Tuesday April 27, 2021
Oscar's Great Depression
My wife and I watched the Oscars Sunday night and we were in the minority. According to the Nielsen company, the previous ratings low for an Oscars telecast was last year, right before the pandemic, when only 23.6 million Americans tuned in to see “Parasite” win best picture. This year, with “Nomadland” winning, it was less than half that: 9.85 million. We're basically at Game 3 of the World Series territory. Which I also watch. I'm becoming like William H. Macy's character in “The Cooler”: whatever I gravitate toward, it's on the way out.
Not that I don't get it. We just went through a mostly movie theater-less year when we were all sheltering in place. And while we wound up watching a lot, it wasn't the movies that were nominated. To be honest, I was kind of with the mass on that one. My wife saw each of the nominated films but I kept begging off. I know: me. I'd see part of a movie (“Sound of Metal”) and think “Nah. Not now. Can't deal with this now.” In a year of great loss, it was a tough sell to get people to watch someone lose their hearing, or their home, or their mind. In the midst of the Great Depression, the movies gave us Cagney, Gable, Harlow, Astaire: rat-a-tat, romance, top hat and tails. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movies gave us a great depression.
I did wind up seeing five of the eight (I still need “Promising Young Woman,” “Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Sound of Metal” to complete the set) and I'm glad “Nomadland” won. It's a beautiful film about a tough subject, and Frances McDormand rocks. I would've also been happy with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which, of all the nominees, seems the most accessible. It's got punch, and it drives its story forward, and Daniel Kaluuya rocks. “Minari” is a slice-of-life about a Korean family in Reagan's America making a go of it in the Deep South. It's a gentle film, kinder than I thought it would be, although you're still waiting for disaster to happen, and it does, but the disaster isn't a disaster. It's a binding force. Nice thought for these times. “Mank” was a disappointment, while “The Father,” brutal to watch, intrigued with its unreliable narrator. And Anthony Hopkins rocks.
Whoever made the decision to put best actor last, perhaps anticipating a win for the late, great Chadwick Boseman, well, that was a bad call. Never make that kind of call on an unsure outcome. Boseman didn't win, Hopkins did, and the usual noise machine went at it on Twitter. Mark Harris gave the tweet of the night with this one:
Hopkins is the oldest Oscar winner ever, at 83, and wasn't present, so the presenter, last year's winner Joaquin Phoenix, said the Academy accepted it in his absence and g'night. That also rubbed people the wrong way—the quick exit—but I didn't mind. I have a friend, Jim, who tends to end phone calls: “Are we done? We're done.” Rip that Band-Aid off. Be like Hitchcock, not Spielberg. But best picture should always go last. I don't care if the second coming of Jesus is up for best actor, put picture last.
McDormand is now a three-time best actress winner, second only to the late great Kate Hepburn, and it's all so deserved. She is no bullshit, as John Mulaney said a few years back. Youn Yuh-jung is the second Asian woman to win an acting award, and her great, crazy riffs from the podium made everyone's night. (For more on Oscar trivia, see Nathaniel, the master on the topic.)
I wasn't a fan of the in-house trivia contest—which songs by Black artists were or weren't nominated for Oscars, and finishing up with Glenn Close doing “Da Butt” from the old Spike Lee joint “School Daze”—and overall I miss hosts. I miss comedians. I missed someone looking at the camera. Steven Soderbergh produced the Oscars this year and most presenters presented to the room, like we weren't there, and it was a little weird. As with most things in the world now, too many cooks are stirring the Oscar pot, saying it needs to be X, Y and Z, and you can't please everyone, and you wind up pleasing no one and getting less than half of the lowest rating ever, but a lot of it isn't the Academy's fault. In the past, there was a kind of popular, human-centered, middle-ground film that could get nominated, like “Jerry Maguire” or “Apollo 13” or “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and now that middle ground barely exists. Now it's either the Marvel Noise Machine or someone losing their hearing, or their home, or their mind. Even when a middle-ground movie gets made, like “Ford v. Ferrari” in 2019, and it gets nominated, well, it's not really part of the discussion, is it? For Oscar or box office. It had Batman, Bourne and cars, but people didn't flock to it the way they would to any of the “Fast & Furious” films. It wasn't dumb enough. It was too rooted in reality.
Is there a way out? Nominate something like “Avengers: Endgame” for best picture? Produce more story-driven indie films? Even that might not work. Hollywood keeps getting kicked every which way for crimes real or imagined. When the Star-Tribune tweeted about the bad Oscar ratings, commentators real or bottish blamed Hollywood for its longtime treatment of Blacks, gays, et al., and for not caring about “regular people.” No matter what Hollywood does, it's hated.
Well, not everywhere. I'm glad we watched. It was a nice evening. After a year away, it was nice seeing everyone again.