Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2018
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Going out for Chinese

My biggest takeaway from the 2018 Academy Awards telecast? Meryl Streep is the new Jack Nicholson.

For years every other random audience shot during the ceremony caught Nicholson sitting prominently in the front row. He was the embodiment of cool as he yukked it up behind his dark sunglasses (indoors? at night?). It was as though he was our monitor of the evening. When he laughed heartily, we knew it was okay for us to laugh too. When he nodded knowingly, we could pretend we were in on the joke too. He was the epitome of being the Hollywood insider. If Jack was our friend, well, we kind of felt as though we had been allowed inside too. Never mind that we never really knew what was going through his head because, after all, we couldn’t see his eyes. Or that nagging suspicion that his cool was mostly derived by some chemical compound he had ingested before arriving.

Now it is Streep’s face we catch in the front row during the audience shots. She is prominent and regal. She laughs appreciatively at every inevitable joke about how she has been nominated for an Oscar three-hundred-and-sixty-seven different times or when the host implores her for approval for some sort of mischief he is about to commit. Most importantly, she applauds deliberately and approvingly when the right political comments are made. Unlike Nicholson, her eyes are not covered with dark glasses, but her heart is in its own way just as inscrutable. After all, we keep hearing that she is the greatest actor who has ever lived.

I suppose I should explain what I meant when I referred to the Jimmy-Kimmel-ization of the Oscars in my lamentable prediction update. I concede I am on thin ice here. I have watched precious little late-night U.S. television for some years. I used to check out Jay Leno sometimes on CNBC Europe before he was shoved out (the second time), but I know the current crop of after-hours chat show hosts only passingly. Most of what I know is through the filters of second-hand sources. What I know about Kimmel is from watching him host the Oscars. Maybe on his own show he is wonderfully entertaining, but on Academy Award night he is a black hole of wit. His jokes are the kind of jokes people tell among their friends because they know they all enjoy the same sort of obscure humor. Even when he had a good line—like “I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie—and the reason I remember that time is because it was March of last year”—he flattened it with his perfunctory delivery. There were no big production numbers à la Billy Crystal, just a 1920s-style newsreel-type opening. The big prank was taking a few of the celebrities over to the Chinese Theater to surprise some real movie-going audience members. The idea was cool in the usual late-night-I-can’t-believe-they-did-that sort of way, and the celebs who are sincere movie fans themselves seemed to get off on it. But somehow Kimmel made it feel condescending because he was doing the unwashed such a huge favor.

Having a dud of a host really hurts since the awards themselves only get more predictable. The acceptance speeches get tighter (someone really wanted that jet ski) and more similar. Kudos then to Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand for waking us up. Rockwell told a great story about his father taking him out of school to go watch a movie and that resonated with everyone. McDormand, well, she was herself. At the BAFTAs in London last month, practically every woman wore black in support of #MeToo, making it look like a Midwestern Mennonite gathering—except for McDormand who went to the stage for her award in an extremely colorful dress and explaining she had “compliance issues.” It made a huge impression to see someone demonstrating that it is better off to be yourself proudly and without apology than to blindly follow a trend with the rest of the crowd. She did it again on Sunday. Instead of platitudes about equality and sisterhood, she gave a mini-course in how to get a project off the ground along with some canny legal advice. This woman does not simply demand equality. She lives equality. I fear, though, that the lesson went over the head of many who cheered her.

The only suspense was in the Best Picture category. I was happy to see Guillermo del Toro win, but I wish I felt more passionate about his movie. I should after all. Like me, he is a comic book guy and a fantasy guy. As beautifully made as The Shape of Water is and as beautiful as the performances are, though, something about the story itself was just a little too black-and-white and cardboard. It just didn’t spring to life for me. Not the way Dunkirk did. But there was no way this was going to be Dunkirk’s year. Frankly, I’m still amazed that Winston Churchill managed to get through the door.

If that isn’t enough sour grapes to squeeze all over your TV viewing, let me pile on with my customary gripes about the “In Memoriam” segment. I stand with all the people on social media who just want to know why they couldn’t make room for such stalwarts as Dorothy Malone, Glen Campbell, John Mahoney and Adam West. And for crying out loud, how could they have enough cop-on to remember George A. Romero but then snub Tobe Hooper?

Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to sleep in your own bed like a normal person instead of staying up all night.

-S.L., 5 March 2018

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