March 1, 2018
Whether it’s Roberto Benigni practically stepping on Steven Spielberg’s head in 1999 when Life Is Beautiful won Best Foreign Language Film or La La Land being announced as Best Picture last year when it was actually Moonlight that received that honor, the moments no one can plan for are what make the annual broadcast of the Academy Awards must-see TV. The social and personal politics behind who wins and who doesn’t, however, are what make the awards worth talking about at all.
If the Oscars were just an opportunity for Hollywood to pat its own back and say “wow, aren’t we great,” the awards would be less than irrelevant for the average person. But often, there are deeper conversations to be had around the movies and individuals who are honored on that grand stage.
In this season of hashtag-driven activism, of cultural shift and hyper-awareness, of #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo, the 90th Academy Awards feel particularly important. The nominees, I believe, reveal much of what has been brewing in the public consciousness for the last several years.
Jordan Peele is the first African-American to be nominated for writing, directing, and producing all in the same year (for Get Out). Greta Gerwig is the first woman to receive a directing nomination for her directorial debut (Lady Bird). Rachel Morrison – who shot Black Panther and has had plenty to celebrate these last two weeks already – is the first woman to receive a cinematographer nomination (for Mudbound).
The Best Picture nominees include what some might call traditional “Oscar bait” like The Post, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, and Dunkirk, but also celebrate smaller, more intimate stories like Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, and Get Out. Then you have what are considered this year’s front-runners in that category The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The two films could not be more contrasting from each other and they’ve been neck and neck throughout awards season. Last year’s La La Land / Moonlight fiasco proved that perhaps it’s not as easy to predict what Academy voters will choose to honor these days.
There’s been an intentional push over the last several years to make the Academy more representative of the audiences it serves. By inviting younger and more racially diverse filmmakers to be part of this voting body, the hope is that a broader spectrum of stories will have the opportunity to rise to the top. I believe the fact that films like Get Out and Lady Bird are included in this year’s crop proves the new model is working. Though it may make it a little more difficult to fill out your own Oscar prediction sheet, it should make for more pleasant surprises in future nominations and, potentially, even in this year’s winners.
The 90th Academy Awards will also feature a special performance by Sufjan Stevens, who will be performing “Mystery of Love” from the film Call Me By Your Name. In addition, he’ll be joined onstage by St. Vincent, Chris Thile (Punch Brothers), and Moses Sumney. Miguel, Mary J. Blige, and Common are also slated to perform during the ceremony.
For the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Academy and People magazine as part of the Oscar Fan Experience red carpet event. All those people sitting in bleachers along the red carpet during arrivals? I help them get checked in, find their assigned seat, and wrangle them across what ends up being a very long – but very exciting! – day. The chance to see this show I love up close after so many years of watching from afar has truly been one of the highlights of my life.
Watch the Oscars on Sunday, March 4, 2018 at 8 p.m. on ABC.