Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 2:46 PM

The Oscars 2015: My Picks

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement. Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for best picture primarily because – as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor – it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.

I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (The Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture)…

And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

(“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

GTY_neil_patrick_harris_jef_150129_16x9_992My annual rant aside, I’m a little encouraged that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting for the first time. Because, with all due respect to Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Seth MacFarlane, and even accidental comedian James Franco, Harris is the first person with the versatile, vaudevillian talent to emulate the best host ever, Billy Crystal.

Harris is famous for his TV starring roles on Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother. But he demonstrated his sublime suitability for hosting The Oscars with his recurring, JV-hosting gigs at The Tonys (for performances on Broadway) and The Emmys (for performances on TV).

Meanwhile, much is being made about members of the Academy not nominating a single Black in any of the major categories this year.

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I’ve been in the vanguard of those decrying this blackout (pun intended) as the inevitable result of a membership that remains over ninety percent White. But I’ve also been keen to point to black swan years, when these same lily-White members of the Academy not only nominated Blacks but awarded them Oscars. This was the case, most notably, in 2001, when Denzel Washington won for actor in a leading role and Halle Berry won for actress in a leading role.

Not to mention just last year, when 12 Years a Slave won for best picture, Lupita Nyong’o won for actress in a supporting role, and John Ridley won for adapted screenplay.

This is why I continually urge Blacks to focus on integrating the Academy instead of blasting its members every time they fail to fill some unspoken quota of Oscar nominations for Black folks. I also urge them to diversify their work product.

Apropos of the latter, you undoubtedly recall the straight-jacketing racial stereotypes former Sony chairman Amy Pascal was caught recently joking about in leaked e-mails. Well, nothing reinforces such stereotypes quite like leading Black actors, directors, and producers limiting themselves to depictions of the Black experience, which members of the Academy can be forgiven for categorizing as “Black movies.” This, in part, is what inspired my commentary, “Oscar Snubs Selma. Good!” January 16, 2015. Frankly, I think we can do without another movie about slavery or the Black civil rights movement for at least twenty-five years….

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 1.46.00 PMThe point is that there’s a little hypocrisy afoot. But I can think of no better way to comment on it than to share the Black-on-Black criticism critically acclaimed actor Charles S. Dutton hurled at no less a talent than playwright August Wilson. I watched last night, in affirming shock, as Dutton did so on the latest episode of the Emmy-winning documentary series American Masters on PBS.

Wilson of course is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such plays as The Piano Lesson, Fences, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. But Dutton was fulminating with racial indignation at the way Wilson made such a show of criticizing Whites for not doing more to support Black theatre.

Dutton thought this reeked of hypocrisy. Not least because Wilson was propagating his criticism at a time when he was not only the most successful and influential playwright in the history of Black theatre, but also generally recognized as belonging in the pantheon of the greatest playwrights in U.S. history – alongside the likes of Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams. Yet, as Dutton inveighed, Wilson wasn’t opening his plays in Black theatres. He was opening them on Broadway (aka The Great White Way).

By the same token, I think influential Blacks like Oprah making a show of criticizing Whites for not nominating Blacks also reeks of hypocrisy. Not least because these Blacks seem too busy doing business with White members of the Academy to even think about integrating their ranks.

Enough said?

Here are my picks in the only six categories most people care about:

  • Actor in a Leading Role

x001_BM_06511Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): For the same reason the Academy awarded Oscars over the years to seemingly washed-up actors like Christopher Plummer in 2012 and Jeff Bridges in 2010: good old-fashioned sentimentality.

I would be remiss, though, not to mention the commendable performances of British actors Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. What’s more, the X-factor in this category is that many members might vote for Redmayne just to expiate the guilt of telling lies for so many years about reading Stephen Hawking’s celebrated tome, A Brief History of Time. (Chances are very good that seventy-five percent of them had never even heard of his less celebrated The Theory of Everything until it became the title of his biopic.)

  • Actress in a Leading Role

Julianne Moore in Still Alice: Because most Academy voters, whose median age is 62, can so easily identify with her portrayal of a woman struggling with the early ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Actor in a Supporting Role

jk-simmons-closerjpg-0a52c9_1280wJ.K. Simmons in Whiplash: Because this is a chance for the Academy to finally reward him for his body of outstanding work; notwithstanding that he performed his most acclaimed work on TV. Simmons is arguably one of the best actors of his generation, but his lack of leading-man good looks has typecast him as a perennial character actor.

  • Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood: For the same reason her co-star Ethan Hawke would have won, if not for the categorical imperative of awarding J.K. Simmons his de facto lifetime achievement award: the twelve years she committed to making this film amount to the kind of gimmicky feat superficial members of the Academy like to reward. It ranks right up there, for example, with such acting feats as actors gratuitously losing and gaining lots of weight for roles. Never mind snarky reviews suggesting that the best thing about her performance is the restraint she showed over those twelve years by not having any plastic surgery….

  • Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): For having the good sense to cast sentimental favorite Keaton as his lead, and then riding his coattails all the way to Oscar glory.

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  • Best Picture

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Let the 87th Academy Awards show begin!

Related commentaries:
Oscar snubs Selma
Oscars 2014

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