ON FILM: Even Oscar gets it right sometimes

Posted: February 9, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

I'm not much of an awards show guy.

Some of you are, and that's great. Really. Some people treat awards shows like the Super Bowl. You can enjoy them ironically; you can take them deadly seriously. That's up to you.

But I can't get past the inherent silliness of shows like the Academy Awards, where rich people congratulate other rich people for being so brave and honest in their art.

That's not to say that people can't be brave and honest in their art. A lot of people are motivated by things other than stuffing money in their pockets. Most people who are drawn to the film industry or the music industry really aspire to connect with the hearts and minds of an audience, to touch people in deep and meaningful ways. Adam Sandler and Tom Cruise really want to do good work. They're mostly trying really hard to do good work. I don't doubt anyone's heart -- except sometimes when I do.

But the "best" movies don't get celebrated at the Oscars. What gets celebrated at the Oscars are (generally) well-intentioned, overt star-driven vehicles, what we might call Hollywood prestige projects. (As opposed to the profit-raking franchise films built to play to a worldwide audience and pay everyone's mortgage.) Movies like Steven Spielberg's The Post -- which, if you read my review, you know I think is a good movie. But it's not a "best" movie. The best don't generally get represented at the Oscars.

Except maybe this year they have, at least to a point. I've seen all the best picture nominees. And I like all of them well enough. Darkest Hour is probably the weakest of the nine, but that's not to say it's a weak film. And Gary Oldman's performance is precisely the sort of performance that wins Academy Awards.

I am cooler to The Shape of Water and Lady Bird than a lot of my fellow critics -- they're both slightly overrated. And I get why some people really love Call Me By Your Name, but am unconvinced it's any better than Francis Lee's God's Own Country (available on DVD and streaming on Amazon Prime Video) or Stephen Cone's Princess Cyd (also on DVD and Amazon Prime). Had I a chance to rework my Top 10 list, Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross' My Happy Family (now on Netflix) would be somewhere near the top.

Get Out is probably my favorite movie of the past year. It also happens to be the film that feels the least like an Oscar winner, but the Academy has been reshuffled in recent years -- after the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco of 2015 more than 800 new members, most of them younger, 39 percent of them female and 30 percent non-white, were recruited. That's enough to change the dynamic and make the academy a little less predictable.

That said, the academy is (like a lot of places in America) still predominantly white (87 percent) and male (72 percent). And just about 100 percent invested in the primacy of the Hollywood prestige project.

And that's fine. It's their party, their little Chamber of Commerce banquet. I'm lucky that nobody makes me pick the winners or remember who won what in which year. (I remember Moonlight upsetting La La Land last year but I can't go any deeper without cheating.)

Anyway, I've always said the Oscars have nothing to do with my job as a film critic. And just because most of what's written about film in this country relates to the strange habits of movie stars and the financial prospects of what are really just business ventures doesn't change my attitude. The best-seller lists are always full of bad books, the box office charts are always dominated by mediocre movies. I don't have to pretend that bland and saccharine products are anything but what they are.

Just because people have developed a taste for candy doesn't mean I have to pretend a Zagnut bar is haute cuisine.

And while there's nothing wrong with a little sugar now and then, you probably shouldn't subsist on a steady diet of it. (But if that's what you want to do, have at it.)

My point is that there are plenty of great movies and other sorts of moving picture experiences out there if you're looking -- and you don't even have to look very hard. In my LifeQuest class this term, I'm showing the great Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1988 Polish TV series Dekalog, and while that might sound dry and tedious to some of you, the 60-plus people in my class seem to be genuinely enjoying it.

But I don't hate the Oscars; they're getting a lot right this year.

Email:

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

www.blooddirtangels.com

MovieStyle on 02/09/2018