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'Self-serving at the best of times, the Oscars are merely a marketing tool for Hollywood'

I’ll be shaking my fist at the TV, with the other wrapped responsibly around a glass of wine, writes Steven Galvin.

Steven Galvin

THE OSCARS HAVE never been a particularly trustworthy benchmark of quality and in the past have gone to great lengths to display a peculiar ignorance of cinema.

Self-serving at the best of times, some might say that the Oscars are merely a glamorous marketing tool for Hollywood to boost business and sell its product.

La La Land

The most successful product this year, with 14 nominations, is La La Land, which has been tingling at the box-office with the “Oscar buzz”. Despite a common feeling among cinemagoers that, “it’s good… but not that good”, as far as the Oscars go, it’s a stone-cold, heart-of-gold winner.

It’s been sending both critics and audiences home with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts, and has been masterfully placed centre stage at the perfect moment. Its 14 nominations puts it on a par with All About Eve and Titanic for receiving the most Oscar nominations.

Best females

Speaking of records, it’s a pleasure to see Meryl Streep breaking her own record, receiving her 20th nomination. Not bad for an “overrated” actress.

Joining her is Ruth Negga (G’wan ya good thing) for her stoic performance in Loving and Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert.

The Oscar will more than likely be won by Emma Stone for her refined performance in La La Land, embracing an understated charming display of emotion and ambition that out-muscles her thinly written character, and elegantly soars towards the stars.

Nominations were not without some controversy

shutterstock_179718737 Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto at the 86th annual Academy Awards. Source: Shutterstock/Helga Esteb

Showing how forgiving Hollywood can be in certain cases, Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck received approval from the Academy. While no-one can question the quality of their talents, some have commented that it does highlight Hollywood’s ability to turn a blind eye to powerful men who abuse their positions.

Amongst the five nominations for Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson was nominated for Best Director. The Oscar though will go to Damien Chazelle, who pulls out all the stops for La La Land with his vibrant framing, elegant camerawork and luscious long takes. Chazelle is in full charm mode tossing buckets of sparkling rainbows over his audience.

Casey Affleck is up for Best Actor, which he’ll probably win. It’s a masterful performance from Affleck, whose joyless disconnect and bottled-up emotions provide the veneer for the rumblings of a volcano.

Lots to celebrate following last year’s #OscarsSoWhite embarrassment

As a result, the Academy Awards’ organisers promised a “sweeping series of substantive changes” that would aim to double the number of women and ethnic minority members. And so this year, eyes were on the diversity among nominations and how well they represent what and whose stories are being told.

Happily enough, there has been some change. This year three black films have been nominated in the Best Picture category. Barry Jenkins became the fourth black filmmaker to earn a Best Director nomination for Moonlight and was also nominated alongside co-writer Tarell McCraney and the late August Wilson for their scripts for Moonlight and Fences.

Last year, 20 nominees in the main acting categories were white. This year seven of the 20 actors nominated are not white and in the best supporting actress category black women are the majority.

Bradford Young is just the second black cinematographer to be nominated for Arrival and Joi McMillon is the first black woman nominated for editing for Moonlight. And, for the first time in any category, in the Best Documentary Feature nominations, four of the five nominees are filmmakers of African descent, one of whom, is female.

Latinos and women are noticeably absent

While such diversity is to be applauded, many have pointed to the fact that there is still a glaring absence of Latinos. And another thing that didn’t change was that there was no room for women in the Best Director category.

That makes it a miserly two women nominated in 13 years – not good. This year again, there were easily enough quality films directed by women to warrant nominations.

From the 250 highest-grossing films at the American box office in 2016, only 7 percent had female directors, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. And yet, despite this, there were still easily enough quality films directed by women to warrant nominations: American Honey (Andrea Arnold), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt), Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve) to name three.

Surprise omissions

Every year there are a number of surprise omissions – with the most gasps heard for Amy Adams’ exclusion from the Best Actress category. As if electing Trump wasn’t bad enough – how could Amy miss out? Everyone loves Amy but not the Academy this year it seems.

Receiving only one nomination each, Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals felt the cold shoulder of Oscar. While closer to home, we all thought we’d be singing along to a nomination for Best Original Song for Sing Street.

But no, those cold-hearted bastards drove a stake through our hearts and stole our dreams. I’ll be shaking my fist at the TV, with the other wrapped responsibly around a glass of wine.

Steven Galvin is the editor of Film Ireland, Ireland’s only dedicated film magazine. Film Ireland magazine provides a fantastic archive of information on Irish film over the last two and a half decades.

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Steven Galvin

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