Oscars 2016: On gender diversity

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences trivia, only one person has won a gender-bending Oscar: Linda Hunt as the male dwarf Billy Kwan in 1982’s The Year of Living Dangerously.

Guess that means Jared Leto, who won a supporting actor Oscar for playing Rayon in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, doesn’t count. So not even “liberal-leaning Hollywood” knows how to classify transgender roles? What do you do when a man plays a woman assigned as a man at birth? That is some complicated back story. We’re not talking about playing the opposite sex but playing someone who matches one’s birth-assigned gender and has gender dysphoria. Not gender-bending, mind-bending.

Would Eddie Redmayne break new ground if he takes home an Oscar for playing pioneer transgender woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl? Or would someone demand to see a birth certificate?

Nothing new under the sun, The Bard might say. Since Shakespearean days, actors have played opposite gender roles. In opera, “pants” roles are de rigueur for mezzos. What Redmayne, Leto and Hunt have been doing is simply acting.

Going forward, what if a transgender actor/actress were to be nominated in an acting category — Laverne Cox, for example. Or someone who has not undergone gender confirmation surgery “displaying” as one gender yet identifying as another — how would the academy handle that acting feat?

Perhaps one day all gender walls shall be blessedly decimated and the academy will be forced to stop segregating men and women into actor/actress categories. It could honor up to 10 nominees and crown just one winner, as in the best picture category. No matter how you slice it, these awards compare apples to oranges.

Such a transformation might actually shorten the awards show. There’s that.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Ha! Chris Rock mentioned this very thing in his monologue. Why segregate the sexes?!

Oscar picks: Writing

Ironic that one of my favorite categories is getting the short shrift on the writing end (*she does the test for proper usage of “irony”) …

Anyway, with just a half-hour to go before the festivities begin, I must get it down on record.

The nominees for Original Screenplay

American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Dallas Buyers Club

Her. This is the cool, hip flick of the year, and I loved the concept and the production design (I kinda want it to win for Production Design). But the script went downhill for me three-quarters of the way in. Spoiler alert: HOW is Joaquin Phoenix’s character supposed to get a book published of the letters he writes when his job is ghost-writing those letters for other people?! Isn’t that some sort of lawsuit waiting to happen? That bugged me so much that I was disgruntled over the story’s resolution.

Nebraska

My pick: Nebraska

My prediction: Her

theres-an-app-just-like-the-greeting-card-company-joaquin-phoenix-works-for-in-her

In “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix’s character works for a letter-writing service — he ghost-writes personal, handwritten letters for people too busy or inadequate to do it themselves. What’s weird is: His OS publishes a book of the letters on his behalf. Kinda defeats the purpose of being a ghost writer and ruins his character arc, in my view, for him to become a successful author. Bad writing?

I didn’t see all of the nominees for Adapted Screenplay — still missing “Before Midnight” — but I am rooting for “12 Years a Slave.”

The nominees for Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight

Captain Phillips

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

And no, I haven’t read any of the books or seen the original the sequel is based on.

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In “12 Years a Slave,” the Solomon Northup character also crafts a letter — using a whittled stick and berry juice. Amazing to think this man went on to write down his story to enrich our lives 150 years later.

Hmm. I’m thinking next year the only way to fairly judge these categories is to read all the books.

OH NOOOOOO! WHY is February the shortest month?!?

Oscar picks: Best Picture

Excuse my lapse — life got in the way of movies.

But with less than a week to go (Academy voting closes Feb. 25), I must make my final plugs. Starting with the top.

Best Picture

American Hustle. Heard of “A-List” entertainment? You don’t need me pointing out to you, I’m sure, that for the past two years, the Best Picture winning title started with “A” — i.e. ” Argo,” and “Artist, The.” Coincidence? Or should they simply stop alphabetizing the ballot because, as the list gets longer, voters seemingly can’t get through it?

628x471Since 1929-30’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” 11 “A” movies have taken home Oscar, including this threepeat from 1949-51:

(For those who forget how to alphabetize, the 11 winners do not include 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind” or 1966’s “A Man for All Seasons.”)

Didn’t expect such cutting analysis?

Seriously, you won’t find this anywhere else, and I’m happy to do the legwork for you. Besides “A,” have any idea what other initial letter has won more Best Picture Oscars?

It’s a tie. No, not “T.” (“The” doesn’t count.) And not “S,” silly.

Happens to be “G.” Think “Gone With the Wind” and the Godfathers. If “American Hustle” doesn’t win this year, I think “Grand Budapest Hotel” has a good shot at winning for 2014, based on the trailer alone — which would put “G” in the lead. Unless “Gravity” wins this year, which makes the “G” force supreme.

Gravity-posterSo does “American Hustle” have an “A” advantage? The full list of Oscar Best Picture winners, in alphabetical and backwards chronological order:

A’s

Oh, almost forgot. Should “American Hustle” win? I think if the Best Picture were only about acting, then yes. This flick is a marvelous showcase of A-list actors acting their best. It’s somewhat Argo-ish, reaching into our recent past with a fun Seventies sensibility. The plot is riveting, there’s just enough cleavage and comedy to make it feel all-American. But it’s not my pick.

Captain Phillips. We Americans like our sea crises, no? “Titanic” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” each won Best Picture, and 1972’s “Poseidon Adventure” won five of its 13 nominations. We also love us some Navy SEALs on the silver screen lately: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lone Survivor,” even “Dirty Wars.” Plus, the Maersk Alabama, almost as if on cue, is back in the news with the discovery of two dead former Navy SEALs on board.

Another factor to weigh: Tom Hanks, recently named Forbes’ most trusted celebrity but who was otherwise snubbed this year.

My sister clued me in that this film was also a high-seas adventure in acting for the cast. Hanks and the novice actors playing the Somali pirates (who all hail from Minnesota) had not met before shooting their first scene together, the storming the boat. It wasn’t until after the third take that they started hanging out as colleagues, which created the taut tension and realism. But is realism always what we want from a Best Picture? Not me, so I’m not picking this one.

Dallas Buyers Club. There’s something beautifully transformational here: a rough-hewn, homophobic cowboy is diagnosed with AIDS and ends up playing hero to the gay community. Matthew McConaughey is spellbinding, as is Jared Leto as his transgender business partner. But it was McConaughey’s disappearing act that gave this film such a high profile. The film itself may prove too much of a downer to claim Best Picture in this day and age.

Gravity. Smoke and mirrors. This film will be remembered for its leaps and bounds in cinematic wizardry. But while overcoming all of the creative technological hurdles, somebody forgot about the writing.2001 it is not. I felt more sickening isolation watching the red and yellow astronauts spin into obscurity in that Kubrick classic than watching Sandra Bullock tumble like a quilt in a dryer. I felt more isolation watching the old man eat cereal at the end! Besides, the inside of astronauts’ helmets should not fog up. That just bugs me. When I think of this movie, I think of Bullock’s heaving sighs. And, no, I didn’t see it in 3-D. But I refuse to give an Oscar to a picture that relies on 3-D for quality of experience. Give it the Oscar for Visual Effects, but BestPic? I’m holding out.

Her. As the story of an anti-social writer falling in love with an A.I.-infused operating system, this had great potential as a cautionary tale for the 21st century. But three-quarters of the way through, the story breaks down. For production design, it clicks. And it makes a good parable, or even SNL skit, but can’t carry its weight in Oscar gold.

Nebraska. Now we’re talking form and function. The black-and-white format is your first clue that herein lies an old-style “meaning-of-life” movie. Truly sets it apart from today’s mountain of docudramas ripped from the pages of newspapers and history books. With its brilliant stasis and slow takes, “Nebraska” moves you. As the only official “comedy” in the field of nominees, its message about family sneaks up on you: how roles get reversed with age — the parents who once doled out our sustenance eventually rely on us for wish fulfillment. The characters are created out of thin air and, as odd as they are, we relate whole-heartedly to them.

Philomena. Phew, this is a long list of nominees. No wonder no one gets past the G’s. Did the Roman Catholic Church fail to boycott this film? Could have gotten more attention if it had. The sad story of forced adoptions in Ireland spans continents and decades, and is part buddy flick between dame Judi Dench and a wry, charming British journalist, part indictment of a greedy and sinister church masquerading as charitable, but mostly a testament to a mother’s unflinching faith, hope and love. Not since “Doubt” has so much doubt been cast on religion. Forgive me for not picking this one.

12 Years a Slave. If you’re like me and go to the movies to get stirred up or emotionally pureed, this is your winner. No other film made me cry as much this year — in fact, the only other time I shed any tears during any of the other BestPic Noms was at the end of “Captain Phillips.” Beyond that, “Lone Survivor” —a bloody war movie! — and “Saving Mr. Banks” (manipulated by the Mouse!) were my only tear-jerkers. From its poetic production design to at times nauseating narrative, “12 Years a Slave” hit all my buttons. It’s as if we each time-travel with Solomon, live through the outrageous abuses, and then land back in modern day to realize: Not enough has changed. Those characters and the pestilence of racism persist.This movie deserves every accolade and award it shall receive. And I expect it to sweep the Oscars.

This blurb from Entertainment Weekly”s Hillary Busis sums it up. My sentiments exactly:

Why it should win: Because 12 Years is clearly the most Important movie nominated for the Oscars’ main prize this year; you won’t see any high schools adding, say, Philomena to their curricula. And even beyond its historical significance, McQueen’s film is a phenomenal artistic achievement: On a purely visual level, it’s more striking than any other nominee, save perhaps Gravity. (Good luck getting the time-lapse sequence of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s near-lynching out of your brain.) The acting, too, is top-notch, from the film’s three nominated stars down to its less-lauded bit players (Paul Giamatti’s jovial slave trader, Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam’s snake-oil salesmen, Benedict Cumberbatch’s so-called “good” master). And John Ridley’s script manages to ape 19th-century speech patterns without ever sounding too stilted.

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The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m a Scorsese fan but, honestly, I’m not sure why this one is nominated for Best Picture. The kudos for Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio are well-deserved but quite enough this time ’round, Marty. Poor Leo. I always want him to do well come awards season, but this is another case of my boy crying wolf — he was so convincingly loathsome and lovable that voters are only going to be confused. In another filmmaker’s hands, this film would have been less interesting, sure, but it doesn’t deserve a Best Pic nom and won’t walk away with much — maybe Supporting Actor, if it’s lucky.

My pick & prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Note: I’m going with an alphanumeric pick that, if properly alphabetized, should come before “A.” It’s as good a prognosticator as any. But if I’m wrong, the winner will probably start with an “A” or a “G.”

Oscars picks: Makeup and Hairstyling

Quick and dirty on this category that most of you don’t care about.

The nominees:

♦ Dallas Buyers Club: Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews. Lee also worked on 12 Years a Slave and The Artist (2011’s Best Picture). Dallas Buyers Club was actually shot in New Orleans, not Dallas, and Robin Mathews is a local Nola makeup artist. She did an excellent job making all of the AIDS extras look credible, and Lee’s work on “12 Years” was terrificly horrific, but that one isn’t nominated, sorry. Still, this team has some powerful political influence among industry types, I’m guessing.

♦ Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: Stephen Prouty convincingly makes Johnny Knoxville look like an 86-year-old prick, extending all the way to his genitalia — not that I would know about that. This was a highly entertaining low-brow romp that I would never have considered watching if not for Oscar marathoning. And precocious 9-year-old Jackson T. Nicoll makes a convincing Honey Boo-Boo in blonde wig and makeup.

♦ The Lone Ranger: Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

But an 86-year-old jackass can’t hold a candle to Johnny Depp’s museum-quality Tonto. Holy cow. The makeup artistry in this Disney film goes beyond Tonto’s dreads and warpaint. All of those grizzled outlaws and frontierspeople not only look authentic (was that Smell-o-vision?), they made highly recognizable actors unrecognizable. I had to do a double take with the credits on William Fichtner. Even Tom Wilkinson took me a minute.

My prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

My pick: The Lone Ranger

With a little more than two weeks to go, I’ve seen 26 movies … but still have 17 full-length features on the list left to see. I think only 9 more are possible, because I can’t find the other 10 — not in local theaters, or on Netflix, Amazon and On Demand streaming services. (And I’m not buying any DVDs just to complete my marathon. That’d be crazy.)

Still, not too shabby, given I didn’t start until Feb. 2-ish. My Valentine’s Day movie this year was Her (last year’s was Amour). And if all goes well and I find my proper date (nudge-nudge, Patty Kime), I plan to knock off all of the shorts next weekend.

Charting my progress. How are YOU doing?

  1. American Hustle
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Dallas Buyers Club
  4. Gravity
  5. Her 
  6. Nebraska
  7. Philomena
  8. 12 Years a Slave √
  9. The Wolf of Wall Street
  10. Blue Jasmine
  11. August: Osage County
  12. The Croods
  13. Despicable Me 2
  14. Ernest & Celestine
  15. Frozen
  16. The Wind Rises
  17. The Grandmaster
  18. Inside Llewyn Davis
  19. Prisoners
  20. The Great Gatsby
  21. The Invisible Woman
  22. The Act of Killing
  23. Cutie and the Boxer
  24. Dirty Wars
  25. The Square
  26. 20 Feet from Stardom
  27. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  28. The Great Beauty
  29. The Hunt
  30. The Missing Picture
  31. Omar
  32. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  33. The Lone Ranger
  34. The Book Thief
  35. Saving Mr. Banks
  36. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  37. All Is Lost
  38. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  39. Lone Survivor
  40. Iron Man 3
  41. Star Trek Into Darkness
  42. Before Midnight