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David Poland

By David Poland

Oscars Wrap-Up

Give me a T! Give me an I! Give me a T! Give me an A! OK, enough of that! It’s over. Titanic came pretty close to sweeping. Eleven Oscars. Can’t really argue with any of them. Would I have made a few different calls myself? Sure. Those of you who have been reading this column for a while know that I have some problems with the Big Boat. But I can’t deny that the film has left the hearts of millions floating on air. There’s not a film amongst the Best Picture nominees that I actually dislike. And none that I think is so far above the expert craftsmanship of Titanic that I was rooting for or against any of them. The only winner that I was disappointed by — and I know that many of you disagree — was Helen Hunt.
Even in the clip they showed for Best Film, she was more loud than deep to me. But her win seemed to fit in with the theme of the evening. Inevitability. There was more passion from the “other” award winners than from the big eight. Affleck and Damon tried really hard, but there was that moment where you got the feeling that Matt sensed a comedic lull and decided to start yelling. Jack jumping the lines in the floor didn’t play in the theater because no one there could see the lines. Kim Basinger was kind of sweet, but I had that creepy feeling that Alec Baldwin is going to go Star 80 on us. (Just kidding, Alec. Don’t hit me.) Somehow, a bunch of Oscars on top of a billion dollars seems like gilding the lily. Nonetheless, congratulations to all the winners.
MY FAVORITE MOMENT: Stanley Donen‘s song and dance. I’ve never seen a better prepared acceptance from an award recipient. It had all the charm of a Donen film. Lovely.
MOST GRACIOUS MOMENT: Kevin Costner poking fun at himself as The Postman in the filmed opening. You may have noticed that there weren’t many laughs from the audience. That film scared Hollywood so much that it was a bit like telling a joke about the Holocaust in a synagogue. And I’m not exaggerating.
PRESENT AND UNACCOUNTED FOR: On an evening with so many Oscar winners in the audience (“You are Fay Wray, aren’t you?”), did it seem odd to you that the Academy had Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Drew Barrymore, Alec Baldwin and Matt Dillon handing out awards? Gotta love the Academy’s appreciation for demographics!
THE OSCAR-WINNING LINE-UP: That thing took forever! I mean, I love that kind of thing, but it seemed to go on for half an hour. The thrill was gone somewhere around George Kennedy. And what started creeping into my head was all the people who were missing. I guess that Jodie Foster didn’t want to meet the press. Barbra has a backache. Gary Busey showed up to be on last night’s Oscar episode of “Politically Incorrect,” but he wasn’t on stage at the Oscars. And where were Tom Hanks, F. Murray Abraham, Emma Thompson, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Diane Weist, Mercedes Ruehl, Olympia Dukakis, Linda Hunt, Jessica Lange and Mary Steenbergen? Paul Newman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman and Chris Walken all get a pass for being notoriously absent on a regular basis. But what about Jane Fonda? On the night her brother was nominated for an Academy Award? Weird.
IT’S NOT A DATE: It was nice that Ben and Matt decided to bring the family, but couldn’t they get Gwyneth and Winona a couple of seats? Hell hath no fury like a P.R.-based romance scorned.
GOOD MINNIE HURTING: Minnie Driver looked so lost when the boys went up for their screenplay Oscar. Again. I don’t remember seeing this kind of public agony from a star since Madonna broke with Sean Penn.
SPEAKING OF WITCH: Did Madonna seem distracted, unhappy, catty and generally pissed while introducing other performers for Best Song? She did to me. Plus, the leather gown seemed like an ad for her album and the new shape of her busom seemed like an ad for motherhood.
BILLY RATES: Crystal was right. He should have gotten out after a great performance last year. He was fine, but the material was pretty soft this year. The best part of the Oscar song was the opening to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. All downhill from there, except maybe for getting in Jack’s lap. Crystal may be the perfect Oscar host. He is the only one (as opposed to Letterman, Leno or Dennis Miller) who is really a part of the community. But it was a little stale this time out. Maybe he, Robin and Whoopi should combine Comic Relief and the Oscars next year. All those tuxedos and the homeless. Could be great.
WHY DID THEY: Have to do a dance number? They had to know it would stink. Have giant cookie cutters for Oscar cookies on stage? I kept looking for the cookies. Go to close-ups on Spike Lee and Sidney Poitier when Samuel Jackson came on stage? Maybe they wanted to make Academy segregation more obvious Have a woman from Anastasia flying? I guess they thought it was still last year and they were doing The English Patient.
THE ANTI-OSCARS: On Sunday, Kevin Costner swept the Razzies with wins in every category for which it was nominated, taking worst picture, worst director, worst actor, worst screenplay and worst song. Other Razzie winners were Alicia Silverstone, Dennis Rodman, Speed 2, Con Air and, unfairly I think, Demi Moore, for G.I. Jane.
READER OF THE DAY: That would have to be the winner of my little Oscar contest. There were two people who made the right picks on 19 of the 24 Academy Awards given out last night. Both got all 11 Titanic Oscars. But one of them thought that Titanic would get an even dozen. Yes, Gloria Stuart threw the diamond overboard and she threw Joel Bergen right over the edge too. Our winner got all 11 Titanic nods and all eight of the major awards. When she writes about Jim Cameron, she adds, “a.k.a. JC, a.k.a. Jordan Catalano, a.k.a. Jesus Christ.” SheÕs a world-class smart-ass form the University of Michigan. Erin Podolsky, come on down!

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin