Oscars 2022 Preview
By Jim Delmont
The Oscars continue to be influenced by streaming services, which snagged half of all Oscar nominations this awards season – 27 from Netflix alone. Of the nominated ten best films, five were introduced on streaming or near-simultaneously released in theaters and on streaming. The heavy hand of Covid isolation is still on us, though some of the most appealing best picture nominees were theater-only, including “West Side Story,” King Richard” and “Dune.”
The heavy-hand of racial/ethnic quotas are still with us, too, now stronger than ever. Every new American movie, to be considered for future Oscars by 2024 will have to come up with a detailed record of the sexual orientation, race, disability status and gender preference of every member of cast and crew. This is absurd and unfair, and obviously a drag on creative freedom – more suited to Communist China or some other authoritarian society than the good old USA – but it follows a ruthless attempt to achieve “equity” and “diversity” in American filmmaking, a crusade begun by previous Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a black woman, who increased the number of voters and took other steps to reduce the influence of veteran white men in the industry.
One of the results of this swing has been best picture awards not to popular films, as in the past, but to small audience art house films out of the mainstream. So “Midnight,” a dark little flick with a two-minority-in-one leading man (gay and black) beat out “La La Land,” a glorious Hollywood movie about Hollywood, and a musical to boot, for best picture in 2016 despite that “La La Land” had 14 Oscar nominations, winning six, including Best Director and Best Actress. Few ever saw “Midnight,” just as few ever saw “Parasite,” an offbeat Korean language film that won four Oscars, including best picture, director and screenplay. Ironically, it also won Best Foreign Film, the only category in which it should have been considered. Best foreign film is now Best International Film, to be more politically correct. Historically, with very few exceptions, the Academy Awards served the Anglosphere, a gesture reciprocated by the British Academy Awards (BAFTA), which always included American films in almost all categories except the obvious: Best British Film.
The new Oscar czars want more diversity but the plain fact is that the Oscars cannot cover the globe. As we have learned from streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, Turkey has a thriving movie industry, as do Spain and South Korea. Their films, with subtitles, are widely seen, as are Dutch, German, Mexican, Polish and other foreign language films. A sensible accommodation to this new enlarged market would be to add Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor to the foreign film awards. These additional awards won’t take up that much time on air and can replace some of the technical awards that are now being dropped from the broadcasts. But a global Academy would of necessity crowd out English-language films, the mainstay of the Oscars since the first awards in 1929. Despite being among the most celebrated filmmakers of the 20th century, neither Ingmar Bergman (Swedish language) nor Federico Fellini (Italian language) ever won a directing Oscar, despite being nominated multiple times. The English-only tradition was too strong.
Best picture last year was “Nomadland,” an oddball film by Chinese director Chloe Zhao. Despite being in English, its support for three Oscars was no doubt a diversity issue for many voters – a Chinese woman filmmaker. This year, a three-hour Japanese language film, “Drive My Car,” is among the Best Picture nominees and its box office fate will likely be no better than the others mentioned above. Like “Parasite,” it is also nominated in the best foreign film category, where it belongs. The obvious choice for this year’s best picture is “West Side Story,” an American classic, a huge production, directed by one of our most appreciated and busy filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, but don’t hold your breath.
Among other nominees, CODA, a charmer about a deaf family whose hearing daughter wishes to go off to college, is rising, no doubt because of the minority note: a signing cast. Troy Kotsur has already won several best supporting actor awards for his all-signing performance – but how many viewers can read his performance? “The Power of the Dog,” a self-indulgent art house film that teases out many scenes beyond endurance, features two homosexual characters -- which fits the narrative of “diversity.” But it is a dull film in which the lead character’s motivations make no sense. “Belfast,” an autobiographical film of the Northern Irish “troubles” in the 1960s, is written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, filmed in black and white, sentimental, and a true family film – normally it would be a strong candidate, but not this year. “King Richard” would have been strong in previous years, too – the story of the Williams girls’ tennis-promoting father, Richard, played by Will Smith.
The others – “Dune,” Don’t Look Up” (a sci-fi comedy), “Licorice Pizza,” and “Nightmare Alley” (a nightmare), probably have little chance at the statue.
I would go with Spielberg or Branagh for best director, but I missed “Licorice Pizza” (short run here) by one of my favorite filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson. However, Jane Campion (“Dog”) will probably win – she’s a woman.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s sinister cowboy in “Dog” was a brilliant performance, but the actor Oscar should go to either Will Smith – perhaps the best American actor of this era – or to Andrew Garfield, superb in the musical, “tick, tick…BOOM! Smith is the favorite.
Best actress includes a Spanish language performance by Penelope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), and Nicole Kidman as Lucile Ball. Kristen Stewart as Princess Di in “Spencer” is interesting, but a one-note performance in an excruciatingly dark too-long film. Olivia Colman underplays her role in “The Lost Daughter” with near-genius discipline, but Jessica Chastain’s splashy impersonation of troubled, publicity seeking Tammy Faye Bakker may be the best of all.
The best supporting actor by far was veteran Welsh performer Ciaran Hinds, as the grandfather in “Belfast, well ahead of Kotsur, and two “Dog” actors, Kodi-Smit McPhee and Jesse Plemons, as well as J.K. Simmons in the Lucy film, “Being the Ricardos.”
Best Supporting Actress should go to Ariana DeBose, from “West Side Story,” much more impressive than Kirsten Dunst’s bleached out Rose in “The Power of the Dog.” My choices would include Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”) as the mother in “Belfast,” but she wasn’t nominated.
Best Foreign Film will probably be the Japanese entry, “Drive My Car,” which should beat out the garish, heavy-handed, Fellini imitation from Italy, “The Hand of God.”
Last year’s TV Oscar audience was less than 10 million, in contrast to audiences as high as 55 million in the ‘90s. Declining every year, much of this loss has to be attributed to the snarky political bias and self-congratulating wokeness of both winners and presenters. The Motion Picture Academy is losing middle America and it is entirely its own fault. The Oscars used to be a warm-hearted celebration of Americana, but going overboard politically and adding racial, gender and other quotas will only diminish its appeal.