Movies - The Oscars postsSaturday January 16, 2016
The Nominees and the Noise
Was it racist that Idris Elba wasn't nominated? Or would it have been racist to nominate him?
It's less the Oscar nominations now than the noise surrounding the Oscar nominations.
This year, it's been the outrage of #OscarsSoWhite, led, in my Twitter feed anyway, by Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, who has been one relentless piercing note on the subject, despite being part of a group you might as well tag #CriticsSoWhite. Glass houses, kids.
Here's the issue: For the second year in a row, no person of color has been nominated in any of the acting categories. This used to be a regular thing, then it wasn't, now it is again. Here's the history of African-American acting nominations and wins by decade:
So a big surge in the 2000s, followed by a drop-off. Because of that surge? Who knows? I wouldn't mind a more in-depth discussion of that from an industry insider.
But why am I not more outraged like these other white critics? I don't know. Maybe my outrage meter broke 10 years ago when “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” for best picture. Maybe I assume the worst from the Academy. Maybe I'm not into identity aesthetics. (I'm not into identity aesthetics.)
Or maybe I just don't see the fuss this particular year. Basically I find myself in agreement with Jeff Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere, who posted a podcast with Sasha and another critic, Erik Anderson, Thursday, adding this on his blog:
Neither Erik nor Sasha would admit that The Revenant is far and way the likeliest winner of the Best Picture Oscar at this stage. Not would they grapple with my riff about current racial profiling gripes (i.e., why no nominations for Straight Outta Compton and Creed?) not being worth discussing except in the case of Beasts of No Nation's Idris Elba, who definitely should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
That's my feeling. Who else should have been nominated? Alyssa Rosenberg over at The Washington Post has a soft piece in which she lists “8 great performances by black actors” without saying if they should have replaced any of the nominated actors, and if so who. The whole piece is the sound of one white woman patting herself on the back. Her choices: Michael B. Jordan (Creed), O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), Abraham Atta (Beasts of No Nation), Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL), Audra McConald (Rikki and the Flash), Adepero Oduye (The Big Short), John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Teyonnah Paris (Chi-Raq).
Some of these are headscratchers. Oduye? She was in the movie for like a New York minute. Pinkett Smith? In that awful film? Rosenberg says Atta was as great as Jacob Tremblay in “Room,” but of course Tremblay didn't get nominated either. (Kids rarely do in lead roles.) Jordan was fine, and if you'd swapped him out with Matt Damon for “The Martian” I wouldn't have blinked; but Damon lost weight for his role, Jordan built up for his. The Academy rewards you for starving yourself rather than working out with a personal trainer.
“Beasts of No Nation” might also have suffered with the Academy because 1) it all-but-premiered on Netflix, giving it a “straight to video” vibe; and 2) it was condemned, in some circles, as racist. On Roger Ebert's site, Matt Zoller Seitz brought up the issue of Hollywood's constant depiction of the monstrous African man. Movie critic Charles Muedede was even more insistent. So nominating Elba might have opened up the Academy to a different charge of racism: that the Academy only recognizes the work of scary black men: Denzel in “Training Day”; Forrest Whitaker in “The King of Scotland.” That can be countered with Jamie Foxx in “Ray” and Morgan Freeman in “Million Dollar Baby,” but it would've been out there. There will always be an outrage.
My outrage, such as it is, is for the number of nominations for “Mad Max,” which, to me, is a two-hour-long chase movie, in which bad, ugly people pursue good, good-looking people, and the good, good-looking people win. Somehow this meant critics awards and 10 nominations.
But mostly I was happy; the Academy recognized some of the best movies I saw in 2015: “The Revenanat,” “The Big Short,” “Spotlight,” and my favorite film, “Theeb,” which became the first movie from Jordan to be nominated in the best foreign language category. It's about a Bedouin boy in the 1910s; it's “Lawrence of Arabia” from a different perspective. You might have to look for it, but the Oscars aren't always so white. Nor so reductive.
'Theeb' Nominated Best Foreign Language Film, and Other Oscar Thoughts
Normally I get up early for the Oscar nominations—5:30 a.m. here on the west coast—but I passed this year. What was the rush? To judgment? There didn't seem to be any need. That said, now that it's an impossibly late 7 a.m., I do kind of miss it. Oscar nom morning always has a Christmas morning feeling. What did Santa bring this year? Even if, most of the time, we find a lump of coal in our stocking.
The lump of coal this year, for many, was the lack of a best picture nomination for Todd Haynes' “Carol,” but that's an art picture more than a narrative-driven picture, and the Academy isn't big on those. Here are the nominees for best picture:
- The Big Short (yes!)
- Bridge of Spies (I guess)
- Brooklyn (thank you!)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (Lord help me)
- The Martian (sure)
- The Revenanat (yes, yes, a thousand times yes)
- Room (ewww)
- Spotlight (mais bien sur)
Director gave us a bit of a surprise. It's the DGA noms (McKay, Miller, McCarthy, Inarritu) but instead of Ridley Scott for “The Martian,” it's Lenny Abrahamson for “Room.” He's an indie Irish director who will turn 50 this year. His last film was “Frank,” in which Michael Fassbender wears a big puppet mask and sings. I didn't see it, as you can tell. I didn't see “Room,” either. The storyline—a woman kept captive for years in a single room while raising the son she had with her captor/rapist—freaks me out. As a novel, it seems more interesting, since, from what I've heard, the perspective is the boy's, and it's an obviously stunted perspective. Almost like Plato's cave shadows. But as a movie? Still, I suppose I should see it. It's part of the conversation.
No real surprises in the acting categories: Matt, Leo, Eddie, Fassbender, Cranston. Cate, Brie, Jennifer, Charlotte, Saoirse. Oh, I guess some people thought Johnny Depp would be nom'ed for “Black Mass.” Well, so-so movie, so no.
Supporting boys? Sylvester Stallone got a deserved nod for “Creed,” along with Bale (“Big Short”), Hardy (“Revenanat”), Ruffalo (“Spotlight”), and frontrunner Mark Rylance (“Spies”). No love (or mercy) for Paul Dano's turn as Brian Wilson. Jeff Wells is fulminating, I'm sure, but I'll take Rylance, who gave us one of the more indelible characters in 2015.
Supporting girls? Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Hateful Eight”), Rooney Mara (“Carol”), Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”), Alicia Vikander (“Danish Girl”) and Katie Winslet (“Steve Jobs”). I'll take Mara.
Already a brewing controversy that no people of color were nom'ed. Any discussion of this should indicate who it should have been, and who they would replace. I could see Idris Elba for “Beasts,” for example, but in place of who? Plus the Academy opens itself up to the charge that they only nominate scary or bad characters of color. I could also see Michael B. Jordan for “Creed” over, say, Matt Damon in “The Martian.”
A plus: Aaron Sorkin, whom I normally like, didn't get a nomination for “Steve Jobs” despite winning the Golden Globe. Good. The script was the problem. Note to budding screenwriters: never build a movie around product launches.
Overall, “The Revenant” wound up with 12 noms, “Meh Max” with 10. Via the L.A. Times, here's the complete list of nominees.
I'll end on a high note: My choice for the best movie of 2015, “Theeb” from Jordan, was nominated in the best foreign language category. It won't win (“Son of Saul”), but it's great that it's been recognized in this way. That's like the best Christmas gift imaginable. Thanks, Santa.
Best Picture Box Office: Yeah Yeah, 'American Sniper': But Which Film Did Best Overseas?
First, how great is it that the Oscar race is coming down to two artistic, independent and original movies like “Boyhood” and “Birdman”? I've been thinking about this all week and wanted to reiterate it here as a kind of thank you to the cinematic (or Academic) universe, before delving into the dirt of the numbers.
Second, a mea culpa on my post-Oscar nomination, um, post, “The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees,” in which I worried over the low, low box office of the nominees, adding, “I could see 'Imitation Game' gaining some moviegoers.” (I was right.) “Will they expand 'Birdman'?” (They did, barely.) “Will they re-release 'Whiplash'?” (Dunno.) And finally:
“Are people psyched to see 'American Sniper' now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?”
Five days later, it had grossed more than $100 million and counting. It will probably be the biggest box-office hit of 2014. So ... culpa from mea.
Even with that sudden turnaround, though, the Oscar box office numbers are down. 2009 was the first year since World War II with more than five best picture nominees—when they Academy, trying to boost ratings, went from five nominees to 10. A few years later, they opted for 5 to 10. Here's what that b.o. has looked like:
|Year||No. Films||Total Gross||Avg. Gross||High||Low|
|2009||10||$1.7 billion||$170 m||Avatar: $749||A Serious Man: $9|
|2010||10||$1.3 billion||$135 m||Toy Story 3: $415||Winter's Bone: $6.5|
|2011||9||$628 million||$69 m||The Help: $169||The Tree of Life: $13|
|2012||9||$1 billion||$111 m||Lincoln: $182||Amour: $6.7|
|2013||9||$813 million||$90 m||Gravity: $274||Nebraska: $17|
|2014||8||$620 million||$77 m||American Sniper: $319||Whiplash: $11|
Huge blockbusters the first few years with this format. Then a tapering off.
2014's numbers will continue to rise a bit, maybe another $30-$50 million, mostly on the back of “American Sniper.” So it won't be the worst total b.o. since 2009. But close.
And it will certainly be the most lopsided. Even “Avatar,” the most dominant box-office hit of all time (unadjusted), didn't dominate its fellow nominees the way “Sniper” has done this year. Eastwood's flick has grossed $319 million domestically. The other seven movies combined? $301 million.
Here are the numbers, with worldwide gross (domestic + foreign), along with the non-UK foreign market where it's made the most money:
|Picture||Domestic||Worldwide||Big Foreign Mkt.|
|The Imitation Game||$83,921,000||$160,840,682||Australia/ Italy|
|The Grand Budapest Hotel||$59,100,318||$174,600,318||France/Australia|
|The Theory of Everything||$34,145,000||$104,145,000||Italy/ S. Korea|
How great that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” did better abroad than any other best picture nominee—even “Sniper”? Little Wes Anderson and his quirky characters. Who knew? Bravo, too, Germany and the Netherlands for the “Boyhood” support.
See you in a few hours.
My Favorite Oscar Acceptance Speech
I thought I'd posted this before, maybe I have, but it never hurts to do it again. It's Dustin Hoffman winning for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979 (technically April 14, 1980).
Keep in mind that this was a period of political and Academy controversy. During the previous decade, George C. Scott turned down his Oscar for “Patton,” Marlon Brando sent up Sacheen Littlefeather to protest the treatment of American Indians in Hollywood films, Bert Schenider said what he said after winning best doc for “Hearts and Minds,” Vanessa Redgrave said what she said after winning best supporting for “Julia.” Hell, only one of the other four nominees even bothered to show up that night.
Plus Hoffman, as he says, had been critical of the Academy. He was critical of the process, of the concept of “winners” and “losers.” So it appears when he gets onstage that he might ... protest. He might reject the award. He places it on the lectern as if it's something he doesn't want. He makes jokes about it, and about himself.
The speech is a protest of a kind, but it's not sharp-edged and accusatory; it's humanistic and embracing. Particularly these words near the end:
We are part of an artistic family. There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy—pardon me, in the Screen Actors Guild—and probably one-hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don't work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you're a broke actor, you can't write, you can't paint; you have to practice accents while you're driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost.
Here it is:
Plus, damn, Jane Fonda was hot.
SAG/Oscar Differences: What Do They Say About Race, Sex?
Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the Oscars to you and me) was blasted when it released its 2014 nominations and “Selma” barely made the cut—just picture and song. Director Ava DuVernay didn't become the first black female director ever nominated, and David Oyelowo was passed over for his performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. All 20 acting nominees were white for the first time since 1998, and #OscarsSoWhite became a popular Twitter hashtag.
I shrugged. Surely there were greater Academy insults over the years: the excusion of “Do the Right Thing,” for example, or the inclusion of “Crash.” I'd also heard the “Selma” people didn't get screeners to the Academy members in time, so it all seemed less a matter of racism than a marketing SNAFU. But the outrage machine needs its outrage.
Once upon a time, sure, the Academy, along with Hollywood, wasn't exactly to black actors. Still not, but there's been improvement. These are the number of black actors who have been nominated in the four acting categories:
- 1927-2000: 37 nominations/ 6 Oscars
- 2001-2013: 29 nominations/ 9 Oscars
For the first 73 years of the Academy, black actors averaged a nomination every two years and an Oscar every 12 years. But since 2001, black actors average 2.4 nominations a year and an Oscar almost every year. For all the racism that still exists in Hollywood, the Academy, at least, seems to be making a step in the right direction.
Then I compared Oscar with SAG.
First, the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild are amazingly in sync. In the last five years, they've agreed on 18 of 20 choices. If you go back 10 years, there's a little more disagreement—but not in lead actor, where Oscar and SAG match exactly.
Here's a list of the SAG winners from the last 10 years, with the eight differences with the Academy highlighted:
|Year||Lead Actor||Lead Actress||Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|2013||Matthew McConaughey||Cate Blanchett||Jared Leto||Lupita Nyong'o|
|2012||Daniel Day-Lewis||Jennifer Lawrence||Tommy Lee Jones||Anne Hathaway|
|2011||Jean Dujardin||Viola Davis||Christopher Plummer||Octavia Spencer|
|2010||Colin Firth||Natalie Portman||Christian Bale||Melissa Leo|
|2009||Jeff Bridges||Sandra Bullock||Christoph Waltz||No'Nique|
|2008||Sean Penn||Meryl Streep*||Heath Ledger||Kate Winslet*|
|2007||Daniel Day-Lewis||Julie Christie||Javier Bardem||Ruby Dee|
|2006||Forrest Whitaker||Helen Mirren||Eddie Murphy||Jennifer Hudson|
|2005||Phillip Seymour Hoffman||Reese Witherspoon||Paul Giamatti||Rachel Weisz|
|2004||Jamie Foxx||Hilary Swank||Morgan Freeman||Cate Blanchett|
*In 2008, SAG awarded Winslet best supporting for “The Reader” while she won the Oscar for best lead.
You see a pattern? In three of the eight differences, SAG chose a black actor and the Academy didn't. Davis, Dee and Murphy were thrown over for Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”).
You see another pattern? This is an old one, to be sure. With actresses, the Academy has a tendency to go young and hot. For the men, it's a wash: Jim Broadbent instead of Ian McKellen, James Coburn instead of Robert Duvall. But here's a list of women who won Oscars but not SAG statuettes: Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Connelly, Juliette Binoche. It's like a Who's Who of my fantasies.
But do these patterns mean anything? I'd probably go Arkin over Murphy, too, or Swinton over Dee. With the women, are Oscar voters horny or are SAG voters xenophobic, since three of the four mentioned above are foreign actresses?
The Academy does skew old and white. You have to be asked to join the Academy. You simply have to be working to join SAG. But does this difference lead to racism and sexism? Does it ever lead to, I don't know, wisdom?
We'll see if the patterns continue into the future. In race matters, at least, they won't this year. The Academy got all the flack but in 2014 SAG didn't bother to nominate an actor of color, either. #SAGSoWhite? Or #ScreenersSoLate?
No SAG on these Oscar winners.