90th Oscars Keep it Serious
by Leon Sommer-Simpson
Jimmy Kimmel took the stage as host of the Academy Awards for a second year in a row, this past Sunday, March 4. This year’s Academy Awards, in the wake of a slew of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood elites, had a sullen tone. The #Metoo and Time’s Up movements took a prominent role before and during the ceremonies. Controversy and political dour have played a large role in the last few years of the Oscars. The 2017 ceremony featured Trump joke after Trump joke from Kimmel, criticizing the president’s divisive comments at the time. Activism from the celebrity Oscar presenters was rampant as well. The 88th Oscars in 2016 featured Chris Rock as the host, who had the momentous task of quelling the rage that ensued when no black films or actors were nominated in any major category (#OscarsSoWhite).
Kimmel’s opening monologue fell flat, perhaps because of the serious matter at hand. The jokes lacked much of the energy and political edginess that set apart his hosting the previous year from other hosts. In one of the stronger jokes of the evening, Kimmel remarked how the Oscar statue “Keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations. And that’s the kind of men we need more of in this town.” Kimmel made a few more jokes about Hollywood’s struggles for diversity and inclusion, saying “‘Black Panther’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ are—were massive hits, which is almost miraculous because I remember a time when the major studios didn’t believe a woman or a minority could open a superhero movie. And the reason I remember that time was because it was March of last year.”
The Oscars had a few slight changes this year. An earlier, 7:00 p.m. start time was implemented, which paved the way for an even longer ceremony. Kimmel, in an effort to curb the length of the acceptance speeches, introduced a “Price is Right” style gag in which the oscar winner with the shortest speech was promised a jetski. By the end of the night, Mark Bridges, costume designer of “Phantom Thread” rode off pulled atop the aquatic vehicle. The winner envelopes looked different in this year’s ceremony as well. They were neatly arranged with award title on the outside, to prevent a fiasco like that of the 2017 Oscars, in which the Best Actress in a Leading Role envelope, instead of the Best Picture envelope, was delivered, and “La La Land” was announced winner when “Moonlight” had really won.
The Northside community had a proverbial horse in the race this year, with “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” nominated for Best Documentary. Northside parent, David E. Simpson (my father) edited “Abacus,” a film following the indictment and trial of a small, family-run New York Chinatown bank. Abacus, targeted for minor infractions, was the only bank facing criminal charges after the 2008 financial crisis, while big banks like Bank of America were bailed out. However, the Netflix produced documentary about the Russian Olympic doping scandal, “Icarus,” took Best Documentary.
The Academy followed the path of least resistance in many of their picks this year; i.e. many winners were expected beforehand, and most often the safe choice was made. Such was the case as Gary Oldman won Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” Frances McDormand won Best Actress for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and the wins for Best Director and Best Picture that Guillermo del Toro received for “The Shape of Water.” McDormand commanded one of the most powerful moments of the night during her acceptance speech in which she finished saying “I have two words to say: inclusion rider,” in reference to a clause in film contracts where actors can insist upon diversity on both sides of the camera.
Despite the impassioned words from some, the Oscars ninetieth anniversary failed to spark continuous excitement from its jokes, picks, and controversies.