2019 Oscars: Diverse and Divisive

Women won in record numbers this year! Hurrah for Regina King, Rayka Zehtabchi, Hannah Beachler and RuthE. Carter

From the get-go, the 91st Academy Awards courted controversy by announcing Kevin Hart as this year’s Host. The Academy should’ve done it’s homework. People remember when you’ve said homophobic slurs; especially when posted on Twitter. To make matters worse, the Producers thought to make the show shorter by awarding a few categories featuring less glamorous nominees, i.e., cinematography, editing, make-up and hairstyling, and live-action shorts, off-camera.

After significant uproar from the film community, the Academy President reversed that decision and the Show went on, without a Host.

This year’s program was one of the most diverse–both in Oscar Winners and the rainbow of Presenters. There was Serena Williams, Senator John Lewis, actors and musicians, both young and old. Black Panther was the first Super-Hero film to be nominated for Best Picture, and was awarded Oscars for Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter) and Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler). The two women made history as African American women winning awards in non-acting roles. Regina King’s win for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk and Mahershala Ali, Green Book added to that celebration of diversity.

Billy Porter, star of the TV series Pose, broke gender norms with his tuxedo-inspired ball gown. Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, Amy Poehler, and Elsie Fisher walked the red carpet in pantsuits. The cast of Crazy Rich Asians was featured in many red carpet interviews. There were moments of triumph for Egyptian Americans (Rami Malek winning Best Actor), Iranian Americans (Rayka Zehtabchi for Best Documentary Short), a record number of LGBTQ-inspired films nominated, and Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón applauding “…the Academy for recognizing a film centered around an indigenous woman. One of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without workers’ rights.”

There was some disappointment that Glenn Close didn’t win and silly gossip about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s music performance and whether it signified an affair.

The show went along at a nice pace with some great acceptance speeches. Then the envelope for Best Picture was opened and Green Book was the Oscar winner! This film that landed one of it’s stars, (Viggo Mortensen, nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga) in hot water for use of the “N” word. Green Book was also boycotted by the family of the real Don Shirley. Was this another film about a White Savior–did it create drama with altercations that never happened so that the white character could come to the rescue? Spike Lee, after his triumphant win for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlackKKlansman, turned his back on the stage and later said, “the ref made a bad call” and “every time someone’s driving someone, I lose” — referring to Driving Miss Daisy.

Did Roma, the Best Picture film favored to win, not garner enough votes because it was produced by Netflix? Was the Old Guard Hollywood voting with it’s pocketbook and trying to protect theaterical screening? Alfonso Cuarón had a great response. “For me the conversation about theatrical is super important… I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with few variations. It’s hard to see art-house films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies.”

As Cuarón told IndieWire before the Roma premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, the main reason he went to Netflix in the first place was because no other platform that would globally release a black-and-white, Spanish-language drama featuring a cast of mostly unknown actors.

The 2019 Oscar’s may have escaped the #OscarsSoWhite label this year, but we still have some work to do to change hearts and minds. Diversity and inclusion are important, but the Academy needs to continue to welcome younger voters who’ll embrace the changing dynamic of today’s film culture.

Inspired Cinema in 2018: Innovative, Universal and showcasing flawed human beings as Heroes!

72 film tickets which doesn’t include films screened for festivals, shorts watched on my computer or any of the 15 films watched on Netflix, rented from Redbox or DVDS!

This was a wonderful year for movies. No matter how you consumed them: via Netflix, at your local cineplex or at a starry Festival premiere, there was a broad array of offerings. A few of the sequels were as good, if not BETTER than the original films (Paddington 2, Incredibles 2, Bumblebee), our comic book films celebrated diversity and empowerment (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) and it was a banner year for documentaries (RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo).

My favorite movies this year were two beautiful black and white films that transported me to another time and place with amazing cinematography and rich storytelling. Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s tragic love story tracked lovers thru a decade of Polish folk music to jazz in Paris. It was in the small moments when a stillness seemed to freeze frame the characters so we could study their emotions. The lush cinematography and the amazing, luminous performances of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot really drew me in. The film had a documentary feel and was almost as moving as my favorite films from 2013, Ida, by the same director.

 Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal film about life in an upper middle-class Mexican family home is also shot in black and white (by Cuaron). Told thru the eyes of the caring family helper (both maid and nanny), Roma reveals how the personal and the political impact and influence everyone’s lives. The casualness of how a normal day can be shattered by violence, transformed by a brush with death or unite a family to battle a brush fire; while the family tries to maintain security and stability. We may not suffer as much trauma but it’s a universal struggle to protect those we love that everyone can understand.

There were some astounding films this year. I was so moved by A Beautiful Boy (Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet), and Ben is Back also explored the drug crisis with searing performances (Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts). Welcome to Marwen and Annilahation were visually stunning as was the sweet Paddington 2. Into the Spiderverse was a zany Pop Culture Spiderman that we didn’t know we needed.

There were some great explorations of race and gender this year in film. My favorite was Blindspotting. I had to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman twice! And cheered for RBG AND On the Basis of Sex. One of my favorite moments at the movies this year was Edna Mode in The Incredibles 2 transforming into Aunt Edna and hustling the exhausted Dad (Bob, trying to be a Super Dad) back home. I felt that this year, the movies gave us some heroes that were flawed and all the more likable for it. Our society is changing. How we perceive ourselves and others is changing. Our films should too.

There may well have been other films I would’ve ranked in my Top 10 if I’d made one, but I know I missed seeing some great films this year: Madeline’s Madeline, Happy as Lazzaro, Private Life, The Rider, Support the Girls, Let The Sunshine In, Capernaum, Never Look Away, Burning, and Shoplifters.  A few I’ll be able to see on Netflix or Hulu, and a few that may still screen at an arthouse cinema somewhere.

Follow me on Instagram for snapshots of films as I see them.

See you at the movies my friends!

Based on a true story–Films at the 45th Telluride Film Festival

43 films screened over 4 days for the 45th Telluride Film Festival. 10 of those 43 were excellent documentaries, but another 12 were films based on true stories. The most Hollywood of these, First Man is the star-spangled story of Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Reynolds and directed by the talented Damien Chazelle (La La Land). It was very well-received. Trail by Fire, directed by Ed Zwick  and driven by amazing performances by Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, was absolutely riveting. I’m so glad I saw it before it starts being dismissively described as the anti-death-penalty film. It deserves a wide audience.

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, directed and shot most of his autobiographical film, Roma. Eric Kohn of Indiewire described it as “writing his personal story with a camera”, which seems quite apt. It’s a lovely black & white period piece revealing an upper-middle class family’s daily struggles through the eyes of their caring maid. Each scene is populated with so many details of their lives — we get to visit a turbulent time in Mexico City and in this young woman’s life. There’s so much drama and tension that the 2 1/2 hours flies by. I’m thankful that it’s a Netflix film and I’ll be able to watch it again.

Standing in the rain for an hour sharing an umbrella with a stranger was worth it to see The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery). It was a treat to see Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in person. They have delightful chemistry in this sweet film about a bank robber and escape artist who can’t retire from the thrill of the chase. Redford stated that this is indeed his last acting role, though he’ll still produce and maybe direct. That gave the film a lovely sentimental feel as there are photos of a younger Redford used to illustrate his character’s past. Casey Affleck is particularly good as the detective trying to catch the bank robbers who develops a rapport with the gentleman criminal.

If you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, you’ll to get a kick out of The Favourite. Queen Anne rules the 18th Century English Court but it’s her consort who’s making the real decisions. Played with petulance, emotional neediness and disdain, Olivia Colman is a powerful and fickle Queen. Vying for a place in her bed and in her court are the penniless lady, Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin to the powerful Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Great roles for three powerful performers and I enjoyed the wicked banter and court intrigue. There are many extended close-ups of Olivia Colman’s face and it’s amazing to watch the emotional storms sinking her sanity. I could’ve done without the showy camera flourishes as it took me out of the story but the costumes (Sandy Powell) are sumptuous.

My final film of the festival was Boy Erased. This family drama is based on Garrard Conley‘s memoir brought to the screen by another multi-hyphenate talent, Joel Edgerton. He directs the screenplay he wrote; he also has a starring role as the director of a religious gay conversion center.  Lucas Hedges, portraying another damaged young man (Manchester by the Sea, Ladybird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) gives another emotionally revealing performance. When he’s forcibly outed at college after a traumatic incident, his Baptist preacher father (a solid Russell Crowe) convinces his mother (Nicole Kidman) to admit him to the conversion center. The loving relationship between mother and son is sorely tested when she learns what’s happening as staff try to sublimate the sexual urges of the clients. It’s an emotional journey with another great Nicole Kidman performance as she reconciles her love for her son with her love and duty as a Baptist wife. I’m looking forward to seeing The Miseducation of Cameron Post for the female viewpoint (directed by Desiree Akhavan) on conversion therapy set in an earlier time but still dealing with this shameful practice.

More Telluride reviews coming soon…