There’s a certain anticipation — and dread — that comes with every Oscar season.
On the one hand, the Academy Awards are a clear demonstration of film as art.
On the other, that art often sucks.
But this year will mark a seismic shift, at least in tenor, to the annual self congratulations: Expect a kinder, gentler publicity campaign for Oscar gold.
There was a time when diplomacy during awards season was as rare as truth in a political campaign. Rumors would swirl about difficult directors. Stories would circulate about cast unrest on set. Studios would fact-check each other in their sprawling biopics — the industry’s Best Picture half-nelson of choice.
Not this year. The reason? No Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein was a personal publicity force — and took personal blame for the Academy’s reputation for seasonal dirty politics from January to mid-March.
In retrospect, it’s hard to argue with the griping that, at the time, sounded simply like sour grapes. Sure, everyone considers Shakespeare in Love one of the greatest heists in Oscar history (it stole the gold from Saving Private Ryan). But, given the Nixonian level of the accusations, expect an anti-Weinstein approach to campaigning. Already, his name has come off all the credits of films and TV shows he produced (and there were dozens). The Weinstein Company still hasn’t decided on a name change, but it has decided not to do any serious lobbying for films, including the well-regarded The Founder.
And with no backbiting, rumor mongering and mudslinging, that leaves us with the hallmark trait of the show, which turns 90 this year.
This wasn’t a big deal when the gala was a private dinner party, as it was in 1927, held at the regal Roosevelt Hotel. Now, though, it’s a ratings bonanza, Hollywood’s Super Bowl. Which makes its traditional awards, like sound mixing, makeup and honors for best animated, live-action and documentary short film, irrelevant. Or at least unwatchable. I’ve covered the movie industry for more than a decade, and cannot name a single winner from any of those categories, let alone the actual people who went onstage to thank the world.
Eventually, Oscar will have to accept what TV learned long ago: If it runs more than three hours, it’s too long. For a TV show, a movie, a play, a concert, a class and a conversation. Three hours is about the human American capacity for attention span.
Fortunately, the key to brevity couldn’t be simpler: Get to the point. In that spirit, the HollywoodBowles presents its first annual Outtabes, dedicated to films and categories that out to make up the entirety of the back pat annually trumpeted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (plus winners):
The Most Enjoyable Film of 2017: The Lego Batman Movie
Yes, the film industry is overrun by cartoons and comic books movies, which will ultimately be the ruination of moving pictures. For now, though, Warner Bros. put out the most clever, dry-witted skewering of genres. It deserves the Outtabe for this line of dialogue alone:
Computer: What is the password?
Batman: Iron Man sucks.
The Most Beautiful Film of 2017: The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s literal wet dream: A misfits love story between a mute and The Creature of the Black Lagoon. The concept is as unique as the vision, a collection of gray and steel blue hues that out to have the beauty of a federal prison. But from aesthetic to action, del Toro has made the most touching movie of his career — and continues the Latino New Wave Movement that Hollywood historians will eventually note.
The Most Thought-Provoking Film of 2017: Marjorie Prime
While this visual essay on Artificial Intelligence had its thunder stolen by the sublime Her, Prime is even more original. While Her imagined a romantic relationship between human and computer, Prime goes a step further: If your Alexa could use a hologram to replicate the shape, voice and memory of anyone who has passed on, what memories would you feed it? How old you make your dearly departed? Alas, the film will likely suffer the same fate as human memory: to be forgotten.
The Most Over-Hyped Film of 2017: The Post
Why does Hollywood get newspaper movies so wrong? Given how much time the industry spends lying to and cajoling the media, you’d think they would have a better idea of how the fifth estate works. And this looked liked a shoo-in, with Meryl Streep and Ben Bradlee as the heads of my old employer. But the raves for this flick are as misleadingly hyperbolic as the ads for the latest Star Wars. When your lead actor is less handsome and colorful than the man he’s portraying, your movie’s in trouble.