Pictures worth shy of 1,000 words
Something funny happened on the way to this year’s Academy Awards ceremony … I made the decision not to write about them for the first time since I began working here in 1999.
That’s more funny-strange than funny-haha, and the reasons why likely could be found in the Bermuda Triangle of this year’s nominated films, my approach to movies that wear their seriousness on their sleeve, and the funny-strange times in which the Oscars season occurred.
Had I written about them, I was planning to say something funny-haha about having not seen any of the Best Picture candidates, yet predict the outcome anyway — but then I realized, that not only had I not seen any of this year’s eight nominees, I hadn’t seen any of the nine contenders the year before.
And I had promised myself to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” … if only to see whether the rumor was true that half the movie consisted of Quentin Tarantino’s alleged obsession with Margot Robbie’s feet.
That brought me back to the 2019 ceremony and … yep, you guessed it, didn’t see any of those, either.
(Of course, that kept my streak alive of never having seen “A Star Is Born” — not in 2018, 1976, 1954 or 1937. Maybe in 2030, when Taylor Swift is ready to play the lead, I can miss that one, too.)
Well, certainly I must have seen one of the nine contenders from 2018 — maybe the one about the mute woman who falls in love with a sea creature. Nope.
Turns out, I had to go all the way to the 2017 ceremony to find a Best Picture nominee I had gone to the movies to see. It was the only one of the nine up for the Oscar that I had seen, but at least I made the right choice — the eventual winner, “La La Land.”
What? … No way! Then what alternate universe ceremony was I watching?
A that point, I was 1-for-43 in my viewing habits, an improbably streak that grew to 1-for 51 when I checked in on the eight contenders in 2016.
Turns out, over the past 10 Academy Awards there have been 86 films nominated for Best Picture, and I had gone to a theater, put my money down and seen 7.5 of them. (We walked out of “Silver Linings Playbook midway through because it was less a movie than a contest of “I Can Overact You.”)
Didn’t see “Spotlight” or “The Post,” despite those being about newspapers. Didn’t see “Moneyball,” despite my love of baseball, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” despite my love of Queen, or “Room” despite spending most of my youth trapped behind locked doors with my mother.
Completing this trip down memory lane, the most recent year in which I’d seen every Best Picture nominee, the contenders were (in order of my preference): “L.A. Confidential,” “The Fully Monty,” “Titanic” … previews for coming attractions … “Good Will Hunting” … the notice about being quiet … the commercial featuring the dancing soft drink cup and box of popcorn … staring at the EXIT light for two hours … and “As Good As It Gets.”
And yet, year after year, I would dutifully watch the progress of the p.r. campaigns, read the prediction columns, soak up the petty savagery of those Brutally Honest Anonymous Oscar Ballots … and then write something in the days before the telecast that contained a faint hint of knowing what I was talking about.
(Basically, what I do every other week … only about the Academy Awards.)
This year, though … just didn’t feel like it.
Sure, the movies were about Serious Subjects that were likely to elicit Heartfelt Speeches about Major Issues Affecting Our Country by presenters and winners … but that stuff has never bothered me. That’s why God invented the mute button and, if you’re lucky, brains capable of deciding when to use it.
And we knew weeks ahead of time that this would be a stripped-down, pandemic-aware production — without a host or a full auditorium — so there was nothing new to say about that.
Meanwhile, there is so much publicity given to the steady stream of precursor events that you’d really have to be out of the loop to not take it as a given that there were sure-fire winners such as “Nomadland” and Chadwick Boseman.
What? … No way!
In the end, it was just a movie season that couldn’t snap us out of our collective funk. We were constantly reminded that even the best films couldn’t be watched on the big screen … and that, somehow, made the entire exercise seem, well, smaller.
There’s an old adage (because new adages are too difficult to coin) that the only way to award an Oscar for acting is to have everyone play Hamlet. I like to think it was first said by Laurence Olivier — who actually did win for playing Hamlet — but whoever said it, the point remains:
Your “Nomadland” is someone else’s “As Good As It Gets.”
There was, however, one proclaiming of a Best Picture this week that was a tad less gloomy.
The arbiter of all things cinematic, the Rotten Tomatoes universe, decreed that the unearthing of a lukewarm, 80-year-old review, “Citizen Kane” had been toppled from the top of its ratings list …
… by “Paddington 2.” First, “How Green Was My Valley” … and now this? Maybe that will be the subject of Ashland High grad David Fincher’s sequel to “Mank.”
As it so happens, I feel uniquely qualified to judge this contest, having seen both masterpieces.
It’s pretty close, but “Rain On The Roof,” performed by Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan, blows away Susan Alexander Kane’s “Aria from Salammbo” in the key musical number category … giving the stuffed bear the win against the overstuffed ham.
Of this I am certain. As for the quality of this year’s films, your guess is as good as mine … probably better.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin has been in a hermetically sealed envelope inside a mayonnaise jar on the porch of email@example.com since noon today.