Oscars So Slight - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Oscars So Slight

That thundering noise you heard across the United States on the morning of February 8 was the sound of mass indifference to the Academy Awards nominations, which were announced live on ABC-TV with the usual (but now pathetic) fanfare by two performers, in this case Tracee Ellis Ross, an actress I’ve never heard of, and Leslie Jordan, one of those veteran supporting actors whom you’ve seen before but whose name you didn’t know. (In an apparent bow to diversity, the half-hour program cut away for one award announcement to a black high-school girl and for another to an acting student at Howard University; and, in an apparent attempt to make up for Hollywood’s fervent — and audience-alienating — support for two years of Antifa and BLM arson, the nominees for a third award were read off by a New York fireman who was surrounded by fellow firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs.)

For years, interest in the Oscars has been eroding. A big part of the reason is this: back in Hollywood’s heyday, there was a sizable overlap, year by year, between the list of films that drew large audiences and those that garnered the most praise from critics (and, ultimately, were accorded nominations by the Academy). The top-grossing film of 1942, Mrs. Miniver, also won the award for Best Picture; and among that year’s nine other biggest hits, no fewer than four — Random Harvest, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Pride of the Yankees, and Wake Island — were also among the 10 Best Picture nominees.

With identity politics front and center at the Oscars, it’s no wonder that Americans don’t care anymore.

Contrast that with 2019, when there was zero overlap between the list of 10 top grossers (led by Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, Frozen II, Spider Man, and Captain Marvel) and the 10 Best Picture nominees (including Parasite, Ford v. Ferrari, The Irishman, Little Women, and Marriage Story). Even before COVID came along, few grown-ups were going out to movie theaters anymore except to take their kids to see cartoons or superheroes; the lockdown would seem to have driven the last nail in that coffin.

Then there’s the impact of the #OscarsSoWhite movement. After all 20 acting nominees in 2015 turned out to be Caucasian, the motion-picture Academy came under massive pressure to go the affirmative-action route. Five years later, the Academy announced new diversity rules that, according to the New York Times, sent “shock waves through Hollywood.” Although not set to take effect until 2024, the rules seemed to influence the choice of acting nominees for 2020, which included 10 whites, seven blacks, and three Asians.

This year’s list has already been criticized as a step back, even though three of the 20 nominated actors — that is, 15 percent — are black, which sounds about right, given that the U.S. is 14.2 percent black. In fact, you may want to bump that figure up to three and a half blacks (17.5 percent) because Ariana DeBose, Anita in the West Side Story remake, calls herself “Afro-Latino.” Add Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz to the Latino total, and you’ve got two and a half Latinos (only 12.5 percent— ¡Vergüenza! — in a country that’s now at least 18 percent Latino). That leaves 13 non-Latino whites (65 percent).

For David Oliver of USA Today, this wasn’t good enough: this year’s Oscar nominations, he complained, have failed “to build on diversity momentum.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun agreed. Using the term “global majority” — the cool new label for non-whites (the old one, “people of color,” is bad because, to quote Global Studies professor Daniel Lim, it “centers whiteness”), this year’s Best Actress race was shut out entirely “from women who hail from the global majority,” whereas this year marks the first time that “the lead actor race ever saw more than one nominee from the global majority.” (The actors in question are Will Smith and Denzel Washington.)

With identity politics front and center at the Oscars, it’s no wonder that Americans don’t care anymore.

Then again, this year’s Oscar nods did turn a few heads in Norway, where I live. The reason: a Norwegian movie, The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier and co-written by Trier and Eskil Vogt, was nominated not only for Best International Feature Film but also for Best Original Screenplay. You want firsts? This is a first. The Minister of Culture (yes, we have one of those) called it “a great day for Norway.” Even the Prime Minister took to Twitter to comment.

I hadn’t heard of this picture before, but I watched it at once on Viaplay. It’s about Julie (Renata Reinsve), an Oslo girl who’s in her late 20s but can’t settle down. She quits med school, studies psychology, switches to photography, then gets a bookstore job. She moves in with an “underground” cartoonist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), only to leave him for a barista, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum). A minute after I scribbled “W. Allen” in my notes, the person I was watching it with said, “Doesn’t this feel kind of like a Woody Allen movie?” Well, certainly more like Woody Allen (in Annie Hall mode) than like any Norwegian film I’m familiar with.

In my experience, even the most urbane and irreligious Osloites still have a touch of down-to-earth farmer in them, and a little Lutheran angel on their shoulders whispering the Jante Law: “Don’t think you’re anything special…. Don’t think you’re good at anything.” But not Julie and her beaux. They’re easily the most cosmopolitan Norwegians I’ve ever seen, either on screen or in real life. They drink wine and whiskey (never beer), their books overflow their bookshelves, they have a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? poster (but no skis in sight), they dance to Billie Holiday singing “The Way You Look Tonight,” they discuss Godfather II and David Lynch, and when they argue they psychologically analyze each other to death.

The movie’s defining line, delivered by Julie, is also — in its expression of frustration at her own lack of clear-cut ambitions and failure to make a mark in the world — by far its most non-Norwegian: “I feel as if I’m playing a supporting role in my own life.” Also decidedly non-Norwegian are a couple of gratifyingly un-PC moments: Eivind, whose dream was to move to New York, leaves his previous girlfriend, an online yoga “influencer,” because she’s an ultra-woke noodge (“It’s as if the West’s guilty conscience was sitting on the couch”); Aksel, accused by a female TV interviewer of creating misogynistic comics, shoots back with a surprisingly stirring rejection of contemporary attempts to cancel artworks because they’re “offensive.”

Gradually, the shadow of Woody Allen recedes, and The Worst Person in the World feels more broadly reminiscent of a range of mature American movies of the late 1960s and 1970s with strong, complex, and (yes) somewhat vexatious female leads, among them The Happy Ending, An Unmarried Woman, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Perhaps that’s one reason why this film — charming, funny, and ultimately touching — has been such a success with Academy voters: foreign though it is, it not only feels very American but also harkens back to one of Hollywood’s finer chapters, when a lot of movies were actually about the lives of recognizably real people.

And hey, you know what? Though it takes place entirely in a city that’s 10 percent Muslim, the main characters in The Worst Person in the World are all white, straight, and young. Despite plenty of crowded street scenes, I didn’t see a single hijab. In short, no bean-counting here; just intelligent, sensitive filmmaking of the type that the Oscars — almost a century ago now — were purportedly created to honor.

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