I used to love the glitz of Oscar night. I saw all the movies, reviewed them for Liberty, rooted for my favorites, and predicted the winners. I looked forward to Billy Crystal’s opening monologue, the mash-up of Best Picture nominees, the performances of the nominees for Best Songs, Barbara Walters’ pre-show interviews, the schmaltzy in memoriam list, and even the acceptance speeches. My friends gave fancy black-tie viewing parties and held contests to see who would correctly forecast the most winners. I wouldn’t miss Oscar night.
But I’m not watching the Oscars this year. It’s not that I’m boycotting the ceremony; frankly, it isn’t important enough to boycott. I just don’t care anymore. The awards shows have made themselves obnoxiously political and tediously irrelevant. Last year it was “Not my President.” At the Golden Globes it was black dresses and #MeToo. Now it’s “Boycott the NRA.” Do we really need Meryl Streep lecturing us about gun control this week? How do they even find time to make movies with all the activism they’re involved in?
For some actors, the answer is simple: They don’t. The talented, four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner Jennifer Lawrence recently announced that she’s taking a year off from making movies to teach kids about the importance of “getting big money out of government.” (Not sure if she means “from government” or “away from government,” but there you have it. She’s involved.) The 27-year-old middle-school dropout explained to Stephen Colbert, “When Trump got elected, my head spun off. And I read all these books and I have really learned myself good about our government.” (Yes, that’s how she said it. She learned herself good.) She went on to admit that she didn’t know how to answer any of the students’ questions during her first high school visit. “They were so smart!” she said incredulously. Nevertheless, she will spend the next year visiting schools to teach children about corruption in politics because, you know, she plays a spy in Red Sparrow.
And then there’s the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with everyone in the entertainment field expressing outrage as though they had been learning about his sexual aggression and manipulation for the first time. I have to admit I miss Harvey a little bit: how can we get excited about the Oscars or even know which movies are “The Best Film of the Year!” without Weinstein out there promoting his entries with full-page ads in all the papers for the past two months? The stardust is gone. I just don’t know what to do or what to think without his help.
Oscar is responding to the scandal by protecting its ingénues with items in the famous swag bags given to each attendee. In a press release, the security systems company Sabre said that it planned to “help others by inspiring self-empowerment,” and therefore would be handing out items including a keychain pepper spray, gel pepper spray, and personal body alarms, as well as a testing kit that determines whether a drink has been drugged.
The irony of all this “pepper spray” is that it wouldn’t have done a bit of good in the Weinstein scandal, since all these women had to do to protect themselves was to get up and walk out the door. Or how about not going through the door in the first place? Who “takes a meeting” in a hotel room at 2 a.m.? On the other hand, being able to tell whether your drink was spiked with roofies is probably a good tool to have when you’re partying with Hollywood big-wigs. So thank you, Sabre, for inspiring our ingénues with empowerment. And for handing them a weapon.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Oscar host Jimmie Kimmel (who loaded last year’s monologue with digs at the newly elected President Trump) said he wants to be kinder this year. “This show is not about reliving people’s sexual assaults,” he said. “It’s an awards show for people who have been dreaming about maybe winning an Oscar for their whole lives. And the last thing I want to do is ruin that for someone who is nominated for, you know, best leading actress or best supporting or best director or cinematographer or whatever, by making it unpleasant.”
Unless you happen to be a nominee whose politics don’t mix with Kimmel’s. Then he’ll be as unpleasant as he likes. In that same interview he hinted that he will be delving into politics and voicing his opposition to President Trump, arguing that entertainers have an obligation to use their platform for politics. I don’t find that particularly entertaining. Or pleasant.
Then there’s the hypocrisy of Hollywood’s form of feminism and the #MeToo movement. In that same interview with Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence (whom I actually happen to like a lot as an actress) confided that she has a crush on Larry David, whom she admits to stalking at Amy Schumer’s wedding recently. The crush is “very one-sided” she said, “but that’s just, like, fuel for me!” indicating how fun it is to pursue someone who does not return her affections. Isn’t that what the #MeToo movement is all about? Accepting that “No” means “No”? Or is it considered cute “persistence” if the woman is doing the pursuing? I don’t get it.
And what about the movies the Academy has chosen lately as Best Picture? I like the new policy of nominating up to ten films for Best Picture. It allows unexpected little gems such as last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road and this year’s Get Out to have a moment of glory. And yes, there are some good nominees this year. My favorites are The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Get Out, and Darkest Hour. Each is artistically stunning and each has an engaging storyline with strong character development. But they won’t win.
And that’s why the Oscars have become irrelevant. The audience-pleasers don’t have a chance any more. In the past ten years, only one of the Best Picture winners (Argo) has earned more than half a million dollars on opening weekend, and most have earned under $300 thousand. (By comparison, Black Panther opened with $200 million in sales its first weekend.) Only three of them have broken through the $100 million barrier in lifetime worldwide box office receipts. I mean come on—The Hurt Locker ($50 million) beating out Inglorious Basterds ($300 million) and Avatar ($2 billion) in 2009? Even the animated film Up ($780 million–also nominated in 2009) would have been a better choice than The Hurt Locker with the viewing audience that year. I’m not suggesting that box office receipts should determine the award, but there ought to be some connection between the films people like and the films that are considered best picture.
In short, middle America doesn’t have a dog in the race any more. The Academy insists on awarding the coveted statue to “important” films rather than the best film of the year, and most movie goers simply don’t care enough to sit through three-plus hours of self-adulation and snide remarks about their president to cheer for a film they haven’t even seen.
Neither do I. Sure, I’ll check out the results on Monday morning, and I might catch some of the speeches on Youtube if I learn that something outrageous has happened—like last year’s erroneous announcement that LaLa Land won instead of Moonlight, while the man whose sole purpose is to stand in the wings with the list of winners and quickly step in to make the correction if someone ever makes such a mistake was distracted backstage taking a selfie with the beautiful Emma Stone, who had just won the Oscar for Best Actress. Now that was worth watching. Almost.
Jo Ann Skousen is the Founding Director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, which meets in Las Vegas in July as part of FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” For information about tickets and submissions go to www.anthemfilmfestival.com