protest Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven countries, which was blocked by the 9th Circuit Court this month. A win for Farhadi could lead to more politicized moments at the show.” It did: Farhadi didn’t come to the awards show but did send a written statement which was read, and was probably the political statement that came closest to the class Meryl Streep had shown on the Globes.