If you’re one of the few who checks my site Movie Muse regularly, you probably stopped doing that sometime in the last few months. The good news is I wasn’t ignoring you (or movies), we are just having some irksome server issues this winter that locked me out of WordPress. So I’m publishing this to Facebook for now.
Anyway, you’ll be glad to hear that despite a total lack of pre-Oscars commentary, I did catch all eight of the 2016 Best Picture nominees (reviews will be retroactively posted, I guess) and last night’s unusual ceremony.
This awards season was one without a frontrunner, which is extremely rare, and it showed in how the statuettes were doled out at the 88th annual Academy Awards. How often does the film that wins the most Oscars (“Mad Max: Fury Road” with six) not win an award for writing, directing or Best Picture? How does the Best Picture winner (“Spotlight”) only win one other Oscar? And any year that the Best Director (Alejandro G. Inarritu for “The Revenant”) didn’t direct the Best Picture is an odd one.
Throw all this into an Academy Awards show that openly embraced its “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy head on – like, uncomfortably and awkwardly head on at times, to the point that the show was completely awash in a diversity narrative – and you have easily the most distinctive Oscars in years.
I applaud host Chris Rock and the Academy for sticking together and making both light and serious of this issue, but the relentlessness was surprising. Every time you were charmed by the usual Oscar charms – and there were some great choices this year to highlight the movie process and the films and individuals nominated – Rock came back on stage with a race joke.
Coming off last year’s telecast, however, when the Oscars became a megaphone passed from artist to artist to call attention to various social issues, this isn’t surprising. Last year, you couldn’t walk away from the ceremony ignorant to a number of issues impacting our society and world. This year, in addition to diversity, rape and sexual abuse took the stage, as did global warming and, of course, thoughts related to our elected leaders and candidates for certain offices. So it makes sense for the Academy to be assertive in speaking for itself on the issue of diversity in Hollywood, even if it felt like too much.
And truthfully, all those quips and segments about diversity really stressed that this isn’t something Hollywood intends to sweep under the rug with a couple of well-placed jokes. And it’s not like Oscars producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill had months and months to prepare this message. The controversy unfolded just six or seven weeks ago. They felt a moral imperative to tackle this challenge and did so with such consistency and fervor that it cemented a total paradigm shift in Hollywood: make movies is not foremost about storytelling, art and escapism anymore, it’s about social responsibility.
Nothing embodies this “new” socially conscious Hollywood better than last night’s surprise winner for Best Picture. Rather than cede the top prize to the most artistically accomplished yet thematically esoteric film in the bunch (I mainly mean “The Revenant,” but “Mad Max” counts too, perhaps), Academy voters sided with a story-driven film about reporters shedding light on an issue of great social consequence.
Fancying itself a representative body that matters in society, the Academy has led Hollywood across the socially aware Rubicon. This is now the era when film matters, when it has a duty to accurately reflect its audience and speak to our lives in a much more tangible way. It will be interesting to see how this Hollywood mindset will impact the films recognized and rewarded in the years to come.