Monday, February 23, 2015

87th Academy Awards [2015] - Diversity in the Air (after all)?

IMDb listing
Previous/Other years

From the moment that the Nominations for the 87th Academy Awards [2015] were an-nounced, they were immediately de-nounced for a lack of diversity.

Personally, I found the accusation NOT entirely unfounded.  There were a good number of quite excellent African American oriented movies released this year BESIDES the Martin Luther King, Jr inspired Selma [2014].  One thinks of Belle [2014], Beyond the Lights [2014] and my personal favorite Repentance [2014].  And yet the only Selma [2014] received any recognition at all by the Academy with nominations for Best Picture itself (but NOT for best actor, best screenplay or best director) and then for ... Best Original Song (a good song -- indeed IT turned out to win _that_ Oscar ..., BUT ...).

On the other hand, I DIDN'T find the accusation entirely fair either: 

First, by her own words, director Ava DuVernay did approach the subject matter of Selma [2014] in a deliberately (more) provocative rather than "mainstream" sort of a way ... and that decision did prove to have consequences.  Honestly, "that's art."   Art that provokes will also (almost inevitably) put-off (some).  

Second, while I agree this is a lousy "the Academy's hands were tied" sort of an excuse, but ... while David Oyelowo could feel somewhat legitimately robbed for not having received an Oscar Nomination for his playing MLK in Selma, on the flip side of question, I do think that EVERYONE of the FIVE nominees in the Best Actor category legitimately deserved his nomination.  In fact, as I noted in My 2015 Oscar Picks article THIS WAS AN EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD YEAR when it came to quality American / English Language cinema.  A LOT OF THE AWARDS CATEGORIES had 3-4-even-all-5 legitimately WIN DESERVING Nominees.

In fact, IMHO the weakest of the 5 nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role was Eddie Redmayne who ended up WINNING the Oscar for his performance as Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything [2104] (and yet, I don't want to begrudge either his nomination or even his win.  I wrote in My 2015 Oscar Picks article that _every single one_ of the five nominees in this category deserved their nomination, and that _every single one of them_ would have "earned the win" had they won.  Yet, I ALSO wrote that I do believe that there were several actors who legitimately deserved to be nominated as well and weren't.  (That's HOW GOOD THE CROP WAS _THIS YEAR_).

So a kind note to the Academy: Consider doing with ALL the major categories what the Academy already does with the Best Picture category - allow more than 5, perhaps "up to 8," or "up to 10" Nominees in "banner years" so that all those deserving a Nomination get one.  This way David Oyelowo would have certainly gotten a Nomination for his Lead Performance as MLK in Selma [2014], as would have Jake Gyllenhaal for his Lead Role Nightcrawler [2014]Gugu Mbatha-Raw would have would have a Nomination for her Lead Roles in either Belle [2014] or Beyond the Lights [2014], Clint Eastwood (!) would have certainly gotten a Best Director's nomination for his masterful work with American Sniper [2014] and Gillian Flynn [IMDb] would have gotten a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (!) for Gone Girl [2014].

Finally IMHO the loud and early complaint about Diversity did have an (again IMHO) fascinatingly positive effect on BOTH how the subsequent voting and then the actual Awards Ceremony played out:

The first words of the program's Host, Neil Patrick Harris, acknowledged the controversy: "Today we honor the best and whitest ... er brightest ... in Hollywood" ;-).

Then the acceptance speeches of pretty much all of the winners of the major categories were about as "activist" as I can remember: Patricia Arquette winning best the Supporting Actress prize for her role in Boyhood [2014] tee-ed up and flatly demanded Equal Pay for Equal Work for women (Good for you!  And to ANYONE who's ever had a mother, sister, wife, daughter or niece, that is EVERYBODY, this would seem self-evident, NOW).  Graham Moore, who got the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game [2014], made a plea on behalf of all those who "consider themselves weird" (those who are Gay but also NOT JUST Gay) noting that as a teenager HE NEARLY KILLED HIMSELF (Wow!  Honestly WHAT A TRAGEDY THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!!  Look at what he's achieved in his life now and WHAT HE'S OFFERED TO OTHERS!).  Eddie Redmayne, made an appeal on behalf of all those who suffer from ALS; Julianne Moore who won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Still Alice [2014] made an appeal on behalf of those who suffer from Alzheimer's.  FINALLY, Alejandro González Iñárritu whose film Birdman [2014] won FOUR major Oscars - Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director -- the last two going directly to him, noted amusingly: "HEY, I'M MEXICAN" ;-).  This may not have been a great year for African American actors and directors, but clearly it was a remarkable one for that HISPANIC director.  (And HE then proceeded to make an appeal for better appreciation of the gifts that Hispanic immigrants like him give to the United States, a nation that's always been "of immigrants.")  And even the Oscar for Best Animated Feature went to Disney's Big Hero 6 [2014] which sought to blend "the best of" Pixar, Marvel Comics and even Japan's Studio Ghibli.  So there was actually a surprising amount of diversity in the awards and even passion / activism in number of the acceptance speeches.

Again, if the flagship African American film this year, Selma [2014], hadn't been (perhaps) needlessly provocative when it came to then U.S. President Johnson (his role could have been simply downplayed rather than made arguably into an enemy of the Civil Rights movement...) perhaps the nominations could have come out differently.  But Hollywood / the Academy could ALSO have considered OTHER excellent WORTHY-OF-CONSIDERATION African American oriented films like Repentance [2014], Belle [2014] and Beyond the Lights [2014] rather than SIMPLY focus on the "Civil Rights Icon" film Selma [2014] (and then blame the director when they didn't like her take / message).  Perhaps next year will be better... we can only hope ;-).

What then of the Oscar ceremony itself?  Well, IMHO Neil Patrick Harris, this year's host, did a decent enough job. (Of the five Oscar Ceremonies [2011-2015] that I've reviewed since starting my blog, my favorite host Seth McFarlane who hosted the 2013 Program).  In the current program, Harris was quite good.  Except for his "Oscar Predictions" bit to which he came back OVER-AND-OVER-AGAIN throughout the program (and proved in the end to be a "dud"), he kept the show moving.  Again, I do believe that HE BEGAN THE SHOW PERFECTLY by immediately confronting the diversity question IN THE OPENING LINE OF HIS INITIAL WELCOME / MONOLOGUE.  And then some of the gags, like walking out on stage at one point in just his underwear (as Michael Keaton's character found himself having to do in Bird Man), were quite funny.

Among the acts, Lady Gaga [IMDb] proved (again) that she is legitimately a world class singing talent by singing and _nailing_ a medley homage to Sound of Music [1965] (the fiftieth anniversary of its release is this year).   On one hand, these are "songs that everybody knows."  On the other hand, THAT WAS EXACTLY THE POINT / RISK HERE -- JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY WATCHING THE SHOW KNEW THESE SONGS and if she "played with them" inappropriately or otherwise MESSED-UP that would be _all_ that we'd be talking about now.  Instead, she NAILED them and made it quite easy then for Julie Andrews to come-out on stage to take her bow, to salute her (Lady Gaga), and then present the Award for Best Original Song.

So over all, I do think that this was a decent enough Academy Awards season / presentation.  I do hope that in coming years, the Academy (1) becomes more flexible in the number of final nominees it
considered for the major categories (as it already does for Best Picture), and (2) it "dig a little deeper" when considering films from a number of our nation's subcultures.  Again, Selma [2014] wasn't _the only_ "worthy of consideration" African American oriented film made this year.

But let me end by underlining the positive this year:  IMHO there really were an exceptionally high number of "Oscar Worthy" films and performances this year.  And that is something for Hollywood to be proud of.

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