Making A Statement: How The American Climate Will Affect The Best Picture Race
A few months ago, we thought the biggest scandal heading into the 2018 Oscars would still be the envelope mix-up from this year’s ceremony. Yet as first Harvey Weinstein, one of the key figures of modern Oscar culture, and now dozens of actors, producers and directors have been unmasked as sexual predators of various degrees of criminality, the world’s attention this awards season will be on whether — and how — the film community will reflect these shocking revelations in the films they choose to award on Oscar Sunday. Not to mention the continuing impact of the Trump presidency and the fresh prevalence of neo-Nazism across America.
If we look closely, there are certain films whose chances will likely be affected to some extent by the changing mood. Choosing Moonlight over La La Land in 2017 served two political purposes: compensating for the #OscarsSoWhite scandal of the previous two years, and also acknowledging that a film like La La Land was a little too frivolous for Trump times (I would disagree, but okay). Another luscious, heartbreaking gay drama — Call Me By Your Name, my own favourite film of the year — is definitely in the Oscar conversation this year, but it has a few factors against it. It’s rare for two films as thematically similar as Moonlight and Call Me (as divergent as their execution may be) to take Best Picture in consecutive years; almost unheard of, in fact. Moonlight had a strong minority bend: set in an impoverished part of Miama and focusing on gay lifestyles within the African-American community. Call Me, by comparison, simply stinks of privilege: its cast is completely white and wealthy, and young Elio’s coming out story is idealistic and comfortable. It’s hard to predict if discomfort around the relationship between an adult man and a late teenage boy following the Kevin Spacey revelations would have any effect on perception of Call Me (if we’re being honest, the central romance of Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool has a much more notable age gap). Probably not.
In terms of the anti-Trump vote, it’s certainly started to feel like a less urgent concern than the sexual harassment/assault situation, but it could still have an impact. If Spielberg’s The Post is as good as it sounds, that could be a big “Fuck You” to the President: it’s a heroic tale of the press taking on the White House, and stars “OVERRATED Meryl Streep”. A potential fourth Best Actress win for Streep has recently been mooted given Trump’s tweets about her last year, but I can’t see that happening for this kind of relatively unsensational role. The Post, like Call Me By Your Name, simply seems too similar to a recent Best Picture winner: in this case Spotlight, a newspaper drama with a very similar aesthetic.
Then there’s Dunkirk, an almost grossly apolitical World War 2 thriller with no original contributions to the global conversation besides “War is bad”. It’s an impressive technical feat by any account, but its role in the cultural landscape lacks urgency. Darkest Hour is the same. Nobody’s seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, it’s only 50/1 odds for some reason, but while I think it has a stronger chance than that, it might be a bit too twee and dated to be declared The Film of The Year.
So this brings us to the films that are So Very 2017. The contenders with a purpose. The Shape of Water, which I found quite flat, has a nice simple message about… animal cruelty or something? It has a gay character, played by Richard Jenkins, who faces Oppression in one poorly-scripted scene. It really isn’t that great. For some reason, critics and audiences love it, perhaps because it spins some cliches of modern Hollywood — angry Michael Shannon, sneaky Michael Stuhlbarg, overexpressive Sally Hawkins — into one neat, accessible package. It definitely has a chance.
Get Out is the defining crowdpleaser of 2017, the great anti-Trump movie that wrapped production before Trump was elected. It was released prior to the last Oscars, it’ll definitely be nominated but it would be crazy if it won anything big.
Lady Bird has been received with absolute adoration — I haven’t seen it, but I expect it’s just a tad too niche for a large slew of Oscar voters (but, considering the Academy has hundreds of young, diverse new members, maybe not). The Florida Project isn’t a political film, but it’s an absolutely stunning depiction of an underrepresented corner of America, told from the nuances perspective of a small child. Trump would hate it. I’d love if it won a few Oscars.
And finally, there’s Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is a passionately told story of rape being bad, listening being important and bad people being redeemable. It’s a maverick narrative but is, in theory, a ‘safe bet’ choice by the Academy. Few would complain to see Frances Mcdormand and Sam Rockwell on the Oscar stage. These are the good guys.