It’s not hard to see why cinephiles who enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the Oscars are worried about the future of that ceremony. If you were to google “Oscars 2021,” most of the first page of results is trying to answer the question “How to watch the Oscars?” Seemed like a question that shouldn’t really need to be asked, but then consider what the Oscars actually is: a TV show about a year in movies. TV and movies. Two things that, while easily understood in concept, aren’t exactly the same as they once were. Both are changing quickly, sadly for those of us who love the old ways.
On Friday, I went to a movie premiere in an actual theater. I saw the new Mortal Kombat. It was great. Not the movie; the movie was perfectly passable. I confess I lack the deep background in the video games that inspired the film, so a lot of the Easter eggs for fans were lost on me. The story had a lot of holes, as what little plot was there existed simply to connect one fight scene to the next. And perhaps a trifling concern to the diehard fans, but the namesake tournament didn’t even take place. It was all leading up to a supposed sequel.
So what exactly was great about it, you might ask? The experience, of course. Going to a theater, standing in a short but respectable line, getting a physical ticket after paying, overspending on popcorn and soda, surveying the lay of the land once entering the theater to find a seat. Once in the seat, I couldn’t tell if I’d grown wider or the seats were simply narrower than I remembered. Maybe I was just out of practice because it’s been more than six months since I was last in a theater seat. Maybe it was all three.
I always love a trip to the movies, but I’m not usually one to enjoy or seek out bad movies for the enjoyment of the badness. In a regular year, I most likely would have let Mortal Kombat come and go without ever seeing it in the theater. Especially when it’s also on HBO Max, as a part of that rapidly changing world of movies I mentioned earlier. But everything about the experience in the theater was elevated because it had been so long. I’ve missed it. And I don’t know exactly how things will go once we’re on the other side of the pandemic, but I’m scared for it.
The Oscars are a chance to celebrate a great slate of films despite trying and difficult times, and hopefully it feels just as good as a subpar movie and overpriced popcorn.
Ten Worth Your Time
Nomadland was a beautiful film to look at. I was particularly susceptible to its grand vistas of the West, especially its prolonged, lingering take near the Badlands and Wall Drug. The signs, seemingly every 25 feet on Interstate 90 for miles and miles before you’re even close to the tourist attraction, were simple and wildly effective. Curiosity got the best of me. Had to stop. But those beautiful images, for me, stood in for a deeper story that didn’t really resonate. If the film wins Best Picture and Best Director as expected, it will be an incredible step forward for the Academy, and I’ll never begrudge such advancement. But it’s not my favorite film of the bunch, and this piece from Slate lands on some of the reasons why.
Category fraud, or the strategic placement of nominees in certain categories to improve chances of winning, is as old as the Oscars itself, but it’s particularly noticeable in Judas and the Black Messiah. Daniel Kaluuya should win Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Fred Hampton, but his co-star LaKeith Stanfield, also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, stole the show. But he was the fraud in this nomination. It’s his film, and owns it.
I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing, but his directing chops are still developing. His Trial of the Chicago 7 is a classic Oscar movie, but Sorkin’s soaring words aren’t enough to deliver it big wins tonight. It’s still fun to watch actor and director talk through the creative process of one of the film’s climactic scenes for Vanity Fair.
Minari was a beautiful film. A quiet meditation on the most American of stories. It was injected with lots of comedic heart in the form of a lovable grandmother portrayed brilliantly by Yuh-Jung Youn. She’s getting recognized this awards season after a long career, and honestly, good for her. :
My favorite film of the year is David Fincher’s Mank. The film received the most nominations for this year’s Oscars, but it seems to be the conventional wisdom that it won’t win many. It has been all but written off by critics. Some call it too navel-gazey because it’s about the writing of Hollywood’s most famous movie, Citizen Kane. But I love that, and more to the point, it’s not even about Citizen Kane so much as it’s about Herman Mankiewicz. It’s a character study and a good one at that. Phooey to those who say it’s boring. They did not watch the same movie I did. Mank’s grandson, Ben, has a place in keeping old Hollywood alive as a host for Turner Classic Movies, and this is a great interview with him.
Not sure what to think about Promising Young Woman? That’s OK; nobody else is either. That’s the fun of it, argues this article from The Washington Post.
I didn’t want to watch Sound of Metal. The story of a rock drummer losing his hearing, jeopardizing his passion…It just seemed like too much, too heavy to be enjoyable. I was wrong, and I’m glad I was. Riz Ahmed’s portrayal of Ruben is tragic and uplifting and undeniably human. A real-life account of the loss shown in the film: ‘Like losing a hand’: musicians on the crisis in hearing loss | Music | The Guardian
Part of the fun of the Oscars is the should-have-been conversations that happen in the aftermath. Sometimes the Academy gets it right (see last year’s win for Parasite). But more often it gets it wrong. Here’s a collection of should-have-won nominees. Best Picture Oscar Snubs: 23 Nominees That Should’ve Won | IndieWire
This is just a lot of fun with great movies of recent past. The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, Amanda Dobbins, and Chris Ryan look back through the Oscar winners of the 2000s to draft their super slates in all of the major nomination categories. The Oscar Winners Draft: 2000s Edition - The Ringer
If you subscribe to HBO Max, check out the miniseries from CNN called The Movies. It’s a look at the decades that made Hollywood what it is today, and it’s informative and enjoyable with lots of talking heads you'll know and respect.
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