Christian Toto, Columnists, Exclusives, Featured, National, Politics

Toto: Oscars about politics first, movie excellence a distant second

As a budding movie fan I watched the Academy Awards telecast each year like it was the seventh game of the World Series.

Back then, I didn’t know about “Oscar campaigns” or how genres like horror and comedy got short shrift. Nor did I consider that older stars, particularly those who were “due” to finally score an Oscar, could lap the competition.

I just loved movies and rooted for the best of the best to win. I mourned when “Star Wars” lost Best Picture to “Annie Hall” like any self-respecting 10-year-old would. Years later I pumped my fist when Kevin Kline’s delirious turn in “A Fish Called Wanda” delivered a rare win for a comedy.

Looking back, that rose-colored outlook was naïve at best. It still connected to the heart of the awards in question: The Oscars honor the very best in film.

Can anyone say that’s true today with a straight face? Politics are so enmeshed in Hollywood now, particularly in the Age of Trump, that the winners and losers are often determined by the political position a film maintains.

We even saw that in the Razzies, the annual awards sticking their tongues out at the year’s worst films. Those dubious honors name checked President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Kellyanne Conway in their just-announced nominations.

The Oscar news wasn’t as blatantly political, but only by a small measure.

We saw the usual films scoop up award nominations. Think “Roma.” “A Star Is Born.” “The Favourite.”

All quality films deserving of acclaim. But look closer. “Roma,” the presumptive favorite, touches on an impoverished young woman living as a domestic worker with an upper middle-class family. That will likely seal the deal for director Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood.

It’s about income inequality in a cruel capitalist society, with Mexico City standing in for Anytown USA.

Next up is “RBG,” a documentary fawning over Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s a heroine to Hollywood, and she’s on every liberal’s mind given her age and uncertain health. That makes her film’s victory all but assured.

But one documentary that didn’t even score a nomination, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” assembled a 98 percent “fresh” rating at the critical aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com.  It also proved a huge hit for a documentary, earning $22 million. Most documentaries are lucky to earn a million or two.

Did the fact that the film noted Fred Rogers was a Republican factor into the vote? Sound conspiratorial? Yes, until you consider another film that scored a bevy of Oscar nominations.

“Vice,” written and directed by far-left filmmaker Adam McKay, scored nods for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell) and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).

The film is an unhinged screed; an attack not just on Vice President Dick Cheney, but virtually everything associated with the GOP.

The political comedy snared a very modest 64 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com, a far cry from what most Oscar-nominated movies earn. The few conservative critics, like National Review’s Kyle Smith, trashed it. Even several liberal critics pounded it. The Daily Beast, a left-leaning outlet employing far-left cultural critics, wondered if it was the year’s worst film. The New York Review of Books joined the dogpile, calling it a “shambles.”

Yet look at all those nominations!

Why? It gives the film instant gravitas. Whatever possible Oscar bump remains in our culture will help “Vice” earn a few more shekels. And, of course, should any of the nominated players win we’ll get a scathing acceptance speech … like the one Christian Bale gave at the Golden Globes a few weeks back. If you missed it, he jokingly said he looked to Satan to help him shape his performance.

Now, politics hasn’t been a complete stranger to the Oscar race. Michael Moore’s far-left screed “Bowling for Columbine,” riddled with inaccuracies, wont the documentary Oscar in 2003. Al Gore’s global warming treatise “An Inconvenient Truth” earned the same honor a few years later.

Today? The telecast, to be held Feb. 24, can’t even come up with a host for the show who is politically correct enough to lob some jokes at the crowd.

No matter. The evening will be chock-full of Trump jabs, just like the last two years. And, more likely than not, politics will shape who gets to grace the Oscars stage.

Christian Toto is editor of HollywoodInToto.com 

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