Oscar night promises to be another Democratic National Committee campaign rally disguised as an awards show.
Films bemoaning income disparity (“Joker,” “Knives Out,” “Parasite”) could compete with a full-frontal assault on Fox News (“Bombshell”) come Feb. 9. That doesn’t include the acceptance speeches, sure to smite President Donald Trump in one form or another.
The night might sneak in some stealth conservatism, the kind that gives underdog stories their teeth.
The fact-based films “Ford v. Ferrari” and “Dolemite Is My Name” pack plenty of Oscar promise. The former recalls how Ford caught up with the globe’s pre-eminent race car company. The latter captures a struggling comic reinventing his career on his own, shall we say colorful, terms.
Each showcases the glory of capitalism, even in its messiest forms. Just don’t expect those associated with these films to tip any imaginary caps to our economic system. It won’t score them any points with their peers or the media covering the event.
It’ll be there all the same.
“Ford v. Ferrari” stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, a retired race car driver tasked by Ford with ending Ferrari’s Le Mans supremacy. It won’t be easy. Shelby hires Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to be his main driver, a man capable of getting the most out of any car.
Together, these men combine their passion, experience and ambition to topple more than Team Ferrari. They must stare down Ford’s entrenched bureaucracy, an intractable object personified by Josh Lucas’ Leo Beebe. He’s Ford’s unblinking scold, clamping down on every innovation his colleagues uncork.
Still, our heroes persevere, no spoiler alert for anyone familiar with Le Mans history. It’s all about innovation, instinct and a never-say-die spirit that paves the path to victory.
Eddie Murphy’s “Dolemite” is nothing like “Ford v. Ferrari,” at least on the surface. Murphy shines as Rudy Ray Moore, a nightclub entertainer staring down serious bills.
Moore’s big break seems as far away as it’s ever been, and he’s not getting any younger. So he takes matters into his own hands. First, he buys some outlandish stories from the homeless men in his neighborhood. Next, he concocts a larger-than-life alter ego known as Dolemite, a rogue spouting tales spun from Moore’s new trove of material.
Moore records a comedy album in front a tiny live audience, then starts selling the LPs out of his car’s trunk. It’s a true Do-It-Yourself victory, one that reveals the lack of entertainment aimed at black audiences.
That’s especially true on the big screen. Where are the stories for Moore’s friends and family? He decides to address the problem himself. Or, more accurately, Dolemite will do the honors.
What follows is a shoestring movie where everything that can go wrong does. The crew runs out of cash, the film’s director (Wesley Snipes) is on a massive ego trip and Moore doesn’t know the first thing about karate – even though he’s playing a karate guru.
The finished product is as crude as advertised, but the lack of polish doesn’t matter. Its intended audience is starved for antiheroes like Dolemite, and they line up for blocks to see him on the big screen.
The film is a surprise smash, cementing Moore’s status as a blaxploitation icon.
Moore never quit on himself of his passion projects. The same holds true for Shelby and Miles. Like many entrepreneurs before them, they fail and fail until they finally, improbably, succeed.
Only in America.
Modern Hollywood is enamored with socialist figures, be it Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. They decry income disparity while cashing checks dozens of times larger than their lesser known colleagues.
How many stars spread the wealth with the grips and gaffers on set?
They still sense a good story when they hear one, which is what made “Ford v. Ferrari” and “Dolemite Is My Name” possible. It’s why capitalism might have its own, improbable Oscar moment come Feb. 9.
Christian Toto is the editor of the Colorado-based HollywoodInToto.com.