With the Oscar nominations coming out last week, and this week bringing us Groundhog Day, I’m getting my annual, Bill Murray-style awards season déjà vu. No, not necessarily of the “I can’t believe they snubbed (one the best, most daring indie films of the year) in favor of (that overhyped heap of feel-good mush)” type. Although we’ll get into that. Nope, every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ choices lay out a raft of industry and cultural biases and blind spots that would be infuriating if they weren’t so predictable. Oh, and they’re also infuriating.
SPIKE LEE is going to lose to exactly the same movie – again.
Spike is an inconsistent and prolific filmmaker. He’s also responsible for some of the most essential, riveting and flat-out entertaining movies about race this country has ever produced, a fact that clearly scares the living hell out of the overwhelmingly (but very slowly changing) older white membership of the Academy. “Do The Right Thing” (1989) remains an American classic, a sprawling, searing, painfully human, utterly relevant race-relations drama – that was snubbed of even a best picture nomination. The winner that year? “Driving Miss Daisy,” a quaintly, politely, patronizingly well-intentioned movie about race relations specifically tailored to not ruffle a single white Academy voter’s evening wear. Well, it’s exactly 30 years later, and Spike’s brought us “BlackKklansman,” another striking, exciting, flat-out essential and timely movie about race relations – and it’s going to lose to “Green Book,” which is a crowd-pleasing, self-satisfied, patronizingly complacent “racism is solved” buddy drama that has already swept most of the lead-up film awards. Oh, and it’s also based around a mismatched chauffer-employer narrative again, which is like some sort of cosmic sick joke on Lee. Adding some extra insult, the film is written by one Nick Vallelonga, whose feel-good story about his tough Italian dad’s real-life (overstated by the film) relationship with black concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley has been dogged by the writer’s unearthed history of anti-Muslim bigotry, something that the film’s Muslim co-star, the great, Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali, has had to deal with.
GENRE MOVIES and comedies continue to get the shaft – for the most part.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, the inevitable over-nomination of films where non-disabled actors “bravely” play disabled people – there are all well-known Oscars weaknesses. But, while it’s not on the same, soul-crushing level, the Academy’s tendency to turn up its collective, surgically enhanced nose at genre films remains an especially bewildering irritant to those of us who are able to appreciate the entire range of movie experience. This year does see the first-ever superhero movie (Ryan Coogler’s genre-redefining and tons-of-fun “Black Panther”) blasting its way into the best picture category. Say what you want about the glut of tights-clad action swarming the multiplexes, but it’s a good sign when the Oscars casts a net into genres it’s traditionally disregarded. Which makes it all the more of a bummer that major awards still can’t see past “disreputable” genres of film to award the legitimately worthy. I don’t know how much more Toni Colette has to do to score a nomination than her tour de force in the audience-bedeviling “Hereditary,” but it’s a performance for the ages. And there was no freaking way personal gonzo favorites “Mandy” or “Sorry to Bother You” were going to get best picture nods or anything, but writer-directors Panos Cosmatos and Boots Riley both conducted magnificently bananas, nigh-unclassifiable films into indelible movie experiences. Take a breath, voters – nobody’s gonna look at you funny if you let a weird genre movie sneak a nomination or two.
THE ACADEMY is going to have to accept that streaming movies exist.
Look, movies are meant to be seen in theaters. They’re better in theaters. But it’s a cold, harsh fact that more people watch movies online, especially since major filmmakers are turning to streaming services that are willing to finance their cinematic visions in the services’ insatiable quest for content. So this year sees “Roma,” from “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón netting not only a best picture nomination, but also nods for best director, best actress (Yalitza Aparicio) and best supporting zctress (Marina de Tavira), despite the fact that it premiered in America on Netflix. With the Coen Brothers’ inevitably idiosyncratic Western anthology “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” also scoring a major nom (best adapted screenplay), the changing face of movie-going is finally and inevitably being recognized. (Even if theater chains AMC and Regal are crankily sticking to their guns by not showing “Roma” as part of its annual best picture showcase. S’okay, you can find them on your TV.)
IN OTHER FILM NEWS…
COMING SOON TO PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART
2 p.m. Saturday: “Wildlife.” Adapted from the novel by East Boothbay resident and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford (“Independence Day,” “The Sportswriter”), this film, directed by actor Paul Dano, portrays the hardscrabble life of a 1960s Montana family (Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhall, Ed Oxenbould) during a summer when wildfires scour the forests near their home. Ford himself will be on hand for this one-time screening, answering questions about his book, the film, and what the film did to his book. And, as a reminder, the kind and wonderful folks at PMA are offering free admission to all federal workers furloughed because of the ongoing government shutdown. Just bring your ID.