Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, March 05, 2018

2017 Film Roundup, Part 1: The Oscars and the Year in Reviews

(The annual post-Oscar film roundup is a pre-blog tradition, delayed this round. It comes in four parts – the other three coming later.)

2017 was a decent year for films, with a solid crop of noteworthy movies. Many of the best were genre pictures, including the usual superhero flicks, but also a science fiction film, a western and a monster movie.

Jimmy Kimmel did a good job overall hosting this year's Oscars. He offered (and delivered) on a jet ski to the winner with the shortest speech. His too-long-and-unnecessary gag last year was a Hollywood tour coming into the theater, and this year it was the Oscar attendees surprising moviegoers across the street. Other than that, though, the ceremony didn't have that much extraneous padding. The themes for this year's show were very consciously about diversity and inclusion, plus several nods to the "Me Too" movement to end sexual harassment. (This also made for awkwardness when Kobe Bryant's film won Best Animated Short, given the rape allegations against him.)

Lupita Nyong'o and Kumail Nanjiani, both immigrants, had some funny banter, then gave a shout-out to the "Dreamers," the children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants. Nyong'o's was a doubly good choice, given her Oscar acceptance speech in 2014, about holding onto dreams, one of the more memorable ones of the past several years.

The set was spectacular – 45 million Swarovski crystals that changed with the lighting – but also a little distracting.

As usual, the Oscars' montage game was strong. The acting categories had great little montages of previous winners, and a longer piece celebrated 90 years of Oscar-nominated films. Native American Wes Studi (who's a Vietnam vet, it turns out) introduced a montage honoring veterans, and even said some words in Cherokee.

Some of the older presenters (Eva Marie Saint and Christopher Walken) were preceded by a clip of their Oscar-winning work, which was both smart for younger viewers and a nice reminder for the older set.

Allison Janney probably had the funniest acceptance speech, thanks to starting, "I did it all myself." She waited for the laughter to die a bit, then gave gracious thanks, including a nice shout-out to Joanne Woodward for encouraging her to continue acting. Other winners flashed some wit as well: Lee Smith, who won the Oscar for editing for Dunkirk, said, "I'm trying to wrap this up; I'm an editor, I should be able to do this."

Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph arguably were the funniest presenters, arriving with the heels in hand because they said their feet hurt, and assuring the audience that the Oscars hadn't become too black, because they had seen plenty of white people backstage.

In a cool gesture, screenwriter and actress Rachel Shenton used American sign language in her acceptance speech for Maisie Sly, the deaf child lead actress of the Best Live Action Short, The Silent Child. The director (and Shenton's fiancé), Chris Overton, mentioned they'd gotten funding on Indiegogo. (It's neat to think that an Oscar short was crowd-sourced.)

The screenplay categories were even stronger than usual this year. I haven't seen Call Me By Your Name yet, but it was lovely to see 88-year-old veteran filmmaker James Ivory become the oldest winner in either of the writing categories. He gave a gracious speech thanking the book's author and his long-time and now deceased filmmaking partners, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and producer Ismail Merchant. I cheered when Jordan Peele won Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, and would have been likewise thrilled if The Big Sick won.

Although a fine actor, Gael Garcia Bernal was unfortunately out of tune when he started to sing eventual Best Original Song winner, "Remember Me," but luckily when the chorus came in, single-named singer Miguel took over lead vocals and rescued the melody. Sufjan Stevens and his band also sounded a bit off on "Mystery of Love," although it's a pretty song. The performance of "Mighty River" by Mary J. Blige (also nominated for acting!) was solid and those for "Stand Up for Something" and "This Is Me" were boisterous.

For the last several years, the Montage of Death has been accompanied by a good chanteuse, and it's worked well. This year, Eddie Vedder delivered a fine performance of the late Tom Petty's "Room at the Top," which made for a nice change of pace.

The most memorable speech of the night was probably from Best Actress winner Frances McDormand. She started with, "I'm hyperventilating. If I fall over, pick me up because I've got some things to say." She proceeded to give a fiery speech, calling on every single woman nominated in every category to stand with her, and then addressed producers and studio execs: "We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Invite us to talk, and we'll tell you all about them." She ended by saying, "two words: inclusion rider," which is a contract provision that requiring some degree of diversity in a film's cast and crew.

As far as the awards themselves, I'd have given Best Sound Mixing to Baby Driver over Dunkirk, which deserved its Best Sound Editing win. As much as I love Allison Janney, who was great as usual in I, Tonya, I thought Laurie Metcalf gave a meatier and more varied performance in Lady Bird and should have won Best Supporting Actress. Roger Deakins winning for Best Cinematography after 13 previous nominations for great work was long overdue. I've been a big fan of Sam Rockwell since he showed his versatility in 1999 as both a creepy killer in The Green Mile and a panicked goofball in Galaxy Quest, so I was happy to see him win. Likewise, Gary Oldman has been amazingly malleable in his roles and consistently fantastic, but due to much of his work being in genre flicks instead of "prestige" films, he hasn't always gotten recognition. It was nice to see him win. I think my favorite, though, might be Guillermo del Toro's double wins, because he's an imaginative, intelligent, generous, enthusiastic fanboy of a director, and The Shape of Water deserved all its awards, including Best Picture.

Here's del Toro's acceptance speech for director (video):

I am an immigrant like [fellow Mexican directors] Alfonso [Cuarón] and Alejandro [G. Iñárritu], my compadres. Like Gael [García Bernal], like Salma [Hayek] and like many, many of you.

In the last 25 years I've been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere. Because I think that the greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.

The place I like to live the most is at Fox Searchlight because in 2014, they came to listen to a mad pitch with some drawings and the story and a maquette. And they believed that a fairy tale about an amphibian god and mute woman done in the style of Douglas Sirk, and a musical and a thriller was a sure bet.

I want to thank the people that have come with me all the way: Kimmy, Robert, Gary, Wayne and George. And my kids. And I wanna say, like Jimmy Cagney said once, 'My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my brothers and sisters thank you. And I thank you very much.'

Here's del Toro's acceptance speech for Best Picture (video):

Growing up in Mexico as a kid, I was a big admirer of foreign films, from films like ET or Willy Wyler or Douglas Sirk or Frank Capra; and a few weeks ago, Steven Spielberg said, “If you find yourself there, if you find yourself in the podium, remember that you are part of a legacy, that you’re part of a world of filmmakers and be proud of it.” I’m very, very proud.

I want to dedicate this to every young filmmaker, the youth that is showing us how things are done, really they are, in every country in the world. I was a kid enamored with movies. Growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen. It happened and I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of a parable of using genre of fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door. Kick it open and come in. Thank you very much.

That's good stuff.

On the reviews. As usual, I try to avoid spoilers and label them, and also follow the rule: if it appears in the trailer, it's not a spoiler. (Reviews to come.)

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