Will Call: Oscar the Scaramouche
I don’t put a lot of stock in the Academy Awards.
Film, as an artform, is subjective. I have enjoyed plenty of box office flops and have friends whose favorite films were critically panned. When a film wins an Oscar, we can surmise that it had enough spark to stand out from the summer blockbusters, but not so much that viewers were obliged to think too hard.
Still, what we see on the screen has a tendency to be reflected in our broader culture, so the Academy is subject to some justifiable scrutiny over lack of nominee diversity. Personally, I think it’s indicative of a larger problem in film and society.
A crew from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism recently compiled a report on diversity in entertainment. The study found that around 28 percent of all speaking characters across all platforms — film usually fared worse than television — were from underrepresented ethnic groups which represent around 38 percent of the population. The ratio was even worse behind the camera, with just under 13 percent of directors hailing from an unrepresented minority.
Even more striking, it found that around three quarters of characters over 40 to appear on screen were male. The underlying motivation for the discrepancy seems indicated by the fact that roughly one third of female roles required the actress to don skimpy clothing, compared to about one in 14 for men. That, in turn, might have something to do with the fact that more than two thirds of all directors across all platforms are men. When a homosexual character does make an appearance, they also have a tendency to be a white male.
None of which is to say there aren’t several strong, diverse films from the last year. Anyone who sees the desire for inclusiveness as some sort of affirmative action would be well advised to consider Will Smith’s role in “Concussion” or almost any performance in “Straight Outta Compton.”
Moreover, the last year has seen a slew of excellent films featuring women and LGBTQ characters as central characters. This is somewhat reflected in the nominees, but “Carol” is a striking omission from the best picture lineup and “He Named Me Malala” apparently didn’t pass muster for documentary.
Of course, we’re back to subjectivity. One of my favorite films of last year, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” doesn’t make a single appearance. According to a graphic assembled by Imgur user JamesStory, the Oscar for Best Picture has gone to the year’s best reviewed film just 26 percent of the time. In many cases, the Rotten Tomatoes choice has stood the test of time better, although I’m inclined to side with the Academy on “The King’s Speech.” The Golden Globes are a slightly better indicator, aligning with the top award about half of the time.
Even Nate Silver admits predicting the Oscars is a crapshoot, so of course I have to give it a try.
I personally thought “Carol” delivered the year’s strongest combination of plot, performance and poignancy. Most people I’ve spoken to, however, preferred the similar setting but softer edges of “Brooklyn,” so I’m inclined to give Saoirse Ronan my best actress pick and leave “Carol” costume design. Although I was underwhelmed with the movie as a whole, Jennifer Jason Leigh seems a no-brainer for supporting actress, and the 70 mm cinematography is hard to top.
Most of the best picture nominees are up in several categories, leaving plenty of opportunity for consolation prizes. I’d award “The Big Short” adapted screenplay, with Christian Bale as best supporting actor. I’ll take “Room” for directing, “The Martian” for sound editing, “Spotlight” for original screenplay, “Bridge of Spies” for production design and “Mad Max” for film editing.
While I see almost every film that comes to the Crystal, I still have a lot of gaps as we move toward more minor awards. “Ex Machina” seems like a strong contender for visual effects, and I suspect nostalgia may help Star Wars’ original score, but I’m not banking on either.
As for best picture, the buzz points to another movie I haven’t got around to yet: “The Revenant.” At the very least, I think it’s finally Leo’s moment for best actor. If it wins on both, I may even take the Academy’s recommendation and go see it.
Will Grandbois is a master of saying a lot about things that supposedly don’t interest him. He can be reached at 384-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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