Oscars Looked Up — For the Most Part

By Sophie Bennett, Staff Writer

In Hollywood, the Academy Awards are the most prestigious achievement that someone working in the film industry can get. The highly sought-after award gains recognition for artists to have much broader career opportunities, not to mention the added respect among peers and outsiders alike. Unlike the Golden Globes, the Oscars ceremony is a long night with no food or alcohol, which usually results in a somewhat difficult evening. That’s why the host is there to not only keep the audience at home entertained, but also the audience of nominees.

For the most part, the event’s hosts have done a good job. There have been years with lesser performances — Anne Hathaway and James Franco were particularly lackluster — and others with shining ones — who doesn’t love Ellen Degeneres? — but this year was exceptional. For the first time in years, Jimmy Kimmel managed to be genuinely entertaining throughout the evening.

Kimmel started out the show with a meaningful jab at the film industry’s favorite anti-Semitic, Mel Gibson, and then moved on to poke fun at Matt Damon in a hilarious series of jokes. He made light of Trump’s childish attack on Meryl Streep with an “undeserved” round of applause for the actress and kept the guests happy with food occasionally falling from the sky. Even after the closing disaster when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and accidentally gave the Oscar for “Best Picture” to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight,” he managed to keep things funny.

Along with Kimmel’s excellent performance as a host, the award winners of the evening were also satisfyingly appropriate. “Moonlight” deservingly won for best picture. Actors Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis both earned wins for their amazing supporting roles in “Moonlight” and “Fences,” respectively. Original Screenplay came through with a win for “Manchester By The Sea” with the excellent writing of Kenneth Lonergan. Of course, “La La Land” won for Original Score as well as Original Song. Although “Moonlight” should rightfully have won over “La La Land” for cinematography, the filmmaking was breathtaking and it did earn that recognition.

On the other hand, Best Actor and Best Actress both felt wildly skewed. While Casey Affleck gave an astounding performance in “Manchester By The Sea,” the sexual harassment claims surrounding him should have thoroughly shut down his Oscar campaign. When “Birth Of A Nation” was released, it should’ve gotten Oscar attention, but instead was boycotted and ignored because of a sexual assault charge against the film’s director and star Nate Parker, which occurred nearly 20 years ago.

Parker was acquitted of the charges, but his movie and work were still ignored. Affleck, however, whose case was settled out of court, won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award. This begs the question of what makes Affleck more deserving of recognition than Parker. To be sure, a significant factor in the contrast can be attributed to the simple fact that Affleck is white and Parker is black. Disproportionate outrage against black crime has long been a part of American culture.

In a perfect world, Affleck wouldn’t have been nominated — let alone won — and the Oscar would have gone to the astounding Denzel Washington. Washington gave years of time and focus to his film “Fences” and was very connected to the piece after years of playing the same character in the Broadway production of the play.

Then there was Emma Stone’s win for Best Actress. Even though “La La Land” was an astonishing film, Stone’s performance was not as half shocking and incredible as the other nominees. Natalie Portman carried her entire film, “Jackie,” a film that surprisingly did not get nearly enough of the recognition it deserved. Ruth Negga also blew away audiences in an intense role about interracial marriage in “Loving” and Isabelle Huppert was called one of “the very greatest actresses of the time” by Indiewire for her role in “Elle.” However, they did not win — Stone did.

Email Sophie Bennett at film@nyunews.com.

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