Basking in the Moonlight
(First published on 2/26/17 on Cold Takes, my newsletter — more)
Oscar night. It’s the only award show I watch and the only one I care to watch. Ostensibly because I love film. But come on, all award shows are dumb — the whole concept is dumb — and this one was created pretty explicitly as a propaganda tool for the studios and industry. That said, I’ve watched the show since I was a kid, so it’s at least just as much the nostalgic factor that keeps me coming back — linked to the fact that there is a very real history to the ceremony. And occasionally there is a moment of broader importance during the show.
So, yeah, I’m watching.
I also enjoy the prediction angle. Last year, I had a pretty good run. This year, in the months leading up to the nomination, I was sure La La Land would be the frontrunner and eventual winner of Best Picture. It’s a film about Hollywood. And there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than films about Hollywood.
But now I’m not so sure.
I finally watched Moonlight last night. La La Land is good, but Moonlight is great. It’s a truly sublime film. The kind that stays with you and lingers in your head long after its over. It’s incredibly unique. They don’t make movies like this anymore because I’m not sure they ever did. If I were to describe it as Boyhood meets The Wire meets Carol, you might be intrigued. But it’s better than that crude description.
Anyway, I’m well aware the consensus best movie often fails to win Best Picture for a variety of reasons (see again: films about Hollywood/LA/acting/etc). And La La Land tied All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations ever — and both of those won Best Picture, of course. But it just feels like this is the year to buck those trends.
I think Moonlight will upset La La Land. We’ll see tonight!
5ish Movie Links
Speaking of bucking trends, one reason I believe Moonlight has a real shot (beyond how great it is) is the fact that there was a huge Academy shake up this past year. Though it was hardly the first such shake up. Michael Schulman dives into it and the others:
Like Hollywood’s best sagas — “Star Wars,” “The Godfather” — the Oscars often play out as a drama of generational conflict. Daniel Smith-Rowsey, a film historian, has referred to the latest shakeup as “the third purge,” following two previous industry-wide talent overhauls. The first occurred in the twenties, as the rise of talkies swept scores of mugging mustache-twirlers and big-eyed ingénues to the sidelines. This shift coincided with the founding of the Academy, in 1927, by Louis B. Mayer, the head of M-G-M, who hoped to preëmpt the unionization of studio craftsmen by concocting an organization that could mediate labor disputes. The bestowing of “awards of merit” was an afterthought, and in May, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the Academy’s first president, Douglas Fairbanks, dispensed the trophies in fifteen minutes. That year, for the only time, there was a prize for title writing. “The Jazz Singer,” the silent era’s dinosaur-killing asteroid, was given a special prize, as it seemed unfair to put it in competition with the silents. By the next year, the Best Picture contenders were all talkies.
The second purge came in the late sixties, as the studio system was grappling with its own decline and the rise of a youth culture with which it seemed hopelessly out of touch. A generation of stars — the Bing Crosbys and Doris Days — suddenly seemed square and quaint, displaced by a new crop of “ethnic” talents like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand, while sword-and-sandal epics gave way to New Hollywood hits like “Easy Rider” and “The Graduate.” In 1967, Robert Evans, the thirty-seven-year-old head of Paramount, said, “The strongest period in Hollywood history was in the thirties, when most of the creative people were young. The trouble is that most of them are still around making movies.”
With the makeup of the Academy in a state of transition and the political character of America itself so deeply divided, the Oscars seem torn. In these troubling times, will they seek solace in the past with the self-congratulatory “La La Land”, or will they choose to amplify the voices of the sidelined with a view to a more inclusive future? The Best Picture Oscar is always the most hotly anticipated award of the night; this year there is more riding on it than a gold statuette.
John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, in an op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter:
If the choice is diminishing revenue on increasing viewership versus increasing revenue on fairly stable admissions, I know which one I would take. It is the missing revenue in the home market that drives most of the angst in the entertainment industry.
Some decent arguments against the conventional wisdom of theaters dying. But at a macro level, I still think the trends are worrying…
On the topic of independent film: it is the best of times, it is the worst of times, according to The Economist.
For those looking to follow along live in GIF form with the Oscars tonight, Giphy has you covered.
(First published on 2/26/17 on Cold Takes, my newsletter)