Oscars 2018: One powerful speech, one predictable ceremony

Analysis: Frances McDormand cares a lot, but doesn’t give a damn who she offends

Frances McDormand asks for all of the female nominees at the 2018 Oscars to stand with her as she claims the prize for leading actress. Video: Reuters

 

The 90th Academy Awards will be remembered for a speech that closed off a tumultuous season in powerful, resonant fashion. Frances McDormand, winner of Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, summoned all female nominees to their feet in the Dolby Theatre.

“Look around ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties, invite us into your office in a couple days or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.”

She concluded by making mention of something called an “inclusion rider”. The sound of googling was great among Oscar fans in the wee small hours. It transpires this refers to a contractual clause that requires the hiring of a diverse crew and cast.

An inevitable winner after triumphing at every ceremony that matters since the Golden Globes in early January, McDormand has, over the last weeks, given an admirable impression of caring a lot without giving a damn. That’s to say, she communicates strong feelings without being concerned who she offends.

Don’t put it down to age. Sixty isn’t that old these days. And she’s always been that way.

That moment aside, this year’s Oscar ceremony – coming in the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo and #TimesUp fightback – was bizarrely free of righteous anger.

Unlike at Bafta and the Golden Globes, female nominees did not dress in black and were not encouraged to bring feminist activists as guests. The conversations on the red carpet were considerably less charged than those at such earlier ceremonies.

One depressing reason for the mildness was the dearth of female winners. It seems scarcely believable, but only six out of 33 winners were women (and keep in mind that two acting awards are locked in). That’s the lowest total since 2012. Women are more likely to address women’s issues. Such is the sad way of the world.

The Weinstein issue was shuffled off to Jimmy Kimmel’s rather good opening monologue and to a drab montage in the later stages. It was encouraging to see Annabella Sciorra, Salma Hayek, and Ashley Judd, all of whom had spoken up against the former King of the Oscars, but their speeches were notably lacking in bite.

Hayek came closest to catching the angry spirit. “We salute those unstoppable spirits who kicked ass and broke through the biased perceptions against their gender, race, and ethnicity to tell their stories,” she said. “So as you can see — so full of emotion, a little bit shaky — we ask you to join us as we take a look at some of these trailblazers.”

The montage was, however, full of the usual Oscar waffle about dreams, hope and all that mouthwash.

A bizarre segment followed that reeked of appeasement to those red-state voters who view the Academy as a nest of flag-burning Trots. Wes Studi, the charismatic Cherokee actor and Vietnam veteran, introduced a tribute to military movies and to the US’s armed forces. “I’m proud to have served there for 12 months with Alpha Company of the 39th Infantry. Anyone else?” he said of his time in Vietnam.

The ensuing brief silence felt distinctly awkward. Whose idea was this?

The truth is that the Academy views its pompous, grandiose ceremony as something close to a religious service. It’s all very well for the “little shows” like the Golden Globes and the British Academy to give themselves over to politics, but it would be disrespectful to the Great God Oscar to wind protest in with the celebration. The authorities are still uncomfortable about earlier political outbursts by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Michael Moore.

Still, there were welcome changes. We already knew that Casey Affleck, last year’s winner of Best Actor, would not, as is the usual tradition, be presenting Best Actress.

The subject of a suit for sexual harassment, subsequently settled out of court, Affleck was no sort of poster boy for the #MeToo generation. The Academy juggled things around. Emma Stone, last year’s Best Actress winner, presented Best Director and two pairs of women presented the lead acting gongs.

Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence handled Best Actress. Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren presented Best Actor. That worked nicely. But the ceremony still felt safe, cosy and – we’ll get to this – wearingly predictable.

The Academy was lucky in that one of several nominated films with female leads grabbed the Best Picture award. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is the first picture with a woman up front to triumph since Million Dollar Baby in 2004. That very mild turn-up was as close to a shock as we got all evening.

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – another flick with a female lead – had been anointed as the mildest of favourites by the bookies, but The Shape of Water, which had the most nominations, was very close behind with most odds-makers.

It is some measure of the show’s dull progress that this writer managed to get 20 out of 24 predictions correct in his pre-match report. (If you’re interested, original song, visual effects, documentary and Best Picture were the outliers.)

There is not a great deal the Academy can do about this. Over recent decades, Oscarologists have prospered as satellite ceremonies multiply and awards sites bloom in the surrounding manure. Such pseudo-experts will be digesting the news that one of the great predictors of Oscar success has finally been contradicted. The Shape of Water is the first film to win Best Picture without an ensemble nomination at the Screen Actors Guild since Braveheart in 1995. There are people who care about this very much.

The proportional voting system used for Best Picture since the start of this decade has, happily, made that race the least predictable of the lot. But the lengthy awards season and promiscuous analysis drives all other categories toward a consensus.

There was, this year, not a single Oscar that went to anything other than the favourite or the second favourite (and almost all went to the former). Maybe the Oscars should, without warning anybody, stage a sudden, pirate ceremony on New Year’s Eve. Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Let us celebrate the few highlights in a slick evening. Common got a dig in at the NRA in a rap accompanying Best Song nominee Stand Up for Something. There was a rare good running joke with Kimmel offering a jet ski to the winner who delivered the shortest speech (costume designer Mark Bridges won).

James Ivory, at 89, became the oldest ever Oscar winner when he took Best Adapted Screenplay for Call Me by Your Name.

Presenter Rita Moreno showed off the same dress that she wore when she won Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story in 1962.

The least said about the total shutout for Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird the soonest mended. Saoirse Ronan, a Best Actress nominee for that film, will have many other chances. If she lasts as long as Ivory she’ll be attending the ceremony in 2084. Yikes, alive.

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