FIRST and foremost, the 90th edition of the Oscars was boring, infinitely boring. I never thought the time would come when I would find the Academy Awards proceedings boring. It was, as usual, long and lasted for about four hours. The host, who did not sparkle, had to remind us how long it would be and how some numbers were meant, it seems, to stretch the event to perpetuity.
Jimmy Kimmel has his own brand of hosting or comedy. I just miss Billy Crystal’s tongue-in-cheek commentaries and singing. At the red carpet, Whoopi Goldberg, who worked with Crystal and the much lamented Robin Williams in stand-up comedy back in the day, was a delight as she proudly showed her gown, shoes and all. She would’ve worked wonders at the 9oth awarding ceremonies of what remains to be still the most prestigious award-giving body this side of showbusiness. It is good, in fact, to think how Whoopi would sound and look that night amid the simmering and seemingly nervous presentors all ready to spit out their discourse on sexual harassment and shout “Time’s Up!”
Remember the time when there were two films on Elizabeth of that age? Remember when Whoopi came out in an Elizabethan coronation gown, her face in white, thanking Elton John for the gown? In that appallingly funny costume, the comedienne successfully mocked the racism prevalent in Hollywood while calling to mind those white-faced white comedians imitating black entertainers imitating white entertainers copying black people. Remember her line? “I am the African Queen.” Of course, she could’ve been referred to the classic movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
But the night of the 90th was mighty serious.
The women were deadly serious. I’m not diminishing the occasion and the rights of the artists to expression but couldn’t there be other forums for that kind of politics? Besides, the films are themselves political and underscoring them and their messages could
have been a more creative way of underscoring political correctness.
Just as there were too-long speeches, there were just too many issues being addressed. The actresses had to underscore the idea that their fight for equality is not just for Hollywood but for other sectors where women are marginalized and not given voices. One felt the battle was token because as they spoke, one could see that these were women and men who had too much surplus to spend on looking good. One was left therefore with many grains of salt to swallow.
Hollywood can be a fad and that night, one had this sense that the main problem for these celebrities is how to sustain the fight on and off the screen.
My question is this: Would the actors who demand equity now stop making films that are exploitative? Would these actresses vociferously calling for change demand as well change in the roles they play?
There were plenty of dreamers the night of the 90th. The word “dreamer” is a new tag for immigrants. If you were following the news, Trump and his administration gave a thumbs-down on migrants from places that are nonwhite, singling Haiti among other places. That night as each presentor walked up the stage and declared themselves dreamers, critics of migration should take heed. Hollywood, cinema and the world of entertainment is founded on dreamers, not the metaphor but the migrants bringing the music of the Old World and the rhythm of the tropics. They were bearing in their soul the stories of their land, stories that would be told in drama, in musicals, and in comedies.
Not everything was bad, not everything was dreary that night. One charming idea was honoring the supporting actors and actresses. “Good old Hollywoood,” I told myself when Eva Marie Saint was called in, a Best Supporting Actress winner for her role in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. The standing ovation was deserved as a clip played of the then very young and lovely actress confronting Karl Malden as the priest, Fr. Barry, demanding to know who killed her brother. Elegant and with a nobility quite rare in many actresses, Eva Marie Saint was lovely and gentle as she waved slightly her hand to request the audience to sit down. She didn’t join the chorus of rhetorics that night but her story about her beginnings was enough to send the message that she was aware of women’s position then. She talked of how she was given one coat to wear all throughout as she fell for Marlon Brando’s dock worker. Then came the anecdote of how, after the producers had left, Edith Head, the multiawarded costume designer, would ask her to join her so they could work on her costume. There in that little tale was sisterhood present in those times.
Eva Marie is 90-plus, a few months older than the Oscars.
Rita Moreno was the next glamour queen of the night. A Best Supporting Actress winner for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story, Rita Moreno was heart-shatteringly beautiful at the age of 86. Krista Smith of Vanity Fair practically represented us in her effusiveness about the actress: Rita Moreno, on the red carpet and in various kinds of media the day after, being talked about for that dress. It was the same dress she wore when she won in 1962, a dress she described as made in the Philippines. It was that famous dress made for her by the late Pitoy Moreno when the actress was in Manila. She called it “classic” and would’ve made Pitoy proud and exuberant.
Rita Moreno was also famous for the shortest acceptance speech. It’s still available, that moment after Rock Hudson handed her the trophy and she said: “I can’t believe it. I leave you with that.”
In the program The Talk during the reunion of the cast of West Side Story on its 50th anniversary, Rita Moreno recalled, together with George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn, how she never really expected to win on their way to the Oscars. Rita recalled how they kept on practicing the “loser’s look,” as the actress was expecting Judy Garland to get it for her heartbreaking performance in Judgment at Nuremberg.
As to who I was expecting to win, I was rooting for the first time for Meryl Streep to get. I know she has won the Oscar several times, and holds the distinction as the most nominated actor, bar none, but this time, in The Post, she was magnificent. If this is mannered acting, then this is cinema and its artifice. As Katharine Graham, she resurrected the persona of a woman who was born to privilege. The character was big but imperfect. In a story that demanded heroism, Streep’s character was honest about the limitations and dangers of her class. When she thus made that seminal turnabout, it was a character that was made splendid by the movement of one who had found a new self—and a new strength. But I guess the voters found the story of a newspaper and journalists fighting a president quite old and gilded. The guild members opted for the transparent and gritty acting of Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand plays the role of a mother whose daughter was raped while dying. She placed three billboards with messages. No spoilers here but for your delectation, please read Tim Parks’s The Feel-Good Fallacies of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.
The theme of Three Billboards…come closest to the agenda of the enlightened men and women of Hollywood vis-à-vis how the rest of the world treats women and girls. That could be one reason why the performance of McDormand resonated more with the guilds. As for the other winners, I marvel at the characterization of Allison Janney as the mother of Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. She is so hateful and gross, one wonders what attracted the voters to her character. Not knowing the actress, I was entranced when this lovely woman stood in triumph, the very antithesis of the loser she essayed in the film about the controversial skater.
I had not seen Darkest Hour, the film about a defining moment in Winston Churchill’s life, and thus cannot comment on the performance of Gary Oldman. I am, however, a fan after seeing him as Dracula in Coppola’s interpretation of blood and vampires. I’m curious how I would react to what seems like a celebration of a heroic prime minister and wartime hero. I’d been watching The Crown, which paints Churchill as someone who was clingy to position and who knew how to manipulate situations to better his position and profile.
Last year the complaint was the ceremony was too white. This year, two presentors made a joke about how the ceremony, onstage and backstage, was too black.
There’s another question: Is there a Latino vote? The song from animated feature film Coco, titled “Remember Me,” was given the Best Original Song prize. The composers were Kristin Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez, the same team behind the Oscar-winning “Let It Go” from Frozen. Was it a sympathy vote, a rallying vote, for Mexico which has been the target of Trump and his minions as they wage fierce and unreasonable battle against migration? Was the vote for dreamers? Anyway, the actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, opened the song with a dreamy intro that segued into a grand and boisterous fiesta.
There were, in my book, two strong contenders for Best Song. There was the rousing gospel from the film Mudbound, sung by Mary J. Blige with music and lyrics from Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson. There was also the raging anthem from The Greatest Showman, called “This is Me.”
Why was Tom Hanks not nominated? Why did Meryl Streep lose? When do we get nominated for Best Foreign Language?
Questions and questions for a night that was meant for answers. Oh, that was fun—some actors led by Kimmel surprised the audience in a nearby cinema to thank them and the rest of the world audience. We are, after all, the reason why movies continue to live on, and why most of us remain crazy over the Oscars. The statue was described by Kimmel as a symbol of how a man should be in Hollywood: he has his hands where you could see them and he does not have a penis. Talk of glamour and language.
For the first time, I felt I was waiting for the names of winners to be announced. Just that. No more and no less.