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This 2018 release feels like it arrived fresh from 1974, and that is what makes it a delight.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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"The Shape of Water," "Three Billboards" Win Big at 90th Oscars

For a 90-year-old gold guy, Oscar proved last night that he has held up pretty well and, at least when it comes to the issues of the day, can be as relevant as ever.

Not only that, he’s a gentleman who conducts himself appropriately—unlike many other power brokers in Hollywood who have been accused recently of abusing their positions. As returning host Jimmy Kimmel noted in his opening monologue while checking out the replica of the trophy onstage: “Look at him. He keeps his hands where you can see them. He never says a rude word and, most importantly, no penis at all. He is literally a statue of limitations.” 


Kimmel took some shots at disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused by a parade of actresses who finally felt free to speak to the press this past year about his sexually abusive behavior towards women over several decades. He noted that the Academy expelled the studio exec, who often turned awards season into his own private battle zone, from their ranks this year. Then again, the only other person to be kicked out as a member was someone who dared to share their stash of water-marked awards screeners with others.

But the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement made its presence known throughout the ceremony, including several past Oscar-winning actresses including 93-year-old Eva Marie Saint, who won a supporting award for 1955’s “On the Waterfront” and 86-year-old Puerto Rican native Rita Moreno, who donned the same gown she wore when claiming her supporting prize for 1961’s “West Side Story.” Meanwhile, Best Director presenter Emma Stone took a tip from Natalie Portman’s ad-lib ("And here are the all-male nominees") when she announced the same trophy at the Golden Globes, and made her own statement by describing the category’s lineup as “four men and Greta Gerwig.”

Most moving was seeing Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra onstage as they introduced a video promoting inclusion, diversity and gender parity in the film industry. All three saw their once-thriving careers suffer after attempting to rebuff Weinstein’s advances. Now, they are among his most outspoken accusers as they have emboldened others to share their stories.

And, without mentioning a certain White House resident too much, Kimmel observed that “Black Panther” co-star and presenter Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya, adding “Let the tweetstorm from the president’s toilet begin.” To be truthful, the opening monologue wasn’t exactly a laugh riot or the most clever. But just as many of the nine Best Picture nominees spoke to the anger, confusion, fear and division that has consumed our nation recently, I did not miss much of the usual silly business. Yes, offering a $17,999 jet ski as a prize for the Oscar winner with the shortest acceptance speech (it turned out to be "Phantom Thread'"s costume designer Mark Bridges at 36 seconds) was amusing at first but it did little to encourage the litany of thank-you’s to be any shorter or sweeter.


At least the orchestra seemed a little more lenient than usual about drowning out those who droned on at the mike. I would not have wanted to miss hearing Gary Oldman, who was declared Best Actor for his spot-on portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” give a shout-out to his nearly 99-year-old mum: “Put the kettle on—I’m bringing Oscar home.” And it would have been a crime—if not downright dangerous—to have blocked Frances McDormand, who claimed her second Best Actress title for her outspoken maternal firebrand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” from speaking her mind. After thanking son Pedro and director husband Joel Coen, whose 1996 “Fargo” was the source of her first lead acting Oscar, she placed her statuette on the stage and asked all the female nominees in every category to stand. “Look around ladies, and gentlemen. We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Invite us into your office in a couple days—or you can come to ours, whichever suits you—and we’ll tell you about the them.” The crowd went wild. 

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Clyde aka Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway made the best of their mulligan as Best Picture presenters after last year’s mix-up when “La La Land” was wrongly declared the champ inst of “Moonlight” and properly announced “The Shape of Water” as the winner. Not that the final category, which was announced at the three-hour and 45-minute mark despite the ceremony starting a half-hour early this year, wasn’t a nail biter. Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which led the field of nominees with 13 nods, wasn’t necessarily a shoo-in for the evening’s top honor. No other film since 1995’s “Braveheart” has taken Best Picture without also claiming a Screen Actors Guild ensemble nomination. But the genre mash-up that is a combination love story, sci-fi fantasy, Cold War thriller and a musical seemed to stir up less controversy than its two main rivals, “Get Out” and “Three Billboards.” And voters apparently can’t resist the charms of the so-called Three Amigos. Del Toro is the fourth Mexican filmmaker in five years to take home Best Director, joining his previously honored cohorts Alfonso Cuaron (2013’s “Gravity”) and Alejandro G. Inarritu (2014’s “Birdman,” which also took best pic, and 2015’s “The Revenant”).

Overall, the show was almost a tasteful affair—for once, the nominated songs were well-staged and performed for optimal entertainment value, especially Mary J. Blige’s searing rendition of the gospel-propelled “Mighty River” from “Mudbound” and the self-empowerment ballad “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” Meanwhile, the winning song, “Remember Me” from Pixar’s “Coco,” which also took the animated feature Oscar, suffered from being unevenly sung by three performers. Then again, presenter Jane Fonda wasn’t wrong when she said the gaudy oversized Swarovski crystals that surrounded the stage were reminiscent of the clamshell-shaped Orgasmatron featured in her 1964 sci-fi sex fantasy “Barbarella.” 


Snack attacks—whether on-air pizza deliveries, Girl Scout cookies or boxes of concession-stand candy falling from the sky—should be banned at least for a couple years. They have become all too predictable sources of Oscar high-jinks of late. I had hopes that Kimmel might skip not just the food gags but also dragging common folk into the mix as well. All I could do was groan when he and several stars paid a visit to the TLC Chinese Theatre next door to the Dolby auditorium and surprised those watching a preview screening of “A Wrinkle in Time.” As amazing as the hotdog cannons might sound, there was little payoff in seeing "Baby Driver"'s Ansel Elgort and "Call Me by Your Name"'s Armie Hammer firing franks at unsuspecting movie patrons, let alone del Toro hoisting a very long hoagie sandwich.   

That said, history was made, the overdue were rewarded and records were broken:

*While John Singleton was the first black screenwriter to earn an original screenplay nomination for 1991’s “Boyz n the Hood,” Jordan Peele became the first African American to win Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out.”  

*With his win for “Dunkirk,” Richard King made the record books as the most Oscar-bestowed sound editor with a total of four. His previous victories were for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.” He shared the honor with first-time contender Alex Gibson.  

*Chile won its first Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for “A Fantastic Woman,” about a transgender woman who fights for her right to grieve for her dead lover. The film’s star, Daniela Vega, became the first openly trans performer to be a presenter.

*James Ivory, who has competed three times in the directing category for his literary costume dramas “A Room With a View,” “Howards End” and “The Remains of the Day,” is officially the oldest Oscar winner ever at age 89 after winning Best Adapted Screenplay for the love story “Call Me by Your Name.”  

*British cinematographer Roger Deakins, 68, finally broke his losing streak after 13 other Oscar tries for his work on director Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049.” His first nomination was for 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” and he has competed in the category every year from 2012 onward.



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