Oscars 2018: Hope, Hype, and Hysteria


As promised in January, here is my list of the best films of 2017. with links to my reviews. Just in time for Oscar night on March 4. My list is better than Hollywood's.

1. Silence—the film Marty Scorsese has been trying to make his whole life
2. Florida Project—what it’s like to be poor in a sea of commercial vacuity
3. Shape of Watermagical realism meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon
4. Faces Places—more humanity in a single sequence of this film than all of the UN
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—not for the moral certainty crowd
6. A Ghost Story—weird, provocative, and asks big questions
7. Loving Vincent—if film could paint like Van Gogh
8. Maudie—Sally Hawkins scores twice in ‘17
9. Certain Women—overlooked because these women are real
10. A Quiet Passionno other film surprised me as much

Holy Shit! This is so meaningless.

Before commenting on the Oscars, two obligatory rants:

 First, my top film, Silence, was technically a 2016 film, as were Certain Women and A Quiet Passion. That’s because Hollywood dates a film from when it opened in either a sports bar in New York or a poolside cabana in California, not when it opens in a place called the United States.

Second, the Oscars do not honor cinema’s best; they exist to perpetuate the myth that Hollywood is the center of filmmaking. It’s really only a center of check-totin’ coke snortin’ capitalist cowboys who think they are important, but let’s please not confuse that with quality.

I shall comment only on the so-called “Big” awards because most people have never seen (and never will) the nominated live action shorts or documentaries. I’ve yet to see any of the films in the Best Foreign Language category. See Rant # 1 above. I will say that I hope Faces Places wins for Best Documentary Feature because it should be in the Best Picture category. And why the hell isn't Dolores nominated?

Best Picture:

Should Win: The Shape of Water. It’s by far the most innovative thing on the list.

Shouldn’t Be Here: Everything else on the list except Three Billboards and Phantom Thread. The rest is either way overhyped (Darkest Hour, Lady Bird) or just dead ordinary.

Stiffed:  Florida Project. Guess it doesn’t fit into the Hollywood Dream Machine.

Best Actor:

Should Win: This is the weakest crop I’ve ever seen, but I’ll go with Daniel Day-Lewis as he’s by far the greatest actor on the list.

Shouldn’t Be Here: Pretty much everyone else on the list, but let me say that I simply don’t understand why Gary Oldman has drawn raves for playing Winston Churchill. He was outdone on TV by John Lithgow.

Stiffed: Damned if I understand why people who occupy more screen time than those with top billing are called Supporting Actors. I’d give a shout to Christopher Plummer who in a single month rescued All the Money in the World when Kevin Spacey was excised from the movie.

Best Actress:

Should Win: Frances McDormand. Simply astonishing—just what we’d expect from an actress with chops instead of glamour.

Shouldn’t Be Here:  Margot Robbie for a joke of a movie. Meryl Streep, who only got a nod to pad her most-nominated record. I love Saoirse Ronan and she will win an Oscar someday, but it should be for a role meatier than the one for which she’s nominated this year.

Stiffed: Cynthia Nixon for bringing humanity to Emily Dickinson. Who knew Nixon was this good? Or are you going to try to pull the 2016 film dodge on me? Okay, you want 2017, how about fiesty Brooklynn Prince for The Florida Project or the radiant Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman?

Supporting Actor:

Should Win: This is the strongest category by a mile. I think Willem Dafoe will win to make up for stiffing Florida Project, but either Sam Rockwell or Woody Harrelson is worthy and, as I said, Christopher Plummer should have been in the Best Actor category.

Shouldn’t Be Here: Richard Jenkins is a terrific actor, but his role in Shape of Water isn't special.

Stiffed: Gil Birmingham in Wind River. If Hollywood wants more diversity, how about celebrating this fine performance from a Native American?

Supporting Actress:

Should Win: Terrible film, but Allison Janney was the only thing that kept me from bolting I, Tonya.

Shouldn’t Be Here: Octavia Spencer is a terrific actress, but her role in Shape of Water was your basic sidekick shtick. Mary J. Blige isn’t an actress, so not her either.

Stiffed: Yeah, yeah, Certain Women is a 2016 film. It wasn’t actually, but that’s what they say. Lily Gladstone gave a heartbreaking performance that quietly cut to the essence of what loneliness really means.

Best Director:

Should Win: Guillermo del Toro for Shape of Water.

Shouldn’t Be Here: The only other name that belongs at all is Paul Thomas Anderson. Sorry but Greta Gerwig gets no love for directing a coming of age film for her debut. Few liked Dunkirk and Jonathan Peele got a nomination for a movie few have seen so Hollywood can say it nominated a black director.

Stiffed: Sean Baker for The Florida Project.Taylor Sheridan for Wind River.

The Rest:

The Cinematography nominations are mostly for big-budget and f/x laden films. Meh! The best job I saw was from Ben Richardson in Wind River. Predictably, he wasn’t nominated. If you want to nominate someone for remarkable technological work, how about Tristan Oliver for Loving Vincent? Ooops—he wasn’t nominated either.

Oscar’s most consistent category is for Original Song. Every year they manage to pick five songs that make viewers wish there was an app that allows you to fast forward real time. I’m sort of grateful that the songs are so uniformly awful—for one night I’m okay with being hearing impaired.

Shall we pretend that we care about adapted screenplay, original screenplay, sound mixing and editing, film editing, and production design. Let’s just call the whole thing off. Makeup and hair and costume design exist to remind us that Hollywood’s beautiful people can be made either more so or less so, so let’s give these a miss too. Original score goes to Hans Zimmer or John Williams. Whose turn is it this year? The Visual Effects category exists to give awards to big budget summer blockbusters that people flock to see, but which Hollywood would be embarrassed to put in other categories. The masses who saw these films will not be watching the Oscars.  

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