Describe the 2018 Oscars in One Word: “Safe”

Its not a surprise at all to me that this years show was the lowest rated Oscar telecast since the Neilsen Ratings started in 1974. Jimmy Kimmel was at best average last year. The two front running movies did not make $100 million between them. And, like it or not, TV audiences are tiring of being lectured, which seems to be an awards show staple.

This year’s Oscars had lower ratings than the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics. They were trying so hard to play it safe and not offend anyone and it showed in a rather dull telecast.

A few years ago, the Academy added more best pictures to the list of nominees to try and increase audience interest. If you look at the highest rated broadcasts of the last 30 years (1994 Forrest Gump, 1997 Titanic, 2003 Return of the King), they have well liked, financially successful movies at their forefront. This year, you have to go to 14th in the years box office to find a film with any Oscar possibilities (Dunkirk) and 47th for one with a real chance (Shape of Water). There were only about 7 nominations combined from the Top 10 films.

Gal Gadot and Luke Evans both gave performances worthy of Oscar consideration in blockbuster movies.

There was only one shock for me the whole night, that Kobe Bryant won an Oscar to a standing ovation in a MeToo world, which Hollywood wants to drive more than anything. Bryant was charged with rape and the charges dropped when his accuser, a 19 year old that Bryant admitted an extra-marital affair with, refused to testify in court. He later settled out of court in a civil suit. Casey Affleck’s accusations are very similar and was not allowed to even present.

There is an exceptional amount of hypocrisy in Hollywood that is emphasized by Bryant’s Oscar. MeToo voices like Meryl Streep and Oprah, some of the Hollywood’s most influential people, befriended and publicly praised Harvey Weinstein and cuddled up to him along with the Clintons and Obamas. They knew.

Ok, off my soap box.

All 8 major categories went exactly according to predictions. Maybe the only surprise of the night was Coco winning for best original song. (Same song writers that previously won for the ubiquitous ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen).

Their were two highlights for me. First was Roger Deakins. A brilliant, prolific cinematographer with 13 prior nominations, many for Best Pic nominees and a couple of winners, and no wins. Blade Runner 2049 was a superb film and he deserved this.

The second was Frances McDormand. She won her first Oscar in 1996 for Marge Gunderson, the plucky, pregnant policy chief in Fargo whose instincts both as a cop and a wife were uncanny. Also, that character has one of my favourite ever movie lines “I’m not sure I agree 100% with your police work there, Lou”. She created one of the most memorable characters in all of film.

McDormand is akin (in my books) to Daniel Day Lewis. Lately she is picky about her projects, few and far between and when she takes one on, she engulfs it

I loved her speech. When she called on Meryl to stand up knowing that others would follow. And then when she said “Talk to us, we have projects we want financed”. A punch of honesty right between the eyes.

She finished her speech by saying “two words … inclusion rider”. ┬áThis is relatively new to Hollywood and is really only at the disposal of A-list stars. Its a rider on their contract that stipulates that 50% of the cast (as far as it can serve the script) and crew must be women and minorities. For a self congratulating industry that seems to still largely be in denial of its problems with abuse, racism and sexism, this may have been the most poignant and effective of any speech given yet.

McDormand used her platform not to lecture and not to give a speech full of empty slogans and platitudes but as a direct call to action for people that wield her level of influence and higher. Bravo.

For the record, I was 7 for 8 on the major categories and 17 for 24 overall. I missed both music categories and Best Picture of all things.

I love the Oscars, always have and always will. There is a growing gap between films that audiences like and those the Academy chose to honour. The more this gap grows the more less relevant that long, languid show will seem. I am not sure how, but it needs to reinvent itself.