Notes on the Oscars: A round-up of this year's Academy Awards

1917 or Parasite? Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks? Laura Dern or Scarlett Johannson? Catch a few members of Cinema Express weighing in on the Oscar debate. 
Notes on the Oscars: A round-up of this year's Academy Awards

As you read this copy, the Academy Awards might have been announced. If you are like us, you would be cross-checking to see if your predictions came true. Meanwhile, people will also be reading between the lines of acceptance speeches for signs of political allegiance. There will also be those too sad about the likes of Christian Bale not getting nominated.

Like you, we too are excited about the Oscars. Here are some of us - Sudhir Srinivasan (SS), Ashameera Aiyappan (AA) and Avinash Ramachandran (AR)  picking our favourites, and discussing this year's nominations.

AR: Let's start off with the Best Picture nominees, shall we?

SS: It's curious, isn't it, that while there's a bigger pool of Best Film nominees, the Best Director nominees aren't allowed to exceed five. 

AA: I think this can be attributed to the Academy's aim to include the more 'commercial' ventures into the fold.

AR: Something like a consolation prize of sorts?

SS: (Laughs) The problem, as we can see, is someone like Greta Gerwig (Little Women) not getting a Best Director nomination despite the film being nominated under several categories.

AA: I don't think it is fair that Gerwig get nominated simply because she is a woman filmmaker.

SS: I am not suggesting that we must nominate Gerwig because she is a woman. It is hard not to wonder though whether the snub is because she is a woman.

AR: Apart from women filmmakers not being nominated, another criticism made against the Academy, yet again, is the lack of representation in the nominations.

AA: Yeah, the snubs for Lupita in Us, and Awkwafina in The Farewell are pretty shocking.

SS: I agree. There is just one non-white actor who has made it to the acting nominations list (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet). Also among those unfairly excluded is Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers).

AR: Yeah, that has come in for some criticism.

SS: I think the problem is, the perception of her as a singer might be causing people not to give due credit to her acting credentials.

AR: Ah, reminds me of that age-old generalisation of how models don't necessarily make great actors.

AA: I think this year's nominations have taken the Oscars a step back, instead of moving forward, as it seemed in recent years.

AR: Talking about going forward, how do you see the Academy adapting to 'disruptions' by digital platforms like Netflix?

AA: Even a big name like Martin Scorsese needed Netflix to make The Irishman.

AR: Yes, and you have names like Anthony Hopkins, and Scarlett Johansson getting involved in Netflix productions.

SS: Even when people weren't as familiar with the works of Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), his Netflix film, Okja, was quite spoken about. On some level, I want to believe that as long as you make a good film, your clout does not necessarily matter.

AR: Take, for instance, films like Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and The Irishman. Both big films, with a solid star cast, and made by important filmmakers. One was released in the cinemas, one was on Netflix. So how will the Oscars gauge films made for different medium, moving forward?

SS: I'm sure if you ask the filmmakers themselves, they wouldn't exactly fret over their films being pitted against each other. I'll be surprised if, say, Tarantino spends time worrying about how OUATIH would stack against a Marriage Story.

AR: Couldn't the Academy just go the Emmy way and have a Best Feature film made for Television category, as seen in the Emmys?

SS: Remember how when a few years back, the Academy in not being too welcoming of Netflix, pointed to certain rules that Netflix films couldn't follow, including theatrical screening. Netflix, however, has figured a way to tick such boxes. That's why I think films like Joker, 1917 and Parasite are important. These are films that make a passionate argument for a theatre experience.

AR: So, which film do you think will take home the big prize?

SS: Unless the Academy springs a horrible surprise a la Green Book, this year's winner has got to be between 1917 and Parasite. I root for 1917 because it made for a more emotional experience. Its technical excellence helped make it such an immersive film.

AA: My pick is Parasite. It made me think a lot. There is so much context to talk about, and I feel that hit me harder.

SS: I also see the acknowledgement of a South Korean film like Parasite to be a step forward. It reiterates that telling the stories of our soil, about our people, our emotions, is enough, to help us reach far corners of the world.

AR: I think I will pick Ford V Ferrari mainly because... I loved that film. Also, I am not a big fan of films that dole out messages, be it in Korean, English, or in Tamil.

(laughter all around)

AR: Apart from the usual suspects in the director nominees, I am particularly intrigued about Todd Philipps transforming from being the guy that made Hangover, to the filmmaker who made Joker

SS: Now that we are discussing Joker, I find it interesting that the film, Just like Parasite, is a commentary on class struggle.

AR: One of the biggest criticism against Joker is the glorification of violence, and giving a sympathetic backstory to a psychopath.

SS: Like we saw Mysskin do in Psycho.

AR: Exactly.

SS: Today, we are quick to box perpetrators of any crime as 'animals'. It gets reduced to an us vs them narrative. It is important to make an attempt to understand them. Such stories help us to.

AR: But can we expect political correctness in a film with flawed leads?

SS: Yes. I think we should. If someone glorifies problematic behaviour, then it should be called out. But Joker was a tragedy that painted the portrait o a broken man. Its point is that society too is responsible in the making of a psychopath.

AR: So, let me ask. Had the film not been about The Joker, had it been a regular film about a random psychopath, would the reception to that final scene, be different?

SS: First, the same ending may not have made sense, if the objective was not to serve as an origins story. Having said that, if a regular film attemped to paint the decadence of a society, I would still have bought it.

AA: I think the reception would have been different, yes. It is not just the character of The Joker, but also the attachment we seem to have developed for him. Over the years, the adulation and empathy for the character has become quite strong.

AR: As we speak about Joker, there's another film, Jojo Rabbit, that has created some controversy.

SS: For me, Jojo Rabbit wasn't just about the Nazis or Germany. It also speaks of hate politics. This is something that is happening across the world, in different pockets. This is a time when politicians are using it as a tool to quite some success.

AA: Jojo Rabbit talks about how a ten-year boy, who has been forcefully fed a narrative, is oblivious to the real truth. How do children handle such trauma? Similar to Life is Beautiful, this was the crux of the film for me.  

AR: One of the reasons why these political overtones were so convincing are the performances. Joaquin Phoenix seems to be a clear favourite for the Best Actor Oscar. 

AA:  My pick too. It was a physical performance. I really loved how he consistently stayed in a zone that's between laughter and sorrow. 

AR: One could say what Joaquin did in Joker was 'in-your-face acting'. How does one compare it with, say, Jonathan Pryce's subtle yet effective performance from Two Popes?

SS: It is a tough question. We also have to acknowledge that a character like Joker lends itself to such dramatic performances. The subtle performances, I think, need to be extraordinarily good to compete with a conventional, in-your-face, obviously good portrayal. 

AR: For the supporting actor (Male), you have Brad Pitt who has been winning awards, while people like Tom Hanks, and Joe Pesci have been nominated. Is the flamboyance working there as well?

AA: Brad Pitt's performance was rather effortlessly charismatic. I think it's quite the opposite of Joaquin. 

SS: Also, with the Oscars, it is sometimes about honouring a rich body of work. Brad Pitt has been doing good roles now and like it was with DiCaprio, the mounting pressure to recognise him could work in his favour. I feel Pitt's chops as an actor has not received the recognition it has deserved. Perception of his sex appeal, like I said about Jennifer Lopez, seems to overshadow his obvious talent.

AR: Moving on to Best Actor (Female), interestingly, Scarlett Johansson has been nominated for both the best lead and supporting actor. 

SS: I believe she has had a great year, and this is a reflection of it.

AA: My pick for Best Female Lead though, would have to be Renée Zellweger for Judy. It is another very physical performance where I couldn't recognise her in the first few minutes of the film. She completely transformed into someone else (Judy Garland).

AA: What about Best Supporting Actor (Female)? Will Laura Dern walk away with yet another trophy for Marriage Story?

SS: It is hard to predict. But I am rooting for Florence Pugh (Little Women). Greta Gerwig has reinterpreted Amy's character to create in us more empathy for her. With all the restrictions that women had back then, for women, it was about making the best choice among some thankless choices. Amy, in this film, does the same she does in the book - everything that should essentially make her 'unlikeable'. But Pugh's performance stops you from hating her.

AR: I would go with Laura, even though I have a soft spot for Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit. Between both, I believe Laura had the tougher role to pull off. While Scarlett had a more defined graph, imagine playing a lawyer, caught between a couple that is splitting up. To make such a restrictive role memorable is quite a task. 

AR: Let's move to the music. Joker's score has been fetching all the awards so far. But we also have nominations for 1917, and John Willaims for Star Wars. Interesting trivia: Williams has been nominated 52 times so far. 

AA:  That's amazing. The score that affected me the most was Hildur Guðnadóttir's work for Joker. In fact, the scene where Joker dances in the bathroom is an improv reaction after Joaquin listened to Hildur's score. That's the kind of effect the score had on me as well. 

AR: I believe that leaves us with cinematography, where Roger Deakins seems to be a clear favourite. 

SS: Give him the award already.

WATCH THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION HERE: 

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