Full disclosure: I love an awards ceremony. Present me with a red carpet and a statuette at the end of it and you have my undivided attention. Whether it’s portrait artist of the year, cake baking or a Pulitzer, I’m rarely happier than when watching people engage in the absurdity of trying to win a prize.
For me, the Oscars are the zenith of entertainment. That filmmaking can be reduced to a crude competition more in keeping with an infant-school prizegiving — replete with all its associated politicking, tears and tantrums — is too brilliantly vulgar to miss. For years, I have blinked awake into the small hours just to marvel at what crud will be rewarded next.
Naturally, I barely ever agree with the academy’s decisions. That’s sort of the point. I’ve always assumed the awards were designed to be inflammatory — to stir emotions and to get it wrong. In recent years, however, my attention has been waning. I’m not alone. Audience figures for the Oscars have plummeted as the show becomes ever more scripted and predictable. Post Weinstein, and in a Hollywood paralysed by the fear of impropriety, this Sunday’s ceremony promises to be the most turgid yet.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to come up with a new set of categories. With a spicier flavour, and an alternative view. Here are the nominations . . .
First of all, the actor’s award for turning up. In the #MeToo world, men are having to consider their public appearances very carefully. Not saying the right thing, not wearing a Time’s Up pin, failing to remonstrate about the injustices facing women in the industry — actors are now being scrutinised to the nth degree. Sam Rockwell got in terrible trouble at the Golden Globes for failing to acknowledge “the issue” in his speech. Conversely, Matt Damon can’t open his mouth without being accused of mansplaining. Casey Affleck, last year’s leading actor (who would ordinarily present this year’s best actress prize), has already abdicated his award duty because of allegations of sexual harassment that resurfaced in 2016.
In this context, I salute any man prepared to step up on a podium. Gary Oldman, a man previously accused of bad behaviour (now married for the fifth time), is odds-on favourite to win best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. I bet he kind of wishes this was not “his year”.
Best prop in a leading role. Quite why anyone also hasn’t written a major thesis on the significance of poisoned mushrooms in this year’s cinematic releases is beyond me. A key plot device in period dramas The Beguiled, Lady Macbeth and Phantom Thread, in each instance the lethal fungi have been a vital dramatic agent, facilitating the empowerment of oppressed, corset-wearing women.
However, there is stiff competition regarding dramatic foodstuffs this season. Let us consider the morning toast in the violently noisy breakfast scenes of Phantom Thread, or the poor peach desecrated by young Elio in Call Me by Your Name. Both contributed to this year’s most disturbing sound effects. The peach, in particular, deserves some recognition for its willingness to commit to the role.
How about the most unlikely feminist pin-up? This year’s shoo-in for that title is the writer/director Martin McDonagh and his film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a title that should also be garlanded for its comma usage). The script features a headstrong woman who does blokey things like blowing up police stations, cursing and drilling holes in dentists’ thumbs. I’m not saying McDonagh isn’t a feminist. I’m sure he really feels the lady plight. I just find it amusing that he’s been charged with speaking our feminine truths. As for his film’s heroine, the actress Frances McDormand, she wins the prize for not following sartorial protocol. At the uniformly all-black Bafta awards a couple of weeks ago, McDormand wore a red, pink and black dress by Zandra Rhodes. Her explanation: “I have a little trouble with compliance.” At this point, no one knows how the Oscar dress code will go down. One producer told the New York Times that it would be “appreciated” if guests would wear a Time’s Up pin. Expect McDormand to show them where to stick it.
So many other movie moments to acknowledge . . . Tastiest Dunkirk refugee? Harry Styles, Tom Hardy or Cillian Murphy. Tough choice. The most thrilling on-screen sexual chemistry, meanwhile, might be that shared by Sally Hawkins and her The Shape of Water aquaman, or the trysts of Call Me by Your Name. But the most delicious encounter, by my reckoning, is the one between Jamie Bell and Annette Bening in the intergenerational weepie Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.
The most obnoxious child? That’s a close-run tie between the screaming six-year-old Moonee in The Florida Project and the precocious infanta figure-skater of I, Tonya. (Side note: this sensational biopic has been cruelly overlooked by the Academy for its fidelity to, and celebration of, the early 1990s wardrobe. Lady Bird has also been ignored for its bang-on 2002 costumes, and Call Me by Your Name for its 1980s shorts and espadrilles. The ineptitude of the costume nomination process is one of my biggest bugbears.)
The couple you least want to have as in-laws? Definitely Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford in Get Out. While the most beatific smile could go to Octavia Spencer, for her role as Zelda in The Shape of Water, or the bedimpled poppet Will Tilston, who plays the eight-year-old guardian of Winnie the Pooh in Goodbye, Christopher Robin.
Which all brings us round to best bear. Which is Paddington 2, of course.
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