I’d like to report a crime.
On Sunday night, three 13 ½ inch golden statues were taken from their rightful owners at a party in Los Angeles.
Now, I understand that this might seem like a petty crime compared to the heist-in-progress of the sanity of American citizens in the current presidential primaries. But film is both an outlet and an important tool, capable of opening, expanding, and changing minds through storytelling. And this year, some important stories were told by some seriously talented people. Less so than in previous years, for sure, but what is driving this industry when it won’t appropriately celebrate the real talent? Unfortunately the answer is probably the same thing that is driving the elections: money and power.
Let’s be clear: Eddie Redmayne delivered the best acting performance of the year, male or female, supporting or lead. He was captivating and nuanced. A common criticism of this category is its proclivity towards recognising actors who undergo a physical transformation. In this case, however, this criticism further bolsters Redmayne’s case and weakens that of the grossly undeserving winner Leonardo DiCaprio.
In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays Einar, a transgender painter in 1920s Denmark coming to terms with her true identity as a woman, Lili. The film spans Einar’s marriage to his wife Gerda and his eventual gender reassignment surgery. But Lili’s (or Redmayne’s, for that matter) physical transformation is not a pivotal or sensationalised part of this film. The Danish Girl is about an evolving relationship between two people very much in love, the fluidity of gender and sexuality, and the transcendent power, and pain, of love. The Danish Girl is a beautiful film and hinges entirely on the perfect, emotive performances of Redmayne and Alicia Vikander (who deservedly won, albeit Best Supporting Actress instead of the far-more-appropriate Best Actress).
Meanwhile, DiCaprio’s performance as an 1800s trapper fighting for survival in the North American wilderness was a one-note trudge. He and the film’s camp wanted us to be awed that he withstood sub-zero temperatures and ate raw liver while filming. Promotional soundbites from DiCaprio included, “It was the most difficult film, I think, that any of us have ever done” and “Every day was a battle for myself and a lot of other people not to get hypothermia,” as though such things merit acting accolades. Indeed they might, if they are accompanied by a deserving performance. In fact, and there will be more on this later, Tom Hardy endured those same conditions and gave an absolutely incredible performance. But his performance was not award-worthy because of that endurance alone.
DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant is monotone and could have been easily executed by any number of actors. It was an injustice not only to the immensely deserving Redmayne but to DiCaprio himself, who as one of the best actors of our time deserved to be held to a standard where he was recognised for his best work, not just the sum total recognition of his cinematic catalogue to date.
Best Supporting Actor
Speaking of The Revenant, Tom Hardy as DiCaprio’s antagonist delivered a fantastic, subtle performance, imbuing his character with nuances it’s difficult to imagine any other actor pulling off. It was possibly the best performance of his career to date and it’s a damn shame he wasn’t awarded for it.
The only positive of DiCaprio’s win was his acknowledgement of Hardy’s “fierce talent on screen” in his acceptance speech. The only positive of Hardy’s loss was that, based on this performance, it certainly won’t be his last chance at a win and we can all look forward to his next award-worthy performance.
Spotlight’s win over The Big Short was insult to the traumatic head injury that was this year’s weak pool of Best Picture nominees. Spotlight told an important story, and told it satisfactorily. There was nothing special, or even great, about the way it was told, written, or performed. It simply did the job.
The Big Short, on the other hand, also told an important story, but in a creative way, with brilliant writing, acting, directing, and editing. They pushed the envelope of storytelling to convey a hugely important narrative with an impressive mix of gravitas and levity. While both films featured ensemble casts, Spotlight’s oftentimes seemed to just be bodies delivering exposition. In The Big Short, however, a combination of perfect casting and a dynamic script told a perhaps even more complex story in an enthralling, heart-expanding way.
It was an overall disappointing year in film, but in the final lap of the slight standouts, Spotlight was fine and The Big Short was great. Giving Spotlight Best Picture was a safe, boring bet from the Academy and a disappointment to the progress of creative storytelling.
In a surprising turn of events, the thieves took some time from their thievery to start a repayment plan for something they took on a previous occasion: the integrity of the awards.
Host Chris Rock, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and a multitude of presenters made sure to address the Oscars’ lack of diversity, which of course is just one symptom of the greater ill that is the lack of opportunities for black actors, writers, and filmmakers. On Rock’s part, he perfectly walked the line between discussing the issue and executing his job as an entertaining host, starting with an opening monologue that saw him hilariously rename the Oscars the “White Peoples’ Choice Awards” and address significant issues of the community with, “This year in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”
He even helped paint a historical context for this stage of the civil rights movement, something people seem so shockingly ignorant to, by explaining that in 1950s and 60s, blacks weren’t protesting Hollywood because, “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. You know, when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.” The proximity of these events is something the country has seemed to conveniently collectively forget, and calling this into the public consciousness is essential to establishing compassion and creating change.
Another standout effort was the moment Kevin Hart took to congratulate the black creative community for their achievements and ask them to stay positive and keep on keeping on, knowing that their time will come. It was beautiful, but incredibly sad. It must be unimaginably exhausting, the constant striving for positivity and hope, always being called on to be patient and be the bigger person. It was a poignant and demonstrative moment, and hopefully the injustice it conveyed was not lost on the audience.
Bits and bobs
- Damn, stage. You looked beautiful and shiny and sparkly as hell. Never change.
- You have to commend the Oscars for always trying new, small ways to improve the production. This year’s best improvement was the presentation of screenwriting nominees by having the script shown on the screen while the presenters read the cues.
- Best sketch performance of the night: Kristen Wiig in The Martian spoof. Amazing.
With no room for argument, these two did it right.
Saoirse Ronin in Calvin Klein
Eddie Redmayne in Alexander McQueen