The Santa Clara’s resident film critic shows disdain for the most recent Oscars
The Santa Clara
February 28, 2019
Where is our “Schindler’s List”?
While the Oscars have certainly never lacked heated competition, they’ve also never felt as passionless as they have in recent years.
Yes, Grace Kelly upset Judy Garland in 1955, and Harvey Weinstein’s concerted, gamechanging Best Picture campaign in 1999 deprived Spielberg of another deserving Oscar. But the movie industry—and the general public—still rallied around these surprise winners.
Last Sunday’s fractured 91st Academy Awards proved that those days are over. Thrilling films with intensely personal visions no longer win—victors must appeal to the widest audience possible.
Perhaps the blame rests on the Academy itself, whose infamous 2009 decision to expand the number of potential Best Picture nominees from five to 10 continues to infect ceremonies more than a decade later.
The decision in itself, while undoubtedly positive in its hopes for including—at least on the surface—a more diverse range of films, failed to live up to its promise. The Academy’s dream of drawing larger audiences with more diverse and commercial offerings barely materialized. Voters still gravitated toward their old preferences, choosing 10 Oscar bait films instead of just five.
However, the most insidious element of the change involved the accompanying switch to a preferential ballot voting system for Best Picture, denying films with focused, passionate followings that generate broad esteem, such as “Schindler’s List” or “Titanic,” from securing wins.
Today, each nominee for Best Picture comes with too much baggage in the form of haters. Someone will always find something wrong with your movie.
The path to a trophy often lies in being as safe as possible, so that the most voters put your film in the middle of their list.
The effects of these decisions were on disastrous display at last Sunday’s Oscars, where no one film truly emerged from the pack. “Black Panther” won some awards, “Roma” earned others and “Green Book” snatched the top prize despite not boasting the best director (an amusing yet too-frequent occurrence).
Fittingly for a rudderless show with no host, the ceremony plodded along with little personality. Like the nominated movies, various celebrities enjoyed their 45 seconds of screentime, contributing to the boring sameness of the broadcast.
Despite helping the show move along smoothly and without major controversy until the very end—this pizazzless impersonality stripped the show of genuine excitement. Passion lost out to inoffensive generality, and so did us viewers.
And that is why, for many, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of their Oscarnominated hit “Shallow” marked the best moment of the broadcast. For the first time that evening, tension filled the theater (especially with Cooper’s girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, watching the utterly enraptured duo from the front row).
For a few brief moments, Gaga and Cooper brought their intensely personal visions to the stage. With eyes locked, they ignored everyone but each other. This riveting passion captured what the Oscars have lost. Rather than desperately scream for our attention like so many of the other performers that evening, Gaga and Cooper invited us to share in their own riveting personalities.
Like great winners of the past, you might not like them or their music, but you can’t help but respect their passion.
And it’s this type of authenticity and genuine excitement that led to what is arguably one of the best moments in Oscar history: Olivia Colman winning Best Actress.
Although the category initially seemed competitive, the driving narrative in recent weeks positioned frequent-nominee Glenn Close as the obvious winner. So when Colman’s name rang out through the Dolby Theater, the audience basked in genuine surprise—Colman noticeably included.
In her heartwarming acceptance, she forgoed the canned, generic speeches that we have come to expect of winners. Instead, she let her simultaneous tears and giggles guide her speech.
When she admitted that, as a cleaner, “I did spend quite a lot of time imagining this,” she demonstrated the brutal honesty and off-the-cuff spontaneity that the show no longer produces.
At one poignant moment, the obviously flustered Colman emitted a raspberry. Although her speech was a knockout moment of passion, the dull ceremony surrounding her deserved it.
Contact Brandon Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.