2018 Oscars Musings: A few laughs and a jet ski, but mostly meh

A jet ski was the literal prize offered up for the shortest acceptance speech.

The curtain set on another Oscars night, this the 90th Academy Awards and seeing as it was following last year’s debacle which featured the most insane ending to an awards show, maybe ever, it was going to be hard to match the level of craziness this year.

And overall, the night never really reached great heights. Under the hanging gloom of what has transpired in Hollywood over the past six-months, it was going to be a tricky occasion for host Jimmy Kimmel, who didn’t really have the freedom he did last year.

It was however a great crop of nominated movies and a great group of Best Directors and performances across the four-key actor/actress categories. Despite this, the major categories all contained strong favourites and the only real mystery was coming from Best Picture.

It was an Oscars which will be remembered no doubt, but nothing overly memorable will last the test of time.

The favourites won as expected

Gary Oldman was a lock for Best Actor and duly delivered. Allison Janney was heavy favourite for Best Supporting Actress and didn’t disappoint. Sam Rockwell was always going to take home Best Supporting Actor and Frances McDormand was a certainty for Best Actress. Put simply, the favourites came through. There weren’t any major surprises across the board, really in any category. The closest thing to a major upset was Icarus winning Best Documentary, however its reputation had been growing, particularly with Russia’s systematic doping being in the news around the Winter Olympics. The Shape of Water emerged as a front runner for Best Picture early on and even though Three Billboards was the recognised favourite and there was plenty of late buzz around Get Out, Guillermo Del Toro’s fish monster love story taking the major prize wasn’t a major shock.

Kimmel’s an ideal Oscars host

Returning for his second Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel was a good as always. His opening monologue was strong and his bits throughout the night worked. Overall the comedy was a little stale, but it usually is at the Oscars, but Kimmel’s self-depreciation is a welcome change in an environment where everyone takes themselves very, very seriously. The major skit involving commoners won’t be remembered like last year’s tour bus guests. It was literally just celebrities interrupting a bunch of people’s trip to the movies. However, Gal Gadot constantly reminding us how much more fun she was having there than at the Oscars and Armie Hammer firing what looked like a potentially lethal hot dog cannon saved it from completely falling flat.

The #MeToo movement didn’t dominate, and that’s a good thing

It was always going to be the elephant in the room and thankfully it wasn’t overdone. Kimmel touched on Weinstein, while three of his most prominent accusers, Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra introducing a montage which featured the likes of Lee Daniels, Ava DuVernay, Kumail Nanjiani and Greta Gerwig discussing the changing culture of Hollywood. Emma Stone had a strange moment where she labelled the Best Director nominees, “four men and Greta Gerwig”, which was unnecessary and it all built to McDormand’s speech which led to all the female nominees standing. It was prominent without being totally overbearing.

Not enough love for Dunkirk

My personal pick for Best Picture was upstaged as expected in the main award and director Christopher Nolan missed out again for Best Director. It did sweep the two awards for sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, while also picking up a third gong for Best Film Editing. The award Dunkirk should definitely have won was Best Original Score. Zimmer’s incredible musical accompaniment to almost every scene is such a major part of the movie and definitely served a bigger impact than Alexandre Desplat’s winning score in The Shape of Water.

No love at all for Lady Bird

Of the seven films nominated for five or more awards, only Lady Bird failed to bring home any statues. Gerwig missed out in her two categories and lead Saoirse Ronan always faced a mammoth task overcoming McDormand for Best Actress. Laurie Metcalf should have won Best Supporting Actress, but alas Lady Bird came up empty. I did see a tweet labelling it the best movie to have not won an Oscar, an interesting debate to be had.

Props to Jordan Peele

Get Out winning Best Picture would have been the real talking point that would have carried this Oscars further into the future. We’ll never know where Peele’s horror masterpiece ended up in voting but he did snag the Best Original Screenplay award and rightfully so. It was a stacked category, but you do feel that Get Out will be the movie most remembered from this year’s class, so Peele being recognised with an Oscar win was exciting.

Kobe Bryant won an Oscar

It’s always funny to see those takes of “BLANK has an Oscar while the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt have none.” Add Bryant to that list as his animated short, Dear Basketball earned the long-time Laker another statue for his mantle piece. It may be a little odd considering the short returned mixed reviews from critics and also Bryant’s own personal history, in this, the year of #MeToo.

Oscars 2018: Metcalf’s rollecoaster of emotions matches Janney’s cold performance

Laurie Metcalf and Allison Janney are the two top picks for Best Supporting Actress.

A quick look at the Oscars’ betting markets and you won’t find much value or doubt on who will be walking away with the main awards.

Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) is an unbackable favourite for Best Actor, Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is a certainty for Best Actress and Sam Rockwell (Billbaords) looks set to take out Best Supporting Actor.

Best Picture is a little murkier with The Shape of Water and Billboards looming as the two main chances to fight it out.

It’s not surprising with so much information on hand to know how the Academy is thinking, plus those are undoubtedly standout performances in what turned out to be a strong movie year.

One other category with a clear favourite which doesn’t seem quite so warranted is Allison Janney (I, Tonya) for Best Supporting Actress.

Janney’s performance as LaVona Golden, the abusive mother of Tonya Harding, is memorable and at most times unsettling, however is it really that much more impressive than another supporting actress who plays a mother? Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird).

Leading actress Saoirse Ronan, who also earned an Oscar nom as the titular character, is the star of the coming-of-age comedy/drama, but don’t sleep on how influential Metcalf is as her mother, Marion.

Marion McPherson isn’t a typical motherly character in a movie like Lady Bird. She races from being caring, to blunt, to loving, to furious and back to caring, sometimes all within the same scene. Lady Bird is a feel-good character everyone gets behind, but Metcalf needs to be grounded, the key character to portray the family’s situation of battling to make ends meet on “the wrong side of the tracks’ in Sacramento.

From her opening scene where she tells her daughter to attend community college so she can experience jail and then go back to city college, to her final moments of refusing to even say good bye as Lady Bird jets off to New York, Metcalf always teeters on being unlikeable but you always sympathise with the struggling parent, working double shifts at the psychiatric hospital. Every decision she makes is for her children.

Through the lens of Lady Bird, Metcalf often comes across as the key villain in the movie. With her upbeat personality and a father who rarely even raises his voice, her mother acts as the voice of reason, often blanketing the whimsical nature coming from the perky high school graduate.

Yet Metcalf always allows the audience to understand her motivation and why she is often so tough on her only daughter. From begging her to say something to Lady Bird after discovering she was on a college waiting list on the other side of the country, your heart also breaks when she finds Lady Bird and her friends cooking up a storm in her kitchen on Thanksgiving night, so disappointed the family didn’t spend the day together.

And while you chide the way she often dismisses Lady Bird’s hopes and dreams for the future, particularly when it comes to colleges, the sight of her painstakingly trying to write a good bye before her daughter leaves for NYC is a reminder for all parents, they never want their child to leave.

Janney by contrast has one emotion, and one emotion only, rage. In fairness she is playing a real person and judging by the interview footage we get of Ms. Golden in the closing credits, Janney really only had that one emotion to work with.

She does have some memorable scenes, Tonya’s wedding and her attempt to record her own daughter immediately springing to mind. While there also is the key moment a knife ends up sticking out of Tonya’s arm. But she does feel removed down the stretch, with her younger years and the earlier scenes in the move feeling distant to how it all unravels by the end.

She shouldn’t be demoted for that, and she won’t be, having already swept the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, suggesting her first Oscar triumph isn’t too far away, but Metcalf just leaves a bigger impression than Janney in their two respective performances.

There’s something about being so unlikeable that speaks to Oscar voters, J.K. Simmons in Whiplash one recent example. However, Metcalf’s ability to at times feel like that while always being as sweet as her daughter should lead to a closer final race.