What You Didn’t Miss at the Oscars

For those who chose not to waste their time, some takeaways from Hollywood’s supremely intersectional self-celebration.

Who watches the Academy Awards anymore? Movies are worse than ever. TV is better than ever. Who wants to go to a movie theater nowadays and worry about picking up bedbugs from the seats, having a rat scurry up your leg in the dark, or getting into a fracas with some psycho over the armrest? I haven’t seen any of the films nominated for an Oscar this year, and didn’t even realize the Oscars were being televised last night until a couple of hours before the show came on.

But I watched it anyway. Not because I cared who won or lost, but because I was curious to gauge the extent to which the Hollywood establishment was still clinging to the whole identity-group thing. Answer: a lot. Almost every pair of award presenters consisted of a white person of one sex and a person of color of the other sex. Also, it was obvious that these egomaniacs had recovered entirely from the brief humiliation of the #metoo movement – and had unashamedly resumed their sacred job of instructing us peons in how to think about race, sex, politics, etc.

Some highlights, in chronological order.

  1. One of the people doing Red Carpet interviews is a black gay guy – no, not Jussie Smollett or Don Lemon – in a royal blue velvet tux. Whoever he is, he flits around like Tinkerbell and refers to himself with female pronouns, making Jussie and Don look like Jussie’s two Nigerian bodybuilder buddies. All I can think is that ABC, perversely desirous of even lower ratings than it’s received in recent years, must be determined to drive away every last straight male viewer even before the actual show gets underway.
  2. The other Red Carpet hosts are all women. They constantly refer to this fact, just in case you haven’t noticed. The possibility of Glenn Close winning Best Actress after a four-decade-long acting career is described as a defining moment of the women’s movement. 
  3. Three minutes into the Oscars broadcast and there’s already a standing ovation – in this case, for the remaining members of Queen who opened the show with a couple of their hits. Their really, really old hits. (These people love giving one another standing ovations.) 
  4. It’s a nice surprise to see Amy Poehler and Tina Fey come out onstage after the Queen performance. They’ve been very funny when hosting the Golden Globes. But this time, meh. Accompanying them is fellow comic Maya Rudolph, who, seven minutes into the show, makes the first obligatory Trump reference. (“Mexico is not paying for the wall.” How original!) Before presenting the Best Supporting Actress award, Poehler offers another moment of feminist uplift: “All women are supporting actresses, because women naturally support each other.”
  1. Regina King, in an otherwise moving acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, acknowledges the other nominees as her “sisters in art.” Ouch.
  1. Accepting the Best Documentary Feature award, co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi thanks National Geographic “for hiring women and people of color.” Is that really a new thing?
  1. Accepting the Costume Design award for Spike Lee’s Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter, a black woman, thanks the Academy for “empowering African royalty” and for acknowledging something or other having to do with females. Accepting the award for Production Design, also for Black Panther, Hannah Beachler speaks of her “agency” (and she doesn’t mean William Morris) and “self-worth” and uses the term “safe space.”
  1. Let’s just say I never thought I’d hear somebody at the Oscars sing an incredibly horrible song about Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
  1. Javier Bardem, introducing the award for Best Foreign Language Film, speaks in Spanish, with subtitles. I don’t remember this ever happening at the Oscars. Amazingly, in accepting the award for Roma, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón doesn’t mention Trump’s wall. Good for him.
  1. To give credit where credit is due, Bette Midler turns in a lovely performance of a – gasp – pretty song (“Where the Lost Things Go,” from Mary Poppins Returns). How did a pretty song ever get nominated for an Oscar in 2019? Can you name, let alone hum, any tune that’s been nominated for an Oscar in the last twenty years? (I still can’t forget that in 1943, the Best Song winner was “You’ll Never Know,” which beat out “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” “My Shining Hour,” “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” and “That Old Black Magic.”)
  1. Mahershala Ali wins his second Best Supporting Actor award in three years – this time for playing pianist Don Shirley in Green Book, a movie about the Jim Crow era. Instead of making a political statement, however, which in this case would have been entirely defensible, he talks about the love and support he received from his late grandmother. Home run.   
  1. Christopher Miller, one of the winners for Best Animated Feature (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), says that “when a kid sees a movie and says ’he looks like me, or he speaks Spanish like us,’ we feel like we’ve already won.” Yeah, right. Can you say “Hollywood phony”?
  1. “This is for the nerdy girls who hide behind your sketchbooks,” says a female winner for a short film. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” exclaims another female winner for another short film, who goes on to thank the Academy for “empowering women from around the world to fight for menstrual equality.” Um, what?
  1. Some guy wearing a Mexican flag pin introduces a clip from Roma and, like Bardem, speaks at length in Spanish, though without subtitles. The other guy introducing the clip, who speaks heavily accented English, serves up a big, cheap applause line about how women and immigrants contribute to American society.   
  1. Accepting the Adapted Screenplay award, Spike Lee rants about slavery, the “genocide” of native Americans, and the need to “choose love over hate” by removing Trump from the White House. Standing ovation.
  1. A standing ovation, too, for the performance of “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Shortly thereafter, Gaga, accepting the award for Best Song for “Shallow” along with her three (!) co-writers, says some fine words about perseverance. But the sweetest music to be heard on the whole show is the orchestral piece accompanying the ensuing “In Memoriam” segment.
  1. Another standing ovation, this one for the ever-execrable Barbra Streisand, who, introducing a clip from Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, praises it for its “truth,” a commodity that, she instructs us, “is especially precious these days.”  Gee, wonder what she means by that.
  1. Just in case we hadn’t already figured out that this wasn’t exactly a bipartisan affair, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) comes out to introduce the clip from Green Book.  
  1. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro presents the Best Director award to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who notes that his film, Roma, recognizes the kind of oppressed people whose lives are especially important to ponder “in times when we are being encouraged to look away.” In short, another anti-Trump dig. Cancel out the thumbs-up at #9 above.
  1. Julia Roberts, presenting Best Picture, is still gorgeous. Boy, is she still gorgeous. Oh, and Green Book wins. An army of old white guys fills the stage. Make of that what you will.

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