The lack of an official host, the emergence of Netflix as a cinematic player, the continuing empowerment of women in Hollywood, Mexico and Donald J. Trump’s wall, the proposed handing out of awards in the commercial breaks…non-hosts and comic powerhouses Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler quickly addressed every controversy that has dogged The Academy Awards this year in characteristically amusing fashion, cutting through the nonsense with a series of tasty barbs and one-liners. They also highlighted the fact that “women usually support each other”, which will surely be tested tomorrow when various female “fashion experts” excoriate Hollywood’s actresses over their choice of frocks. There was, however, nothing too vicious in the intro, and no jokes that would leave permanent scars, giving a taste of the safe, largely inoffensive ceremony that was to follow.
All this happened, of course, after a rousing opening performance from the current incarnation of titanic rock icons Queen, with Adam Lambert on vocals. Prompting fist rolls from Allison Janney, furious head bobbing from J-Lo, and dangerous levels of excitement from Javier Bardem, it was one of the more explosive opening gambits in recent Oscar history, pumping up the profile of multi-nominee Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, but not driving it towards a Best Film win. Though it’s been copping a pummelling in the lead-up to the Oscars – with critics and commentators slamming its lack of award-worthy qualities – Bohemian Rhapsody is obviously a hit with the “Hollywood community.”
The changing face of Hollywood was showcased early with African-American women Regina King, Ruth E. Carter, and Hannah Beachler taking out the awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Costumes and Production Design, respectively, and all giving eloquent and richly impassioned speeches. The presenters were also diverse, with the cast of Black Panther strongly represented, and imaginative picks Serena Williams (?), Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello (?!), Keegan-Michael Key, Trevor Noah (who dropped a very funny Mel Gibson gag in his introduction of Black Panther), Michelle Yeoh, Pharrell Williams (in shorts and socks!), and civil rights figurehead Congressman John Lewis announcing various nominees in the Best Film, Best Animated Film and Best Song categories. Dream presenting match, Jason Momoa and Helen Mirren, meanwhile talked up inclusion and the fact that they were both wearing pink.
Honest-to-god humour and genuine belly laughs were thin on the ground this year, which made the funny work of Awkwafina (“What are we presenting? Best Animated Short? Oooh, they gave us a big one!”), and the Wayne’s World reunion of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey (“We’re not worthy!”) stand out. Creed team, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, were also very funny presenting Best Original Score, even daringly addressing the stereotype that black people can’t swim.
Heartfelt, emotional, inclusion-focused, and socially conscious speeches were the order of the day, with Green Book Best Supporting Actor winner, Mahershala Ali, thanking his grandma, and Roma Best Foreign Language Film winner, Alfonso Cuaron, tickling the audience by saying that he “grew up watching foreign language films…like Citizen Kane, Jaws, The Godfather and Breathless” before quoting Claude Chabrol with regards to the “new wave” of international cinema. “There are no waves, just an ocean, and we’re all part of that ocean,” Cuaron said.
Spike Lee cut across just about everything when he picked up the Best Adapted Screenplay gong for BlacKkKlansman. “Turn off that motherfuckin’ clock,” he implored before talking slavery, herstory, his grandma, and sending Trump packing at the next election. “Do the right thing,” the diminutive director howled, at which the swelling music played and prevented his co-writers from contributing to the speech. Not exactly inclusive, but hey, Spike Lee can do whatever he wants after what he’s done for African-Americans in film.
Spike’s endearing histrionics were matched by the teary but affecting blubberings of Lady Gaga (whose performance of Best Song winner, “Shallow”, with Bradley Cooper was nothing short of sensational, and a stone-cold highlight of the show), who espoused her own hard work and the need to keep getting up after you’ve been knocked down. Lady Gaga’s considerable femme icon status was overshadowed, however, when Barbra Streisand stepped on stage (at which Richard E. Grant practically wet himself) to entertainingly introduce BlacKkKlansman, during which she talked about tweeting Spike Lee and forging an instant connection. “It was easy,” she said of their following conversations. “We’re both from Brooklyn, and we both love hats.” Hopefully, Spike will develop a project for Babs in the near future…
There were only a few major surprises at the Oscars this year, with most of the favourites (Rami Malek, Mahershala Ali, Alfonso Cuaron, Bohemian Rhapsody in all the sound-type categories, Black Panther in most of the visual-type categories) winning…though The Wife’s hotly tipped Glenn Close losing out to The Favourite’s Olivia Colman in the Best Actress category was a big-time shocker. “This is not gonna happen again,” the hilariously self-deprecating actress told her kids-at-home while holding up her Oscar, before proclaiming herself a longtime fan of Glenn Close, and then apologising to her. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Colman said.
And people will likely be arguing about Green Book’s Best Film Award for a long, long time…it’s a polarising pick, and will remain so.
What was really surprising, however, was the absence of what has often made the Oscars ceremony entertaining and memorable, with no film clip packages, no comical set pieces (remember that time when Ben Stiller dressed up in Avatar-face?), no general type film history “stuff”, and the relegation of honorary awards (like the Irving Thalberg Award) to previous events. Maybe the producers were too scared that something politically incorrect might have crept in, or that someone in one of the film clips might have said something inappropriate once in a previous life…
While commentators have long complained (with some justification) about the Oscars being too long, the cuts imposed to make a shorter ceremony have also robbed proceedings of some of their colour and excitement. Sure, we got through it quicker and came out relatively unscathed, but there was little love and finesse in the production itself. That was left to the presenters and winners themselves, who provided the real heart and soul of the ceremony.
The producers’ efforts, meanwhile, to address previous criticisms – most notably the “Oscars So White” hashtag – was admirable, and surely nobody could question the moves made to ensure that this year’s ceremony was more inclusive…if only it had been equally up-to-scratch in the entertainment stakes.
Oh, and finally, thanks to Channel 9 for constantly and abruptly cutting into the broadcast to play those incessant friggin’ ads for Married At First Sight. Now, that’s one form of inclusion that we could have done without…