Thursday, February 2, 2017

CANCEL THE OSCARS?



The spheres  of art and entertainment and politics have collided recently in an unprecedented way: as the whole world knows, President Donald Trump on January 27th. signed an executive order banning all immigrants to the US from seven mostly  Muslim countries.  The effect of this has been chaotic, with protests erupting at airports nation wide.  It has also hit the Academy Awards: among this year's nominees are Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and several Syrian people who appeared in the short documentary film WHITE HELMETS.  Under the Trump order they are all barred from entering the country, a chilling example of political overreach; the notion that Farhadi, who had already attended the awards ceremony in 2012 when his excellent  film A SEPARATION won best foreign film, is in some way a threat to the country is absurd and offensive. Although there has been some talk of giving special consideration to Farhadi and the Syrians, that just underlines the  danger of the whole order: why should they be allowed to go to a ceremony, but many people fleeing for their very lives are not being allowed in? Farhadi recently told the New York Times that he will not attend the ceremony either way, which I think is the right move.  But it raises a larger question: should the Academy ban the Oscar ceremony entirely?
In the course of its history, the Oscars have been postponed several times: because of a flood in 1938, because of the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and because of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.  But outright cancelled?  The idea was probably first floated in an article in VOX magazine yesterday, and was later picked up in the AV CLUB website today.  The issue is sure to spread and be widely debated.
Now on the one hand, cancelling the Oscars would certainly send a message and create awareness about what our new president has done; the cancelling of a major awards show would let the world know that Hollywood and millions of other Americans do not want Trump's actions to speak for all us.  Although he has tried to compare his order to past orders made by presidents Bush and Obama, there has never been one as far reaching or openly discriminatory, with some people left in limbo and families being separated.  Getting rid of the show would remind the country that the man we have elected is not a normal politician, but an unexperienced one who ran on a platform of bigotry; it would help prevent the normalization of a highly divisive figure, perhaps the most divisive president ever.  It would acknowledge that now is not the time for frivolous star watching and "best dressed" lists.
On the other hand, because the Academy Awards is routinely one of the most watched TV events of the year, it could give a format to outspoken members of Hollywood to air their anger at the Trump administration, and perhaps hit inside that middle American Fox News bubble.  Political speeches are nothing new at the Academy Awards, and they range from the odd moment when Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up his Oscar for THE GODFATHER in 1973 and lecture the audience about negative portrayals of Native Americans, to Micheal Moore being booed in 2003 for criticizing the Iraq war while winning for his documentary BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE.  Surely Trump's recent actions will bring more political speeches to the fore, and perhaps the entire show will take a more serious tone, which might be a good thing considering the troubled times we now live in.
Finally, there is the financial angle to consider; the ad revenue that would be lost from the show's cancellation would number in the millions.  I imagine the pressure from the ABC network on the Academy to keep the show is huge, which, in the end, will probably be the deciding factor in still putting on the show, even if the Academy won't admit it!  Personally, I can understand both arguments, but I lean towards calling it off to let the world know that business as usual is not going to be standard with a demagogue like Trump in the White House.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

THE 2016 NOMINEES: FIRST IMPRESSIONS





Well, the 2016 Oscar nominees are out, and while glancing over them, I can't say I see any surprises: LA LA LAND, which dominated at the Golden Globes (a record seven awards), racked up an impressive 14 nominations, putting it well into the lead for the Best Picture award.  The film is a mostly upbeat, colorful, musical with likable, attractive stars that manages to both pay homage to old musicals while remaining modern.  It's a hit with both critics and audiences, and it's Hollywood setting is something many Academy members can relate to.  (How many of them haven't wanted to sing and dance their way out of a traffic jam?).  All of this means that the Best Picture winner will probably be a lock for LA LA LAND, but then I also thought that about Hillary Clinton.
It also appears that the "Oscars so White" campaign of last year has not fallen on deaf ears, with 6 different African American actors being nominated from films like FENCES, HIDDEN FIGURES and MOONLIGHT, (not to mention South East Asian actor Dev Patel being nominated for LION)  and those films all picked up other nominations for direction and screenplays.  Political correctness aside, I think all three are fine films and I'm glad that the nominations will help them all find a bigger audience.  And in many ways, the most relevant film of the year was African American director Ava Du Vernay's documentary 13th., which is up for Best Documentary and will hopefully win.

While studying the nominees overall, I think the Academy did a good job this time around, with no glaringly overrated films. I like that the nine Best Picture nominees included a good Science Fiction film (ARRIVAL) and a cop movie (HELL OR HIGH WATER), along with the usual prestige dramas.

 My biggest disappointment is that neither Chan-Wook Park's THE HAND MAIDEN or Paul Verhoeven's ELLE were nominated for Best Foreign Film  (Isabelle Huppert was given a nomination for her excellent role in ELLE).  I also wish that Amy Adams, who gave two good performances this year in ARRIVAL and the oddball NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, had gotten a Best Actress nomination instead of Meryl Streep for her fun but fluffy performance in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.  But I'm sure Adams, who's been nominated 5 times already, will win someday soon.
Despite my few reservations, it appears that the Academy is doing what it does best: showing that movies for grown ups still matter and making more audiences aware of lower budget films like MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  So, bring on the overblown musical numbers and inevitable president Trump bashing, the Oscars are coming!