Oh sure, the Oscars are a fine mess and you call the film critic in to make sense out of it. I once had a boiler guy refuse to come service my dying boiler in the dead of winter when I had shivering babies at home. “Polsky don’t come to your town never,” his secretary told me. “You tell Polsky one day he’s gonna need a film review and he can go f--- himself,” I said. Well, now Polsky is probably at home, unable to make sense out of the hot mess of the Oscars and needs a film critic. I’m here for you BGO peeps, not Polsky.
I think the Mexican guy, Alfonso Cuaron, is going to win the Best Picture Oscar for Roma, and for its direction and cinematography. Because it’s the best in all those categories. It’s a deep focus masterpiece at every level, shot in 65mm state of the art black and white digital layering of social, political and the personal on a stunning landscape. Roma also leads the Best Foreign Language Picture category, which is by far the strongest category this year. If I were the Academy King, I’d merge both categories into a Best Picture in the World Oscar. Like that can happen. Currently best foreign films are nominated by the originating country and awarded by a small Academy committee of people with time on their hands, while the best picture is voted by the entire 8000 membership. So, I don’t know how to administer a merger of foreign and domestic, but the Oscars clearly don’t know how to administer themselves now anyway, so add that to the list:
They have a host? No, Kevin Hart, who is more slapstick than witty, homophobically tweeted himself out of a gig, so they don’t have a host. Oh, wait, maybe Whoopi Goldberg is the surprise host.
In August, the Academy had a brainstorm—always dangerous when lacking a brain-- let’s create an Oscar for Best Popular Picture, a de facto admission that the studios produce crap and need a wall, so those Mexican immigrants don’t eat their lunch. Is this white Hollywood or the White House? The twitter-verse went crazy, and the Academy, lacking a central nervous system, collapsed.
Two weeks ago, the Academy tried to rescue the sinking TV ratings of the show—which is mostly a money machine to pay for the Academy’s various activities—some of which, like classics preservation and restoration are good things. The Academy announced to save time on the show with no host, it was taking Best Shorts off the show – okay by me and another billion people--along with Cinematography and Editing.
Let me explain this. The original name for movies and later the more upscale artsy terms film and cinema was Motion Pictures. It’s what the Lumiere brothers in France and Edison in New Jersey discovered about motorizing unexposed film frames across a lens to capture slight fractional motion, which when run back across a beam of light tricked the mind into thinking it was seeing movement. Movies.
Ergo, cinematography and editing are what you see when you see a motion picture—literally—in service to a narrative. Taking them off the show to suit ABC is like taking the bat and ball out of Cooperstown -- not Bradley -- and having wax statues of Babe Ruth and Walter Big Train Johnson standing around in their underwear (might as well deep six costumes, too) on Astroturf in an outdoor diorama. The Academy, led by its current president, John Bailey -- said to be the nicest guy in the world and himself a cinematographer with four score credits to his name from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to Groundhog Day and therefore definitionally a watcher ill-suited for politics -- caved and restored all to the show, after every liberal in Hollywood took a breather from dumping on Trump to wailing on Bailey.
So, we get to it:
Roma wins Best Picture and should. It’s classically better than the topical BlaKkKlansman, Black Panther, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody, and better than The Favourite, A Star Is Born and Green Book, which have merit. You do realize that these films all launch campaigns to win, including opposition research to trash each other. Best Picture now easily means Best Campaign “and the award goes to Paul Manafort.”
Thus Netflix, to nail down its arrival as a Big Player went all out for Alfonso Cuaron, who – as it happens deservedly-- wins best director, though it doesn’t always follow that director and picture go hand in hand. But Cuaron and Roma beat the field, though Pawel Pawlikowski, nominated for the Polish film Cold War, is a close second on merit.
The stars line up for Rami Malek as Best Actor for Bohemian Rhapsody, because that’s all that film had, over Christian Bale for Vice, Viggo Mortenson for Green Book, poor Bradley Cooper who did an unlikely good job on a fourth remake of A Star Is Born, and Willem Dafoe, who everyone likes, and nobody saw as Van Gogh in … I saw it and even I can’t remember the name of the film by Julian Schnabel, who paints and then watches paint dry.
Best Actress goes to Glenn Close for The Wife, because it’s her turn, everybody says, in a fed-up feminist story about credit and the dark side of the Nobel Prize for literature. Too bad, I loved Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me, about the late author Lee Israel, reduced to literary fraud. Here she is with Richard E. Grant, who scrapes by Mahershala Ali in Green Book for best supporting actor, as a homeless fop about town in Can You Ever Forgive Me—which probably also grabs best adapted screenplay. I could knock back shots and eavesdrop on those two in that bar for a week.
Best Supporting actress likely goes to Regina King for Barry Jenkins’ stately production of James Baldwin’s late novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.
Scariest stunt I ever saw is Alex Honnold’s bare-handed, no ropes ascent of El Capitan in the doc, Free Solo, which wins I think over RBG and Minding the Gap, both wonderful in their own way.
Best original screenplay is First Reformed by Paul Schrader, but The Favourite, set in Queen Anne’s court could squeak by. Score, song, shorts, I don’t know. Take it all with a pound of salt: I used to write Oscar coverage for Variety, and I never knew who’d win what.
If they want to fix this thing, the first thing is to move the date forward to the first Sunday in January — so that the 75 free-lunch moochers of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn, which puts on the Golden Globes, doesn’t get there first. It’s the end of February, already. The studios want the long window from Christmas to the equinox to sell nominated pictures at the box office. But the cost is relevance: 2018 is 100 years ago. Didn’t WWI end then?
Two years ago, when Fay and Warren got it wrong and named La La Land Best Picture instead of Moonlight, ironically was the most fun Oscar show ever.