Oscars 2018: too politically correct?

I know, I am a few days late, taking some time to reflect on the outcome of this Oscar night was very much needed!

I woke up last Monday morning to find out that Green Book had won as Best Motion Picture. With a perfect timing, I had actually watched that move the night before with a few friends, and one of the first things that I thought while watching it was ‘No, it’s too funny, it is not going to win’, so my bet had fallen on Cuaròn’s Roma. But, God, I was so wrong!

Green Book

My immediate reaction was really, really, really negative. I don’t think that Green Book is not a movie worthy to win as Best Picture. It is witty, it makes the audience laugh, it easily moves with its banal-but-reassuring happy-ending, and undoubtedly it is a lovely movie to watch. But no, Best Picture is waaaaay too much. And I wasn’t expecting the Oscars to be SO politically correct.

For those of you who haven’t watched Green Book, it is set in the racist United States of the 60s around the real story of Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italo-American living in the Bronx, who becomes the chauffeur, and then friend, of Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a sophisticated Afro-American piano player.

 When I think about last years’ winners, there was something that differentiated the winners from the mass: I didn’t like The Shape of Water, way too sappy and surreal, but at least the direction was something. I could feel that it was going to win, certainly because of the love-wins-over-difference theme but also for other formal and aesthetic arrangements. Same for Moonlight in 2017, it was again the typical, socially engaged story for the Oscars, but at least there was something more.

This time, on the other hand, I didn’t feel Green Book had nothing extraordinary. I liked it, I laughed, it also moved me. It highlights an issue which must never be forgotten, but c’mon, Best Picture?? I would have approved more if The Favourite had won, but sorry, lesbians in the 18th century are not as important as racism in the 60s.

Still image from The Favourite

And, from one perspective, the Oscars are an American price, so it is understandable that they give voice to their ‘local’ (if it can be called local, since it is exported in almost the whole world) culture and try to send messages that touch mainly – but not exclusively – Americans. And nowadays, with Trump and the 2020 elections, it is more than necessary to continuously highlight and bring to memory the past in order not to make the same mistakes.

(And it is amazing how, for the past six Oscars editions – excluding in 2016 – the award for best director was always won by a Mexican director: Alfonso Cuaròn in 2013 and 2018, Alejandro G. Iñarritu in 2014 and 2015, Guillermo del Toro in 2017.)

Kathryn Bigelow accepting the Oscar for The Hurt Locker

But, on the other hand, isn’t the Academy Award an institution celebrating filmmaking and honoring remarkable artists of the film industry? Is it appropriate to be this politically correct in an institution that, formally, promotes first-class cinema? And then, if the Academy gives so much attention to social and nondiscriminatory themes, why is it that only one woman in history, Kathryn Bigelow in 2008, won an Oscar as Best Director?

I want this to be the starting point for a quiet debate in your minds, as it is happening in mine. I still don’t have an answer, and if half of me is more and more disappointed each year that the Academy rewards movies for the themes and not for the movie itself, on the other hand I don’t feel like I should totally demonize what happens.

As always, I would love to hear what you think!

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REVIEW: D. Gilroy’s ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

*this review contains spoilers*

Velvet Buzzsaw has been released on February 1 on Netflix. When I first watched the trailer, advertised everywhere, I couldn’t believe that, finally, one of the most famous digital media platforms was that interested in the contemporary artistic world to make it the protagonist of one of its new releases.

And not just a random movie no one cares about, but with a tremendous cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (…do I really have to say who he is?), Toni Colette (Abigail Breslin’s mother in that wonderful movie that is Little Miss Sunshine), Rene Russo (Thor) and Natalia Dyer, also known as Nancy Wheeler from Stranger Things. Oh, and John Malkovich as well! What could possibly go wrong?

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’
© Claudette Barius, Netflix

Actually, a lot. Watching the trailer gave me the idea that the guy that wrote the screenplay – actually the director himself, Dan Gilroy (The Nightcrawler) – wasn’t entirely sure of what he was doing. The trailer itself is divided in two parts, one with club music in the background to introduce the posh and classy environment of art, the second quickly turned into a horror movie, with brief shots of someone being strangled, someone having a car accident and then being kidnapped by monkeys in a painting (yeah, I know what you are thinking), with Gyllenhaal voice in the background explaining/spoiling the whole plot.

A movie like this could only be either a cult or a disappointment, most likely the latter.

But let’s go into details. The first part has tons of promise: it is witty, provocative, it attracts the viewer into this creative nest of vipers showing appreciation for one another only until they find the right way to destroy each others. All the main characters are introduced with an initial scene shot at the Miami Art Basel fair: we see critic Morf Vanderwalt (what a name), played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he peers at arworks behind his stylish glasses, ready to destroy the careers of every artists he is not convinced by, who falls under the charm of Josephina (Zawe Ashton), a really hideous character (believe me) working for Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner and founder of one of the most prominent galleries in LA only looking to make more and more money – the same desire driving all the characters in the movie.

Unfortunately, it seems that Gilroy forgot that characters need to be developed. They are inconsistent and several scenes are illogical and meaningless. First of all, the artist impersonated by John Malkovich, who doesn’t seem to have a precise role in the plot and whose scenes seem to be in the movie for no apparent reason.

Morf sees for the first time Dease’s works

The plot progresses when Josephina casually finds the corpse of her neighbour, who happens to be an artist no one knew about who lived isolated in his apartment, constantly creating new paintings. She sees something in those artworks and takes them home. Vanderwalt judges the canvas as ‘visionary, mesmeric’ and Haze gallery promotes and sells them to the public. The only issue is that Ventril Dease (the dead artist’s name) had left clear instructions that each and every one of his works had to be destroyed and never commercialized.

But, c’mon, there’s so much money to be made! No one cares about his last note.

Gretchen’s arm gets eaten by the Sphere

The artist’s curse (?) starts falling upon all those who have a role in selling his works to the public. Bodies start piling up. First the technician installing his artworks (he’s the one killed by monkeys), then a rival art gallery owner (hanged by a mysterious hand coming out of the ceiling), and then my favourite, Gretchen (Toni Colette), an art advisor who sticks her arm in one of the holes of Sphere, a work of art, and… well, her arm gets severed in a splatter scene that reminded me of Scary Movie. She bloods out on the gallery floor, and the next morning everyone assumes her corpse to be an artwork (a really realistic one).

At this point I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw something at the computer screen. I laughed because the computer wasn’t mine.

The plot then becomes even more clueless, until everyone dies. In the last scene, John Malkovich draws random figures on the sand of an unknown beach, aware that they will disappear as soon as the waves cover them, and BOOM there you have the meaning of the whole movie: art for money is no good. Art for art’s sake is the answer.

John Malkovich drawing on the beach

Even if I still don’t get why an art satire like this had to be disguised as a thriller, I agree, paintings have always had an aura of mystery, let’s only think about Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The movie truly had a lot of potential and Gilroy – or maybe someone else – could have really done a wonderful job with it. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, especially because of those scenes meant to be scary.

An important mention, however, goes to Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the true star: his acting gives visibility to a character that would have otherwise been stagnant, like the others. But unfortunately he is  not enough to make Velvet Buzzsaw a good movie.

Sorry Jake, still waiting for your next good movie…

And you? What did you think of Velvet Buzzsaw? Let me know in the comments below!!