The morning after the Academy Awards. I’ve not done as much due diligence about other people’s opinions of the Oscars this year as I will in the hours that loom sitting in airports between here (Des Moines, Iowa), where the temperature feels like zero, or 43 minutes away (by air) in St. Louis, Missouri, (or when we are back in Austin, Texas, our ultimate destination, where it is 65 degrees.) I am just feeling relieved to have made it here and hoping to make it back! As usual, I enjoyed Oscar night, and, as usual, there was an upset or two.
I did see a photo of Rami Malek, still clutching his Oscar, climbing out of what looked like an orchestra pit, with the information that he had fallen offstage after winning. (This was not televised to us out here in the Heartland but I saw it before heading off to bed about 3 a.m.). He was looked at by medical people on the scene and was fine.
How was the ceremony without a host in charge?
It seemed about the same as ever, to me. It moved smoothly with fewer SNAFUS than the year Jimmy Kimmel hosted and the wrong film was given the Oscar for Best Picture. In that classic case of Situation Normal: All F***** Up, “La La Land” had to give the trophy back to “Moonlight,” as the critics’ groups across America triumphed over the popular will.
I was a member of a critics’ group in Chicago at the time; I voted for “La La Land.” However, “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins, 2016) carried the day, buoyed by a great performance from Mahershala Ali. Still, “La La Land” was far and away the crowd favorite that year and deserved to win. To me, a working critic, it felt like “the fix” was in. The theme (of “Moonlight”) was “timely” and that would carry the day, even if Damien Chazelle’s musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was far and away more popular, seen by many more people, just as original and high in quality, and a more “uplifting” feeling film.
This year, it looked, to me, as though Big Money was at play trying to land a Best Picture Oscar for “Roma” over any of the more popular competitors and “A Star Is Born” also was over- hyped with that goal. It is normal to campaign, and the idea was that Alfonso Cuaron (already lauded for both “Gravity” and “Birdman”) would be able to snag a Best Picture Oscar for a streaming network(s) for the first time ever.
I had to make my picks early in the game, prior to beginning our multi-state pilgrimage to meet up with our old friends who celebrate the Oscars with us each year. Those picks are posted on WeeklyWilson.com. You can see for yourself that I missed only the category of Best Actress (I was surprised, like everyone else, that Glenn Close lost. Again.) Selecting Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director (with a slight hedge there) and only missing the Best Actress category means 5 out of 6, for +83% accuracy. (Of course, on party night, we have to select all 24 categories and the accuracy percentages plummet.)
I went with my instincts, which served me well last year when I was delighted to see Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” win, but also thought “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was a strong contender and insisted on taking my husband to see it after the Chicago International Film Festival. You will remember that, while “Three Billboards” did not win Best Film, it did garner both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (who showed up this year with a shaved head) Academy Awards for their performances in that Coen Brothers film.
So, I disregarded the “Roma” buzz, especially after seeing the film. Let them eat cake, I said. Let it be Best Foreign Film, but don’t try to foist it on those of us wanting a real Best Picture of the Year. “Roma” is black and white and subtitled in Spanish. A maid—(who, I am told, was a real maid and not an actress when the film was shot)—-is shown cleaning a house in Mexico in the seventies. A lot of the film involves the maid cleaning and interacting with other help. If you enjoy watching scenes of that sort for a large portion of your film-going experience, by all means hit it up. There are also several scenes of the car port floor being swept. It made me remember that I should be vacuuming the entire house. (Is that a good thing?)
Film buffs applauded Alfonso Cuaron’s ability to recreate the Mexico City of the seventies and the events of his youth, but to audiences who wanted a good story they could relate to, there were only a few themes to hold onto. The universal theme of being a vulnerable pregnant woman who is abandoned, or a mother who loses her child, or a woman with a family whose husband abandons her are there, but the thread is disjointed. [The reasons why the Mistress of the house is jettisoned are never fully explored.]
There were scenes of the woman of the house having trouble driving her large behemoth of a car into a very small parking space connected to her home, and, as a condo dweller in Chicago who has to park in an extremely small parking spot (and pay $52 a month in taxes on that spot), I could relate to that, but it was not riveting cinema.
I could empathize with the young girl abandoned by her somewhat weird martial arts fanatic boyfriend, a male chauvinist pig who completely rejects her in her hour of need, but the entire film seemed like a vanity project. It would be tantamount to me taking an audience on a rather boring and uneventful day from my youth in Independence, Iowa. If I then shot it in black-and-white and subtitled it in a language you do not speak, would you really be sucked into this story?
The backdrop of riots was compelling for the few scenes that depicted the violence, and I salute the cinematographer (et. al.) who was able to recreate those historic events, but, overall, it was not a film I would want to see win the Best Picture of the Year award. I once almost drowned in Hawaii when I swam out too far, but, since I did NOT drown, the impact of that, on film, would be pretty “meh.” (I mention this life event because of a similar life event involving the maid/nanny and her young charges.) To be fair, I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of “Birdman,” which veered between reality and floating in the air. I did not like the backdrop of the guy pounding on drums in the side room. Of Cuaron’s films, I liked “Gravity” the best, so far, because of the difficulty of recreating Sandra Bullock’s journey into space, but we saw “First Man” (Damien Chazelle) this year do a similar “man-or-woman-in-space” recreation, with more on-the-ground psychological make-up of the astronaut provided. “First Man” came away with very few plaudits for a far more complete and realistic recreation of a foray into space. Maybe it’s all about timing, as with “Moonlight’s” burning themes?
The U.K. papers were unhappy that “Roma” didn’t win, as it would have marked a “first” in having a streaming film take the Best Picture Award. That sounds more like a political statement (rather than a quality-of-the-film-statement) than a good reason for naming this peek into Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico Best Picture of the Year.
The other film that threw a lot of dough-re-mi at the Oscars and came up relatively short was “A Star Is Born.” It did win Best Song of the Year (for “Shallows”) and deservedly so, but the Best Actor, Actress, Director and Picture awards did not materialize. Cynthia (my Chicago hairdresser) and I did not find the chemistry between the stars that dynamic in this one. We both agreed that it was a revelation that Bradley Cooper really can sing; he proved it once again onstage at this year’s Oscars. I saw “A Star Is Born” at the Icon Theater on Roosevelt Road. I admit my opinion of the film was negatively impacted by the volume. It was so loud I feared my ears would bleed. On the “story” front, however, “A Star Is Born” has been done about 5 times and the ending is telegraphed from a million miles away.
This year’s Annual Oscar Party went off without a hitch because we ditched plans to drive 3 and 1/2 hours from Chicago to the Quad Cities and then, a day or so later, to drive another 3 miles from I-80 to Des Moines from the Quad Cities. Here is why we flew directly from Austin to Des Moines: a weekend blizzard brought much of Iowa to a halt. Des Moines broke its record of snowiest February with 24.1 inches of snow. The old record was 22.7 inches set in February of 2008. Winds of up to 50 mph created drifts and white-outs across much of the state and I-35 saw some of the worst of it, with the road closing from Ames to Minnesota on Sunday morning. Between 9 pm. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday (Oscar day) more than 100 cars ended up in the ditch between Des Moines and Ames and Iowa State Patrol spokesman Nathan Ludwig said they had assisted 390 motorists and responded to 90 crashes between 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. A number of state patrol cars were hit by cars traveling too fast and a firetruck was struck on Sunday morning between Ames and Des Moines.
Keith Morgan, Storm County’s emergency management coordinator, said, “Visibility is so poor in open areas that our snow plow drivers can barely see the front of their plows, making plowing conditions very risky.” A State of Emergency was declared in Wright County on Sunday afternoon (Oscar day) due to blowing and drifting snow. More than 18 people stranded in their vehicles were rescued in the county before 11 a.m. on Sunday (Oscar day). The temperature outside right now, given the wind chill factor, is zero.
The Iowa Department of Transportation warned against traveling on roads north or west of Des Moines through Monday as “conditions can be life-threatening.” Near Fairbank, Iowa, my father’s hometown, a woman on her way to Oelwein and Des Moines to deliver her baby had to be rescued when her vehicle slammed into a snowbank.