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Flack’s 2015 Oscar Speech

Posted on | February 22, 2015 | Add Comments

Oscars 2015Confused by all the excitement and outrage surrounding this year’s Oscars? Do your homework before the show today, and read my Oscar essay about SelmaAmerican SniperBoyhood, and more. Predictions are included at the end. Here’s the speech/essay:

The awards season hoopla that surrounds the Oscars repeats itself each and every year and, to some extent, with little difference. Months of movie-geek forecasting, last-minute controversy, and other, lesser awards shows lead up to the big night, the Super Bowl of Hollywood, the Oscars. Actually, the show shares a few traits with that football spectacle, though it takes place not at a crowded fields and a packed arena but a Hollywood auditorium and at a podium. Yet like the Super Bowl, the Oscars are the outcome of tireless hype, careful marketing, and a whole lot of preparation; likewise, they inspire obsessively geeky debating, cheers of joy, some unsullied loser faces, and post-event speculation. And then, after a couple of weeks, the dust cloud of glitz and glamour fades away. Remaining hints of Oscar excitement are buried in awards blogs where anxious film-nerds are already predicting next year’s winners. By the time fall comes around, the film world is already revving its engine up again, preparing for another tough battle for gold.

This year’s “battle for gold” has been a little different, and I’m not just saying that to get your attention. Larger debates about race and politics have been at play, lending the event an unexpected touch of “importance”. It’s common for a few films to have their awards standings lightly, slightly tarnished by historical inaccuracy or a celebrity dispute or something else no one could’ve expected. But this year, two films, Selma and American Sniper, didn’t just have to politely sidestep a minor dispute; they had to face industry-wide discord head-on.

Selma, once considered a possible front-runner, was only nominated for two awards: Best Picture and Best Song. Why? The Selma filmmakers opted only to send screeners to the Academy, not other award-show voters, which meant the film was largely shut out of vital pre-Oscar award-show signifiers. There was also an inordinate amount of press lathered on the LBJ-Civil Rights kerfuffle, which involved historians chastizing the film for it’s less-than-squeaky-clean depiction of our 36th President . Both those factors certainly had something to do with the less-than-expected show of love for the film. But it’s hard not to look at the Academy-voting demographic (94% white, 76% male, average age of 63) and think some outmoded views on gender and race may have gotten in the way of nominations for lead actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay (who would’ve been the first black woman to get a Best Director nomination).

Clint Eastwood’s Iraq-war thriller American Sniper, another late entry into the race, got six nominations (Best Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and Sound Editing and Mixing). How did Sniper, which received a fair share of tepid reviews, manage to get so much attention, while Selma, easily one of the best-reviewed films of the year, got sidelined? For one thing, critics don’t vote for Oscars. That demographic I previously mentioned (white, male, and old) may be the type of group that could get behind a film critic David Edelstein called a “Republican platform movie”, despite criticisms of glorified combat sequences and disparaging depictions of the Iraqi people. The Academy also loves a populist favorite and, perhaps perplexingly, Sniper may fill that spot: despite an R rating, the film has made 250 million dollars. Selma, meanwhile, has made 31 million, a third of what Sniper made in it’s first weekend.

So what do all these statistics mean? Are Oscar voters really racists who just love a good, old-fashioned war movie? No (actually, most of them are probably very nice people). But things need to change. I haven’t seen Sniper, but I did love Selma, a terrific film, made by a thoughtful director and starring one incredible actor. Aside from diversity, it was a great movie, and I’m not alone in wishing it had gotten more nominations. So, how will things change? On the bright side, this year’s controversy (which sparked a hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite) may influence voters to diversify future nominees. Yet the problem really lies in the heart of Hollywood. Many reporters have pointed out that all twenty acting nominees this year are white. A disheartening statistic, sure, but even if, say, David Oyelowo had gotten nominated there would still be more white nominees than those of other ethnicities because Hollywood is a largely white industry.

Now let’s look up on the upside. Take a good, hard look at the nominees for Best Picture. Yes, Oscar-baiting Weinstein-approved period pieces The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are on the list. But you’ll also notice the Oscars really love independent movies, the kind that might not have gotten nominated twenty years ago. We can partly thank the new Best Picture rules. In 2010, ten, not five, films were allowed nominations and in 2012, the limit changed again: five to ten is the magic number(s?). I for one, like those rules (though ten would make more sense). But while many predicted the change would allow more big-budget crowd-pleasers to sneak in, the opposite has happened. At the 2010 show, a Hollywood epic (Avatar) lost to a small-scale war-drama (The Hurt Locker). While the Academy next chose a period-piece (The King’s Speech) over a zeitgeist-capturing tech-tale (The Social Network), they’ve since given the big prize to a silent French comedy (The Artist), a quirky thriller (Argo), and a slavery epic (12 Years a Slave), while nominating a diverse range of films (The Tree of Life, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Her, to name the most esoteric).

This year continues that trend, with four of the eight Best Picture nominees being either independent or artsy or both. Those four films are Wes Anderson’s decades-spanning comic-caper The Grand Budapest Hotel, 30-year old Damien Chazelle’s drumming-drama Whiplash, Alejandro Iñáritu’s sorta-one-take showbiz dramedy Birdman, and Richard Linklater’s 12-year coming-of-age epic Boyhood. While acknowledging and bemoaning the Oscar’s lack of diversity, the Academy deserves at least a little credit for recognizing films both big and small. Some writers have complained that 2014 was a weaker-than-usual year for movies, but I was exhilarated, moved, surprised, and wowed by many films, particularly Whiplash, Selma, Birdman, The Wind Rises, We Are the Best!, Ida, Life Itself, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and two big-budget surprises, The LEGO Movie and Edge of Tomorrow. My favorite, however, is Boyhood, a film that evoked feelings of poignancy, honesty, beauty, and the thrill of cinema in ways I’ve never experienced at another movie. For my money, it’s going to walk away with Best Picture (though look, up in the sky and watch out for Birdman) and the 12-years-in-the-making win will be well-deserved.

Predictions

Best Picture:
Boyhood

Best Director:
Richard Linklater

Best Actor:
Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Actress:
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Supporting Actor:
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Whiplash

Best Original Screenplay:
Birdman

Best Animated Feature:
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Foreign Language Film:
Ida

Best Documentary Feature:
Citizenfour

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