Culture Clips: Moving on From the Oscars?

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Yesterday, we talked about Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar speech and briefly mentioned that, relatively speaking, not very many folks watched it.

Oh, sure. In an age in which a hit show might garner 4 million viewers, the 23.6 million folks tuned in to see Janelle Monáe’s shimmery dress and hear Billie Eilish sing “Yesterday” is still a big number. But that means that 6 million people who tuned in last year couldn’t be bothered this year, and they couldn’t all be washing their hair.

So now, the question is … why?

I suggested yesterday that it might have something to do with the growing sociopolitical tenor of the event, and a number of pundits agree. Writing for the right-leaning National Review, Kyle Smith said that politics is the “surest way to alienate your audience.” He added:

Who can blame viewers for running away when the ceremony was so breathlessly, insistently, hysterically PC? Who even heard of half of these presenters brought in to show us the Oscars are diverse? People want stars. What we got instead was a harangue, sometimes in the form of song, sometimes in rap, sometimes in terrible jokes, about the number of black actors nominated for acting honors (one) and the number of female directors nominated (none). Interspersed were assorted ill-advised cheap shots by everyone from Pitt to Joaquin Phoenix, who told us we should feel bad about milking cows. Oh, and a Korean film seen by almost nobody won the top two awards.

But others argue that the awards show didn’t go far enough. Deadline’s Dominic Patten called the telecast “toothless,” arguing that the year was “screaming out for relevance and opportunity,” but the show simply let it slide.

To remind us just how bad Cats was, James Corden’s and Rebel Wilson’s appearance in full furry regalia was the wind blowing through the awards shows graveyard of irrelevance. The fact that no one had the guts to even utter the words Harvey Weinstein, his victims or the fight of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up with the once powerful and now much accused producer currently on trial for rape in New York City right now only made Gervais’ scathing words nearly lost at the end of the Golden Globes last month more biting.

But let’s face it: Setting aside those topical concerns, most pundits said the Oscars had some problems.

Even though the hostless Oscars ceremony was praised last year, the curtain call wasn’t greeted so warmly. Many called the Oscars “driverless,” a fitting description for a show that didn’t seem to know where it was going. Many of the choices made by the producers induced a legion of head-scratching. Why have stars introduce stars to introduce awards? Why were so many Elsas singing?  Wrote Caroline Framke of Variety, “The 92nd annual Academy Awards quickly lost its own plot amid a million distractions courtesy of ABC’s frenetic, often baffling production decisions.”

One of the weirdest choices was the decision to have Eminem rap out “Lose Yourself,” a song for which he earned an Oscar 17 years ago. “It may have worked in the room, and in the living rooms of viewers who still have the song on their workout playlist,” wrote The New York Times’ James Poniewozik. “But energizing the show with nostalgia for a 2002 soundtrack feels a little passive-aggressive toward the movies of 2019.” (Eminem, who didn’t perform the song back when it was originally nominated, chose to accept the invite this time around because “maybe it would be cool.” And while it was cool to the glitterazi who gave Eminem a standing O after his performance, director Martin Scorsese seemed less impressed.)

Even fashion wasn’t above scathing rebuke. When Natalie Portman wore a dress embroidered with the names of female directors overlooked by the Academy, #MeToo activist and actor Rose McGowan fired off a Facebook post criticizing Portman for … agreeing with her, I guess? “I find Portman’s type of activism deeply offensive to those of us who actually do the work,” McGowan said.

Still, the Academy Awards audience and pundits alike appreciated the praise given to Parasite, which won four Oscars including the night’s biggest prize. The movie’s director, newly-minted Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho, says that his work was deeply inspired by Hollywood filmmakers, and he warmly called out Scorsese during his acceptance speech. (Scorsese’s own Best Picture contender, The Irishman, went home empty handed despite 10 nominations.)

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times points out that Parasite and 1917—a film that once was considered the Best Picture frontrunner—were both deeply influenced by video games. Indeed, many movies are taking cues from that entertainment medium. 1917 Director Sam Mendes says that he was influenced by Red Dead Redemption, and Bong Joon Ho says that he wrote with the help of a 3D model of the affluent home where much of the movie takes place. “It was like playing a video game where I could roam around the house through my computer,” he said during the New York Film Festival.

The Oscars also paid tribute (in its annual “In Memoriam” segment) to Kirk Douglas, the 103-year-old Hollywood legend who died just days before the ceremony. (And naturally, other folks are remembering his legacy, as well.) But critics pointed out that the broadcast failed to mention Luke Perry, whose last role was in Best Picture nominee Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. (Other omissions included Disney star Cameron Boyce and longtime comedian Tim Conway.)

Who else wasn’t mentioned? Jussie Smollett, for one. After being at the center of a wild controversy last year (in which he claimed to have been assaulted by two people for being black and gay) that landed him a place on Plugged In’s own Movers and Shakers list for 2019, Smollett was newly indicted on six felony counts of disorderly conduct related to the case.

Birds of Prey will likely not be up for too many Academy Awards next year. But Warner Bros., still hopes to make some money on the thing, so it’s essentially changing the film’s name—at least for ticket buyers. The AMC, Regal and Cinemark theater chains are all listing the movie (the full name of which is actually Birds of Prey [and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn]) to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.

Finally, let me finish with one last Oscars note, and then we can be done with the ceremony forever—or, at least, for a few months. The award show’s famed gift bags (which are given to every acting nominee) were valued at $225,000 this year. Included in the bag were a two-week cruise to sunny Antarctica, valued at $78,000; A weeklong stay that the Golden Door spa in Escondido, California ($10,000) and a $20,000-value matchmaking service from Drawing Down the Moon Matchmaking. (Weird … doesn’t seem like Hollywood stars would have much trouble finding dates.) But according to Eater.com, the best part of the gift bag were the two Milano cookies included—worth a grand total of 49 cents.

Hopefully, cow’s milk played no part in their making.

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