White Nominees, FURY ROAD, and the Mad Journey to the Oscars

This year’s Academy Award nominations sparked so much controversy that even my aunt, a woman who cares very little about movies and probably didn’t even know what the Oscars were until last week, was talking about it. This year, a lot of people will be boycotting the ceremony (or are threatening to, at the very least), and while I think sometimes people tend to take things too far and go off running with them in hopes to get more hits on their site, I think this year there is some hard truth to the Academy’s neglect of black people in the Oscar race.ISCARSSOWHITE

As you can see in the image above, there are no black actors, writers, or directors to be found in this year’s pack of top contenders. In fact, the only black person to receive a nomination was the lead singer of The Weekend for “Earned It,” the hit original song from Fifty Shades of Grey (for which I’m very grateful, as it’s a much better song than “Love Me Like You Do,” which took home the Golden Globe). That’s it. But don’t think that no movie about black people snagged any nominations. Creed, one of my favorite movies of the year, picked up one nomination: Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone.

Let me be absolutely frank here. I loved Stallone in Creed. Really, I did. I think it’s his best performance in years, and by years I mean more than a decade. He’s certainly deserving of that Oscar. I hope he wins. So this won’t be an opinion piece that seeks to take anything away from Stallone or his performance, as some have suggested that he is to blame for stealing the show from the black actors. No way. But we all know that even though he gave a tremendous performance as Rocky Balboa, Michael B. Jordan was the star of that film. His performance was every bit as good as his in Fruitvale Station, yet for some reason the Oscars didn’t see it fit for him to receive the nomination he deserves. But this snub won’t make anyone see Creed and think any less of B. Jordan.24oscars-webextrra-master1050

Now I have no qualms with the Oscars in the realm of Best Supporting Actress. Sure, they’re all white, but I think they all deserve that trophy (haven’t seen The Danish Girl, but I’m willing to bet Alicia Vikander is spectacular). However, even though I can see why Tessa Thompson didn’t get a nomination in that category for Creed (as well as Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq), it would’ve been nice to see her get something for her song, “Grip.” But nope. Nothing. Or what about “Pray 4 My City from Chi-Raq? Nothing? Didn’t think so.chi

Also regarding Creed, no nomination for Ryan Coogler. Having previously directed B. Jordan in the aforementioned Fruitvale Station (see that important film ASAP if you haven’t), Coogler turned the volume up for Creed and managed to not only breathe fresh life into the Rocky series, but also make a great boxing drama that stands on its own as a riveting and rousing piece of work. But of course he didn’t get a nomination for directing. Instead, they went for Adam McKay for The Big Short.

I would love to get into this, but I’m not going to. I didn’t like The Big Short all that much. I didn’t hate it by any means, but I found the mockumentary direction to be distraction, the weird attempts to dumb down the plot for us to be obnoxious, as well the silly wigs and over the top performances to be, well, wiggy and over the top. But the Oscars know best, right? Sorry, but even if you defend The Big Short (and I did admire some aspects of it), there’s no justifying Adam McKay’s slot in the directing category.

I also wasn’t the biggest fan of The Revenant, but it was obvious that Alejandro G. Iñárritu was going to get the Oscar (he’s probably going to win it too), so I’m not even going to waste energy that could be used to type something of significance to contest it. But Coogler could’ve easily replaced McKay, right? Or what about Spike Lee for directing the magnificent and essential Chi-Raq? Nothing? C’mon, Oscars!

I also rather liked Straight Outta Compton, and while I don’t think it was good enough to earn a Best Picture nomination, I found it pretty funny that it picked up a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and the screenwriters are white. They managed to take a movie about gangsta rap and nominate the white people. It’s like they were trying to cause an uproar!

If you take a look at the history of the Oscars, you’ll notice that virtually every single Best Picture winner has been about white people, so this isn’t something that people are just making up. Sure, the 1986 winner was Driving Miss Daisy and that had Morgan Freeman. Slumdog Millionaire won in 2009 and that may count because the lead is from Mumbai. 12 Years a Slave won in 2014, but I hardly consider that in favor of the Oscars because it’s about, well, slavery. 12 Years is a masterpiece and, in my opinion, the most important piece of cinema this decade thus far, but what about movies by black people about black culture and not something to make Oscar voters feel guilty? I haven’t spent much time talking about this on Twitter or even in real life, but it’s clear that something is wrong here and something needs to change.crimson

I want to shift the focus a little and discuss something else just briefly before I get into my discussion about Mad Max and my Oscar predictions, and that something is a little film called Crimson Peak. I didn’t catch Guillermo del Toro’s latest in theaters, but it released on Blu-ray here in the States today, and I ran out as quickly as I could and rented it. I watched it a few hours ago, and my first thought was, “Hm. Why don’t I remember hearing this title in some of the minor technical categories?” Surely it got a nomination for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. Surely it got a nomination for Best Costume Design. Surely, surely, surely it got a nomination for Best Production Design.

Surely, surely, surely.

Nada.

Maybe the voters just didn’t watch the movie (that’s obviously the case), but the fact is that Crimson Peak is among the most gorgeous movies of the entire year, being one of those movies that manage to use production design and costume design as an art. But at least Carol got its much deserved nomination for Costume Design. Thank god for that one. (Detect the sarcasm?) Seriously, if you haven’t seen del Toro’s latest feature, go out and rent it (buy it) ASAP. It’s a beautiful piece of work that I loved to pieces.mad-max-fury-road-image-the-war-rig

Now we can talk about the best thing about the Oscars this year, and that is a little indie film you may have heard of called Mad Max: Fury Road. This was a huge surprise at the nominations event for me, because even though it picked up quite a few Golden Globes, I didn’t expect the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to nominate a mid-May action release. Then again, this is Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie everyone loved (except for some snobby twelve year olds on Reddit).

I’ve seen Fury Road four times, twice in theaters and twice on Blu-ray, and it gets better every single time. I’ll be seeing it again in March on the big screen at the 24-Hour Ohio Science Fiction Marathon (which I will be covering on Twitter and maybe on Fortress of Film, so look forward to that).  I can’t wait to experience it with a bunch of other nerds, It’s universally accepted that it’s a genuine masterpiece of the action genre.

So, why is it so surprising that it received as many Oscar nominations as it did? Look back at Oscar history. Name an action movie in the same style of Fury Road that has received a Best Picture nomination. It’s difficult, and not only because there aren’t any movies like Fury Road. Excluding westerns and war movies, there are very few straight-up action movies with the same level of ferocious energy nominated by the Academy. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can qualify, as can Gladiator and Braveheart. But those movies were nominated not for their action only, but because they contained scripts that had fleshed out characters, exciting and involving storylines, and great dramatic depth. Mad Max has action, bigger action, a few character beats, and insanely huge action.

So what does this mean? It means that, for the first time in a long time (ever), action sequences are being recognized by film’s highest honorary ceremony as art. This movie is one two-hour chase sequence with a few five minute breaks for character stuff. That’s it. And in receiving the nominations it deserves, it has accomplished a lot. But this only changes things for the professionalism of it all. I think there are better action movies than Mad Max: Fury Road (even though this has some of the best action sequences ever put to film), and it receiving Oscars doesn’t mean that it’s the greatest action movie ever and films like Die Hard don’t exist or are on a lower level. But seeing a straight up action film getting nominated for Best Picture is something action films haven’t seen in the history of movies.

Finally, on the topic of Mad Max, I want to express my appreciation of the Academy’s nominating both George Miller for Best Director as well as Margaret Sixel for Best Film Editing. All the #OscarsSoWhite stuff aside, we all know that George Miller deserves that Best Director nomination. It amazes me that someone at his age (70) has been able to make an action movie of such earth-shattering vitality. I said the same thing about Martin Scorsese when he directed The Wolf of Wall Street, another high octane movie in a completely different manner.

Regarding Sixel’s film editing, this is something truly significant and worthy of praise. Somehow I found myself on the abysmal site Reddit the other day and was reading up on some hipster film nerds’ thoughts on Fury Road and what they had to say wasn’t very nice. The common denominator I discovered as I read through their opinions was that the editing was weird and not visually appealing. Now, I can see what they’re saying and I can almost understand their frustration. When I first watched the film I was taken aback by it as well. When I saw Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit film, I was critical of the use of 48fps, as I feel it’s something that makes everything feel not just too real, but too soap opera-ish. But here is what I think about the editing in Mad Max: it’s actually quite brilliant.

Instead of editing the film like a normal action movie, Miller decided to use speed-ramping, a tactic Hollywood is not unfamiliar with. Look at past films like 1993’s The Fugitive or even the early scene with Drew Barrymore in Wes Craven’s first Scream movie. Speed-ramping is used in a lot of films (look at Zack Snyder’s films for more), but Fury Road is the first film I’ve seen to use it for the entire film, and uses it as a means of being artistic and not just for convenience.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that the only scenes that feel sped up are the scenes that don’t take place on the road (or do, but are inside the vehicles or during a slow character beat). This is brilliant because it’s Miller’s way of making the film feel like it’s moving at one speed. The bulk of his film takes place on the Fury Road, as the Furiosa flees from Immortan Joe. Those scenes are big and fast anyway, so when it comes to the slower scenes, Miller’s use of speed-ramping makes everything feel like a living, breathing movie with a rapid heartbeat. He’s managed to make an action movie with slow scenes that feel as energetic as the action scenes. It’s actually quite marvelous, and I hope that Margart Siskel takes home the Oscar for Editing (although it wouldn’t kill me if The Force Awakens wins.mad max fury

If you stuck with this lengthy piece, you clearly love movies as much as I do, so I want to say thank you and you’re awesome! Follow me on Twitter @TheBenjaminL. There’s more where all this came from.

Below are my predictions and wishes for the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, which takes place LIVE Sunday, February 28, 2016 at 7e/4p. Chris Rock will host. For more, go to www.oscar.go.com.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 BEST FILM EDITING

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road or Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: The Danish Girl

My Preference: Cinderella (or tell us that Crimson Peak is secretly a nominee/the winner)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: The Revenant

My Preference: Sicario or The Hateful Eight

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road or Bridge of Spies (or tell us that Crimson Peak is secretly a nominee/the winner)

BEST SOUND MIXING

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

 BEST SOUND EDITING

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “Earned It”

My Preference: “Earned It”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Preference: The Hateful Eight

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Will Win: World of Tomorrow

My Preference: Bear Story

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

Will Win: Everything Will Be Okay

My Preference: Everything Will Be Okay or Stutterer

BEST DOCUMENTARY – SHORT SUBJECT

Will Win: Last Day of Freedom

My Preference: No preference

BEST DOCUMENTARY – FEATURE

Will Win: The Look of Silence

My Preference: The Look of Silence

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Will Win: Son of Saul

My Preference: No preference

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Will Win: Inside Out

My Preference: Inside Out

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Will Win: The Big Short

My Preference: Room

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Will Win: Inside Out

My Preference: Inside Out

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Will Win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

My Preference: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

My Preference: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST ACTRESS

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

My Preference: Brie Larson, Room

BEST ACTOR

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

My Preference: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

BEST DIRECTOR

Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant

My Preference: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road 

BEST PICTURE

Will Win: Spotlight

My Preference: Mad Max: Fury Road or Room

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Stavros Hadjiyiannis says:

    In matter of fact, black actors have won roughly the same number of Academy Awards as their population percentage would predict. People sometimes tend to refer to US racial issues in a purely binary way. It’s as if the US population is 50% white and 50% black. This is of course very far from the truth. In matter of fact, blacks in the US are not even the second most populous ethnicity, that now belongs to Latinos. The USA was created by European colonizers and has been white dominated ever since. The African portion of the population has never been much more than 10%. Moreover, was Michael B Jordan that great so as to be able to definitively claim that he deserved an Oscar nomination over the other actors? If anything, the minorities that may have some grounds for legitimate complaints are the Latinos and Asians, not blacks

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