Safe, but Sound: Thoughts on Last Night's Oscars

“This is a really long show,” said Jimmy Kimmel while introducing last night’s Academy Awards broadcast. Kimmel started on the wrong note. The Oscars never seemed to end, but the duration wasn’t the problem. The monotony was. I could barely hear much of the show at the Oscar party I attended, and after a while, that wasn’t a bad thing because the banter in the room was often much livelier than the telecast. There wasn’t any big hiccup in the show, yet Kimmel kept apologizing and asking folks to move it along when he had no reason to say sorry. The absence of Envelopegate 2 stressed a big takeaway from the evening: safe doesn’t make for great TV.

The few gags that worked, like jokes about Christopher Plummer’s age, shout outs to Meryl Streep, and having Helen Mirren present a jet ski like a model from The Price is Right to encourage brief speeches, were mostly recycled material. The ones that didn’t work, like the field trip to a screening of A Wrinkle in Time, were more painful than last year’s bit that trucked unsuspecting tourists into the Oscars. These pizza party moments really need to go.

One can’t really begrudge Kimmel, the Academy, or anyone else for playing it safe this year. After last year’s embarrassment and two previous years of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy didn’t need any bad publicity. Kimmel also had the unenviable task of hosting the first Oscars after the Harvey Weinstein scandal and of continuing the momentum for the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements propelled throughout the season. Aside from a few good jokes, like addressing the controversial wage gap between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for reshoots of All the Money in the World and chirping that Williams should follow her co-stars lead and donate her stipend to #TimesUp in the spirit of equality, Kimmel left it to the winners to offer calls to action. Some of them delivered on that front.

Frances McDormand easily provided the highlight of the night with her mic drop of an acceptance speech. She made viewers freeze as soon as she took the stage and announced that she had a few things to say, delivering the line with the same don’t-mess-with-me attitude that won her the Oscar for playing Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. She called upon all the female nominees to stand up and be acknowledged. The show of sisterhood was a welcome moment of positivity in a season that has been overwhelmingly negative. It was also a chance to steer the conversation in a new direction and start rebuilding. She left the audience with two words—“inclusion rider”—and invited stars to attach to their contracts a clause for better representation in the films in which they appear. Sometimes the inevitability of a win can be put to good use.

Other highlights of the night included Allison Janney’s well-deserved win for Best Supporting Actress for her viciously funny performance as the mom from hell in I, Tonya. The win was a coup for great character actors everywhere. Janney provided one of the show’s few genuine laughs by nabbing her Oscar and declaring “I did it all by myself” before shouting out to the I, Tonya cast and crew, particularly her friend Steven Rogers who wrote the part of LaVona specifically for her. Equally worth was Best Actor winner Gary Oldman, who was gracious in accepting his award for his titanic performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

The Oscar win that has long eluded British cinematographer Roger Deakins proved another of the show’s highlights. The prolific master lenser finally won on his fourteenth nomination after missing out for films such as Skyfall, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Man who Wasn’t There, and The Shawshank Redemption. His win was one of two for director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (the other being for visual effects) and helped show the efforts of Canadian talents at the ceremony.

In addition to Villeneuve’s film, Guillermo del Toro’s Toronto-shot The Shape of Water won the big prize, nabbing Best Picture and Best Director. The Academy brought back Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for a do-over after last year's mix-up and they were good sports and got it right presenting to del Toro. The Mexican director is a Toronto resident and shared the Best Picture Oscar with Canuck producer J. Miles Dale while the Canadian trio of Paul Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau won Best Production Design for the film and gave shout outs to the local crew. The win for The Shape of Water is a victory for the Toronto scene just two years after locally shot Spotlight nabbed Best Picture. Dale called the win "a watershed moment" for Canadian film and hopefully the success of The Shape of Water's transformation of Toronto will help the city continue to attract major projects. Toronto had a good night with all of the winners in top categories save for Get Out making a premiere stop at the Toronto International Film Festival, particularly Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri; I, Tonya and Call Me By Your Name, which won the People’s Choice Award and runner-up spots at the fest. Janney in particular gave a shout out to the festival in the press room and noted the life I, Tonya had after exploded at Toronto and having the biggest sale of the fest.

The Shape of Water’s win was a mild surprise over Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, but a welcome one. del Toro’s film was a magical feat and beautifully crafted—an astonishing production shot on a modest $20 million dollar production that looks far costlier. On the other hand, the loss of Three Billboards proved a win to an extent for the pervasive negativity that grows with every award season. The film was the target of several aggressive takedown pieces at outlets including The New York Times and The Daily Beast with writers arguing that the film offered redemption for a racist and perpetuated un-woke worldviews. Little to none of the bad press was done in the service of The Shape of Water, however, so one can’t draw a cause and effect between the two.  

As one of the few genre wins on the Best Picture front after The Silence of the Lambs and The Return of the King, The Shape of Water’s Best Picture coup helped with the Academy’s newly pronounced open-mindedness. The winners overall reflected a better effort towards diversity and inclusion with Best Foreign Language Film going to Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman and Best Original Screenplay going to Jordan Peele’s horror satire on race relations Get Out.

One of the crowning moments of the night was the inevitable win for Call Me By Your Name screenwriter James Ivory, who took the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The win was the first for the 89-year-old filmmaker and pioneer of independent film. Ivory thanked his partner, the late producer Ismael Merchant with whom he delivered numerous great films under Merchant Ivory Productions. Ivory previously nominated for directing The Remains of the Day, A Room with a View, and Howard’s End, for latter two earning Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars for Merchant Ivory scribe Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. His win in the same category 25 years after Jhabvala was a fine continuation of their legacy. And his Timothée Chalamet t-shirt was one of the better fashion choices of the night!

The spirit of inclusion didn’t prevail, however, for The Greatest Showman’s inclusion anthem “This is Me,” which brought the house down in Keala Settle’s showstopper of a performance. The moment was the strongest of the musical numbers and nominees and was flat-out robbed by the pathetically simple “Remember Me” from Coco. Common and Andra Day’s performance of “Stand Up for Something” was also excellent with a song equally worthy of the award.  Ok, so maybe there was something to apologize for – but the Best Original Song winner was hardly Jimmy’s fault.

With a night of an overall slate of worthy winners and little reason to fault the host aside from being needlessly safe, the Academy can breathe a sigh of relief over a controversy free event. Now go crazy next year!

And picks for the best on the red carpet!

Best dressed: Gal Gadot


Betty Gabriel

Sandra Bullock

Jennifer Lawrence

Meryl Streep

And Jane Fonda - nearly #1

Now on to the Canadian Screen Awards!