Cause and its Effect
Article by Ray Schillaci
What is it with Hollywood’s obsession with causes of the week? Okay, maybe it goes on longer than a week, but honestly, will anybody be talking about #METOO or Time’s Up after the Oscar party? Unlikely. This is not a slam to woman or the cause, but of the vapidity of some in the industry. My issue is this…remember the uproar with racial equality last year? Do we hear any mention of it now?
The Academy probably thought they made up for years of inequality by placing an emphasis on the African-American community with nominations and presenters last year. Not that they didn’t deserve the recognition, but I really could not understand the sensitive and thoughtful smaller film, Moonlight winning Best Picture over such hard hitting well-crafted dramas like Hacksaw Ridge or Hell or High Water that would have deservedly won any other year.
Having said that, it feels like Hollywood has nearly forgotten the African-American community once again by ignoring one of the most complex and hard hitting dramas of 2017, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, and Dee Rees’ Mudbound, the powerful and lyrical opus on two families’ (black and white) complexities and struggles through racism and life after WWII on a farm in rural Mississippi. It’s hard to believe, but it seems that Annapurna Pictures put more effort into last year’s Sausage Party than this year’s Detroit. Although, Netflix has given a much bigger push to Mudbound it appears hard to compete with the darling of the year, Lady Bird.
A24 has out-maneuvered them both and has everybody’s attention with their sensitive and thoughtful mother/daughter relationship movie. The film is a small wonder, the writing is a pure delight, along with the two leads, but the movie itself does not hold a candle to Bigelow’s powerful depiction of the 1967 Detroit riots involving the murder of three African-American youths, and the Detroit policemen connected in those murders with subtle, sensitive portrayals by Jon Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Algee Smith. The same can be said to the near epic proportions of Dee Rees’ film Mudbound. Here’s an African-American woman that is wowing people with her second film. But, these women directors are ignored, possibly because their film came out in the wrong year? Instead, we get a token toss for Best Director nod to Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. Yep, only room for one female director for this Academy.
This is the year of the “woman” with everything that has gone down from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, and so many other predators. Women have cause to be angry, frustrated, and upset. But, does that mean we ignore excellence in filmmaking because the timing is not right? Here are powerful, important films about African-Americans, and one is directed unflinchingly by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), and the other is a sensitive, poetic saga that practically takes our breath away, directed by relative newcomer Dee Rees.
To be fair, Greta Gerwig’s film is a well-written, bittersweet exploration of a mother/daughter relationship, but the directing is nothing that stands out. Lady Bird is about white women, written and directed by a white woman. It’s safe, and that should not matter. But, it would have last year. Lady Bird does not display the degree of professionalism or the scope that Detroit or Mudbound does. Although, Gerwig’s film is more of a feel good experience while Bigelow’s is raw and a powder keg of emotions and Rees’ film can stand proudly next to it. It may not be as powerful, but it’s sweeping in its telling.
Yet, Lady Bird is receiving the accolades and being set as a sure bet for Best Picture where so many people are not even aware that Detroit was even released. Even though Mudbound picked up four worthy nominations including Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, it appears that Rees herself was dismissed as Best Director. Is it the subject matter? The long running times? Or, as mentioned, the timing – not the flavor of the week.
The hoopla surrounding Greta Gerwig for consideration for Lady Bird as Best Picture/Director/Writer, and touting her as this amazing “woman” director, by the critics and honorary committees makes little sense when they totally ignore the women and pictures that are far better. These award shows have progressively become more dog-and-pony shows over the years, honoring popularity and causes rather than sincerely reaching out to the talented craftsmen with a dynamic and original voice. And to some, they say this is really nothing new. But, it’s sad.
It appears that the Academy recognizes PR firms more than the craft of filmmaking. Just look at the Best Picture nominees. Sure, Get Out, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, and Dunkirk have PR juggernauts behind them, but are they as worthy of that title when standing next to Detroit or Mudbound? Absolutely not.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a craftsman’s delight, but void of emotion with no ties to any of its characters unlike Detroit or Mudbound – a definite weakness on Nolan’s part, which was garishly displayed in Interstellar. And, Get Out is a well played out allegorical Twilight Zone episode, and yes, it is strong and original with its social commentary. But, it’s as if the Academy decided to just throw one obligatory bone to one film regarding racism, and practically ignore the others that were just as good if not better. Both Rees’ Mudbound and Bigelow’s Detroit were every bit as powerful if not more, and definitely exceeded Dunkirk, Get Out and Call Me By Your Name as re-watchable and sending a message that resonates for the ages.
I could go on and on, but it will not make a difference. Rarely will the right film win best picture or even be nominated. And, those that win are not always remembered or cherished as many others are. George Roy Hill’s The Sting is barely a blip on the radar while William Friedkin’s The Exorcist continues to be a must see. Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is a piece of iconic cinema compared to Robert Redford’s forgettable Ordinary People. And, does anybody remember what beat Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra-terrestrial? Richard Attenborough’s barely talked about Gandhi.
Perhaps it’s best to understand that the award shows are not for us, but for them. The Oscars and Golden Globes are not a true gauge of excellence. They come across more like a vacuum of fashion, power, and excess parading the latest political agenda or a cause they’ve turned into a fashion statement with a mere button. You can watch to see who looks good on the red carpet or who is a travesty. Wait for an embarrassing or awkward moment or two. Maybe even catch a good song number, which rarely happens. But, when they open that envelope for Best Picture, don’t expect what truly deserves the award. Because, they rarely get it right.