HOW THEY DID THE OSCARS 2017

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About half an hour out from the end of the 89th Academy Awards I reflected to myself that this had may be one of the better broadcasts of the past decade. Jimmy Kimmel joins Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Tucker from last year as some of the better hosts in recent times the credit for such an achievement should go towards the producers to some extent who have a big role to play in how the show is structured. Jon Stewart for example had good monologues but his second attempt was poorly paced. Hugh Jackman excelled in an opening musical number a few years back but the rest of his show was in search of such an entertaining moment. Kimmel’s show ran like clockwork (wait for it, I’ll get to that later)and made good choices throughout. Food falling from the ceilings owes its sensibility to Ellen DeGeneres ingeniously getting pizza in for starved actresses in glamourous gowns but it worked, it was funny, showed off the scope of the theatre and gave the show a boisterous atmosphere. Having a tour bus of “regular” people stop by and engage with the stars before being shuffled to the exits took courage and despite some taking it all in their stride and shamelessly requesting selfies worked well. Perhaps because. I would like to note that a week ago I urged the Academy to recall moments from the past and reinvigorate a sense of community and coincidentally that is exactly what they did. Montages of previous speeches for acting awards came up before those awards were presented, there call backs to The Apartment, Bonnie and Clyde. The Bridges of Madison County and Back to the Future were fun. The pay off with a parody of it with Kimmel assessing We Bought a Zoo was worth it too. Jackie Chan also showed up but not to present a long overdue stunt category but to revel in his Honourary Oscar given at the previously held Governor’s Ball. Was all of this a coincidence coming after my blog post in a little corner of the internet? You be the judge.

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Whatever your politics the zingers Kimmel came up with were neat “Remember last year when people complained the Oscars were too racist” and he took aim enough at Hollywood itself that it seemed fair. The running gag of a feud with Matt Damon served him well even if the Mean Tweets Oscar Edition lacked teeth due to a primetime audience and maybe even a fear to not piss off those seated in the theatre too much. It should be worth noting that the first Oscar recipient at the first Academy Awards of President Trump was a Muslim with Mahershali Ali justly rewarded for his great work as Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight. I’m just sayin. Justin Timberlake’s opening outside the auditorium before entering it singing Can’t Stop The Feeling followed by a steadicam and some very talented back up dancers was a great way to take something that has been done many times before but never at the Oscars and make the event seem eventful. Seeing all the A-list actresses get down and boogie, Jessica Biel shimmy proudly with her man having his moment helped me forget that I am not really a fan of the song or Timberlake. I’ll give credit where it’s due, Timberlake did a good job and immediately there was a sense of fun in the air. All of the song performances were on key including a nifty idea for John Legend to perform both Audition and City of Stars in one go. Stone and Gosling presenting the songs lacked their usual chemistry but it feels less like a missed opportunity as just two talented actors leaving the singing and dancing to the professionals. Speaking of professionals, Sting’s appropriately pared back performance of Empty Chair was on key and Auli’I Cravalho didn’t miss a beat as she was knocked by one of the blue parasails while singing How Far I’ll Go. The singer is 17 years old and an incredible talent. On a night of great musical performances the highlight was Sara Bareilles singing Both Sides Now during the In Memoriam section, truly breathtaking.

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The video was well timed to have key quotes spoken during musical interludes allowing Gene Wilder, Mary Tyler Moore and Carrie Fisher the last word. Bill Paxton was mentioned by a visibly moved Jennifer Aniston and no doubt will feature in the montage next year. As a child of the 80s and a genre fan Paxton was always going to have a special place in my heart having been killed by a xenomorph, the Terminator and a Predator. Like Carrie Fisher though he was more than a genre actor, he was an artist with wonderful insight into the nature of storytelling and filmmaking. In a perverse way the Memoriam section is always the most moving piece of the ceremony and the one I look forward to the most. This year was exceptionally well done although sadly the photo of very much alive The Piano producer Jan Chapman was part of the montage when The Piano‘s costume designer the late great Janet Patterson’s name came onscreen.Image result for costume designer janet patterson An excellent piece over at the wonderful film website Dark Horizons suggests that a google search was done to select the photo rather than making contact with her agency or loved ones for one to be put forward. Perhaps a reflection of cutting down on costs or cutting corners in this economy but a mistake that hopefully will remind all involved that if something is worth doing (and honouring your community’s lost artists would be one wouldn’t it?!) then it should be done well. Dwayne Johnson rocked up to represent incredibly popular movie stars of blockbusters that weren’t Oscar nominated (as well as being in Moana) with an abundance of charisma, muscles and good humour. The Hollywood crowd really got into the spirit of things standing up for the White Helmets, NASA hero Katherine Johnson, Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Michael J. Fox, and cheering loudly when 5 time nominee Amy Adams walked on to the stage. Ironically Kimmel the host got “a sitting ovation” as the audience found their seats after boogieing to Timberlake.

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Of all the winners I’m happy enough with the results, I didn’t have a favourite out of them and clichéd as it is I still believe being an Oscar nominee means something. That being said I was very pleased to see Kevin O’Connell win for Best Sound Mixing. I long suspected Hacksaw Ridge may grab a few tech awards and Arrival winning Best Sound Editing immediately before Best Sound Mixing threw me out of sorts. Suddenly I realised what a worthy nominee Arrival was and that it could win the next award. That is when Kevin O’Connell on the occasion of his 21st Oscar nomination snagged his first Oscar. The icing on the cake was his moving speech acknowledging his mother.

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The night before the Oscars I called my best friend. I predicted like last year there maybe a split between Best Picture and Director, Jenkins would get Best Director and La La Land would get Best Picture. He told me he believed Damien Chazelle would get Best Director and Moonlight would win Best Picture. My friend’s prediction turned out to be wrong for about two minutes and then it became right for all eternity. It all feels silly to react so strongly to this mistake at the Oscars. As such an well oiled machine it seemed impossible that such a thing would occur but in the grand scheme of things you don’t even have to look further than the ceremony itself to see real issues to care about like the work of the White Helmets in the Middle East going into damaged buildings from war to rescue people out of the rubble. A bunch of wealthy movie producers thought they won the greatest award in the film industry and then had to realise that for now they are just Academy Award nominated professionals. Fuck try hiking a mile out of your village just to get clean water. Yet I was caught up in the watercooler moment as much as anyone. Again Dark Horizons has a great piece about most likely what happened. Older presenters sometimes get flustered and lose their spots at award ceremonies, young presenters do too. In hindsight we can all say that Warren Beatty could have easily taken the mike and said something is wrong here we need to check this but in the history of the Oscars how often has the wrong envelope been handed to anybody. In the moment when something goes wrong it is very difficult to react, to see all the angles and know what to do. Once things started happening Warren and Jimmy Kimmel recognised they had a responsibility to react and to speak. They did well. oscars-2017-front.jpgThere’s no doubt that in the confusion of the situation La La Land‘s producer Jordan Horowitz at a moment of great professional disappointment spoke clearly and pointedly about what was going on. Holding up the card to got across to everyone what was happening. If you look though back at the footage he is disrespectful a little to Beatty who was clearly going back to the mike to explain. I’ve heard a couple of good under the bus jokes about Warren handing the envelope to Faye and that’s fine but I would remind people that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty have done some of the best movies of the past century and respect should be shown at all times to them. Image result for oscars 2017Also the people in the control room of the telecast and working the cameras did magnificent work reacting in real time. Alas Sammy Davis Jr is no longer on hand to run with such moments. The million dollar question for me is who raised the alarm? Did Warren pull somebody over, did the accountants realise the wrong envelope had been given or do the producers of the show actually know the results ahead of time even it has been long reported that nobody knows until the envelopes are opened on the night? This was an unfortunate event, I understand heads will roll at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and AMPAS are unlikely to use them next year if they do use them in the future. There’s a part of me that just recognises that statistically shit happens and another part that recognises that when mistakes are made you have to learn from them. I feel bad for everybody involved even as I recognise there are more important things in the world to feel bad about.

I suspect the Academy will seek out a returning host next year, when something goes wrong you want to rebrand with something familiar (comforting) and respected (who drew good ratings for their telecast) and so therefore I believe Ellen DeGeneres better keep her dance card free this time of year in 2018. That being said I really enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel and I hope that we see him again soon as well as producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd. For me this might have been the best overall Oscar telecast since 2005 and the legacy of it should be more than this one mistake.

-Lloyd Marken

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MOONLIGHT ILLUMINATES THE HARSHNESS AND HOPEFULNESS OF LIFE AND LOVE

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Moonlight is the dark horse that could upset 14 time nominee La La Land at the Oscars this year for Best Picture. A lot of people are championing this coming of age tale which represents a new form of African-American masculinity onscreen and is an emotionally moving character study and performance piece. I went in excited by the high praise given by others to it but I left applauding the heart and soul put into the film by its makers but not necessarily moved in my heart and soul as much as I had hoped.

The most moving scenes may be at the beginning where a young boy named Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert)is being bullied by schoolmates while his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) works shifts as a nurse and is starting to take drugs and have strange men around their apartment. Left to fend for himself, a drug dealer named Juan notices him one day and befriends him. Why he feels compelled to do this is only hinted at but he is played by Mahershala  Ali whose performance looms over the rest of the film. He is the only positive male figure the boy nicknamed Little will ever have teaching him how to swim in one beautiful scene of the boy being cradled in his arms amongst the waves. Related imageThis is a hard man who shows this boy nothing but gentleness, the most obvious answer to why is he immediately recognised something in Little of himself and wants to protect the innocence he has lost but this man is a criminal and there are limits to what he can do. Perhaps we’re all protective of children and their fragility, there is a scene where Chiron asks what a certain word his mother called him means and it kind of breaks your heart.

The second act is about Chiron’s (now played by Ashton Sanders) sexual awakening and a pivotal moment in his life where he reaches a fork in the road and decides on one path. One of his only friends from the first act Kevin (originally Jaden Piner and now here Jharrel Jerome)is still friends with him here as he is being bullied by a kid named Terrel (Patrick Decile)and his mother’s drug use has escalated. Image result for moonlight movieWhen we meet him in the third act he seems destined to follow the path he chose previously which offers a sense of strength but can only end up being a life half lived. Kevin (Andre Holland) calls him up from out of the blue and so Chiron now known as Black (Trevante Rhodes) meets with him, the two men now in their twenties discuss life like people much older. Decisions have given them responsibilities, limited their future choices and left them feeling stuck in very narrow existences and afraid to communicate what they truly want. One of them has broken free of the life of a criminal and the other has closed himself off to love. The third act offers no easy solutions but it leaves you feeling hopeful that the orbit of these two individuals will pull each other into happier lives for them both.

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The casting of Little/Chiron/Black in this film is phenomenal,  in particular Trevante Rhodes who looks very different from Ashton Sanders mimicks a lot of the facial expressions of Sanders brilliantly allowing us to see clearly the boy in the man. For a character often too shy to express himself it is an internal performance from all 3 actors and spellbindingly effective as representing the growth of someone from childhood to adult. Naomie Harris playing the mother through the three time periods shot all her scenes in 3 days and shows the nightmarish depths of an addict without becoming a caricature. Again though her best scene is maybe not with her son but her stand-off in the first act with Ali. Singer Janelle Monae is having a great award season with this and her work in Hidden Figures, here plays the most maternal figure Chiron has in his life.

This is a passion project for director Barry Jenkins who wrote the screenplay based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and honoured similar experiences they both had growing up in that time as black men in Florida with mothers who suffered from drug addiction. Jenkins builds up tension well in scenes by playing in real time with the limited perspective of an individual. We feel the danger of Juan’s work without a scene of violence just by following him on his rounds. Image result for moonlight movie gifsOne particular shot of Chiron when he makes a decision that will change his life is strikingly beautiful and sets up his actions with a bang. Finally the way a scene in a diner is shot at the end orientates us to the whole shop and lets the scene play out in real time as two men are now forced to say things to each other in person instead of down a telephone line and they’re terrified of what the other guy will say. I hope that’s not too vague but ten years ago there was a movie that everybody referred to as the gay cowboy movie and yes there were cowboys in it and yes they were gay but it was ultimately a tragic love story and I’d hate to see this film reduced to similar shorthand.

If there is one complaint it maybe that some scenes go on too long due to the real time nature of the pacing and the film therefore drags a little for such a runtime. Some scenes are in slow-mo and I understand the reasoning behind it but think it was not always necessary. Shooting on location, sunny Miami is seen in a new light here and another particular strong point of the way the film is made is the sound design and editing which always lets us feel the world around us. Sometimes we hear the beach without seeing the water and we know the diner is emptying in third act because we can hear the bell on the door.

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This can be a bleak unsatisfying film for some but I ultimately left it hopeful having felt a great sense of empathy for the kind of life I’d never lived in a community I’d never been a part of. Empathy and understanding and love are some of the greatest things the arts can give us for others and for ourselves. At the end of this film I was hopeful for Chiron and I felt a great deal for him. If the film was at time slow telling its story it was no less an important story to have been told.

-Lloyd Marken