By Ryan C. Showers
Last May, my boyfriend made reservations for us to take a 10-day gay cruise with Atlantis Events which would travel to different ports in French Polynesia. While I knew this would be a vacation I would never forget (how many opportunities will I have to go to Tahiti!?), I had a slight twinge of sorrow, because I knew the dates of the cruise overlapped with those of the Oscar ceremony. I have not skipped an Oscar telecast since before 2006. I couldn’t imagine missing them. But I kept reminding myself that a trip to Bora Bora was more important than watching an award show, and I was right.
It became easier and easier to swallow after the Academy’s new leadership started implementing changes (which were ultimately reversed) and the Golden Globe winners pivoted the season out of the purview for respectable frontrunners. I mostly had anxiety at first because, after her masterful work on “Sharp Objects” this summer, I was convinced my favorite actress, Amy Adams, would finally win her overdue Oscar for “Vice,” and I would miss it while traveling in a remote area in the Pacific Ocean and not live her winning in the moment. Neither of those things happened because I got to watch the Oscars and Amy didn’t win
With only two days before the Oscars, I went aboard the ship with a plan on how to keep up with the winners since I wouldn’t have access to the telecast, via push-notifications on my phone, which was complicated due to inconsistent service on the islands. (Tahiti is 5 hours behind east coast time, so I was making plans to ensure I wouldn’t be out exploring the islands, at a dance party, or on an excursion during the show). To my delightful surprise, I opened the ship’s agenda for Sunday, Feb. 24 on Saturday evening in my room with the scheduled events for the next day to find Atlantis was having an Oscar viewing party for the guests. I was relieved.
And as it turns out, the ship’s Oscar viewing party was more elaborate than I was anticipating. I was half expecting there would be ten of us gathered around a small screen in a broom closet. No, no. They held the viewing party in one of the ship’s theater settings – not the main theater, but rather in a cocktail lounge where singers would perform after dinner per se. The room was set up with dozens of rows of chairs around the screen on which the show was being projected, along with more comfortable rows of couches in the back of the room. The cruise director dressed in drag (and underwent three costume changes) and entertained the crowd during commercial breaks and occasionally offered shady commentary during speeches or as winners were making their way from their seats to the microphone. The ship also spoiled us with popcorn and, as the cruise director called them, an array of “crumpets.” My boyfriend responded asking, “What the hell is a crumpet?” and the cruise director, in an appropriately drag-queen-hosting-the-Oscars manner responded, “Have you never seen ‘Mary Poppins?’”
This is an experience I will never forget. I recognize there’s a world outside the walls of #FilmTwitter, movie theaters, and Hollywood – and the experience of this Oscar viewing party is worth more than simply getting to see the show. Watching the Oscars with at least 100 strangers was refreshing and restored a sense of community that was worn down by the ugliness and divineness of this season. It was particularly interesting for me to watch the show with people who weren’t a part of #FilmTwitter and who hadn’t watched the critics groups and televised precursors with a magnifying glass. No one in the crowd (other than, say, me) felt extraordinarily passionate, competitive, or invested in their predictions or preferences. They clapped for every category, they were happy for all the winners and appreciated everyone who didn’t win. Even during the more obscure categories like the short films or the technical ones that people outside the industry or field of study wouldn’t fully understand, interest never wavered with this group.
The night went mostly according to plan. Though I was slightly surprised to see “Green Book” win, it wasn’t completely unexpected based on the buzz the film had with voters and the demographics of the Academy. As a fan of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” it is curious to me that apparent controversy stopped it from winning Best Picture, yet “Green Book” prevailed with worse controversy. Both films won the audience prize at TIFF and both films underwent backlash upon their theatrical releases. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” film swept the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and SAG ceremonies last year, but ended up losing Best Picture at the Oscars. And I would argue that film had a much less pervasive and insidious shadow following it than “Green Book” did, which had tense racial issues in front of the camera and grueling campaign missteps and oppo research behind the camera. “Green Book” winning leads me to believe the Academy is not affected by controversies to the extent that we think, and maybe “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” lost for a different reason last year.
The moment of the night, which undoubtedly caught everyone I was watching it with and my friends on #FilmTwitter by surprise, was Glenn Close losing on her seventh attempt to win an Academy Award, while Olivia Colman triumphed for “The Favourite.” It’s safe to say Close is a gay icon, so after Colman’s name was called, I imagined this would be the first time during the viewing party that that boat of mostly gay men would become agitated. There was mostly shock, some disappointment, but everyone was generally happy for Colman. I was thrilled by the upset; it’s the type of adrenaline rush moment people who follow the award season dream for. In addition, my favorite movie of the year, “The Favourite” wasn’t going home empty-handed after arriving in with the most nominations of any other film. Had “The Favourite” gone 0-10, it would be the second time that happened to my personal favorite film of the year. The first was “American Hustle” five years ago. I don’t want to believe I inadvertently put a curse on a movie by loving it.
While it’s regrettable a revered artist such as Close stands a chance of never winning an Academy Award, I must say, we should have seen this coming. If you read my copious amount of analysis concerning the Best Actress race from August through December (or if you listened to my takes on the Next Best Picture podcast), you would know I was always skeptical of Close winning for “The Wife.” I rejected the incessant comparison some pundits forced on the public, that Close would follow the exact same path as Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” four years ago. My reasons for questioning Close’s overdue path: “The Wife” is a weak film in general; it wouldn’t get any other nominations besides Best Actress; the buzz of its release was muted by the Venice and Telluride film festivals in August; Close’s work is very good but not the great heights of “Dangerous Liaisons” or “Fatal Attraction;” Close hasn’t had a constant crop of films be released in the past decade reminding everyone she’s still out there and Oscar-less; and it said something that the Academy chose to give Meryl Streep her third Oscar in 2011 before giving Close her first after six tries. My instincts proved to be correct.
After Telluride, I was first expecting Nicole Kidman to take over the race for what critics called her “tour de force” work in “Destroyer.” Then I saw “A Star is Born” and thought Lady Gaga would storm the race with a role that appeared tailor-made to win Best Actress. Her performance in Ally reminded me of an amalgamation of the Oscar-winning roles of Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Hudson, Cher, and Reese Witherspoon. Then Close surprised us winning the Golden Globe over Gaga, then Critics Choice tying with Gaga, and claiming SAG. I threw my hands up and thought my judgment had to be off for all those months. Enter Olivia Colman, who many of us probably underestimated because 1) she couldn’t campaign much due to filming season three of “The Crown,” 2) some argued she was borderline supporting and didn’t have enough screen time to compete with the central protagonist roles of competition. Colman flew under the radar for the win (which is really the key to winning Oscars, anyway), while simultaneously being the most repeated answer when Academy voters were asked about performances they loved this year. We should have listened more carefully to the gushing we heard from voters about Colman’s work. It’s also refreshing to see someone win this major award almost completely on the merit and passion of the acting alone, not because of a manufactured and financed PR campaign.
This was a tremendous year for women leading films. While I appreciate the category and the person who ended up winning, I can’t help but feel a little let down with the category overall. A lineup that didn’t include the thriving, all-encompassing, consuming work by Kidman for “Destroyer,” Rosamund Pike in “A Private War,” and Toni Collette for “Hereditary” feels anticlimactic to me. In the long run, Colman winning through industry passion for her work in “The Favourite” will age better than had Close been coronated with a career win for “The Wife.” Trust me on that.
There’s one last point I want to address as I conclude my thoughts on this award season. The category that made me think the most this year was Best Supporting Actress because it defied all the Oscar rules I grew up with. Though she was a critics’ darling and picked up the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards, Regina King missed the SAG and BAFTA precursors, which made me incredulous to predict her for the Academy Award. Combined with the fact that “If Beale Street Could Talk” severely underperformed across the board all season, I just couldn’t bring myself to predict her. SAG and BAFTA voters have a crossover with the Academy, and it just didn’t make sense to me that one could win the Oscar after missing both of those precursors. King is now only one of two actresses to win an Oscar without these two pre-Oscar nominations, the other being Marcia Gay Harden in “Pollock.”
I don’t regret not predicting her; I knew she had passion encircling her, but I wanted to make a point of going with an alternative in Rachel Weisz for “The Favourite,” whose path was more reasonable and logical. King’s win blows up precedent and suggests a new path for us to approach predicting in the future, in particular with SAG. Since merging with AFTRA, the common logic with SAG is that it is becoming less reliable for predicting the Oscars. After the Best Picture/SAG Ensemble correlation stat was broken with “The Shape of Water” last year, and now this, I’m going to approach the SAG nominees and wins with a grain of salt. They have become less relevant than they were ten years ago. My big takeaway with King is to follow the passion in place of stats or at least find a balance somewhere.
It was a crazy awards season and definitely not my favorite but there were certainly lessons to be learned. I’m glad that it’s finally over and that I’m back home and can look forward to what 2019 has to offer as we close out this decade.
You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @RyanCShowers