A friend is boycotting the Academy Awards because his favourite film of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, didn’t make the Oscar’s Best Picture list.
The awards, he says, aren’t relevant because they ignore genre movies and in this particular case, have snubbed the most financially successful film of the year. In fact, the old canard that the Academy doesn’t honour genre movies with Best Picture nods has been shot down this year with nominations for The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Oscar folks also gave The Force Awakens five nominations and in recent years Inception, Avatar, District 9, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Django Unchained have all earned top nods with LOTR taking home the gold.
Genre movies do just fine with the Academy. No need for C-3PO to cry little metal tears. To the Academy’s credit, not recognizing the year’s box office behemoth while giving Room, a modestly grossing movie, Best Picture, Actress, Directing and Adapted Screenplay nods, actually suggests the Academy will not be wowed by wheelbarrows of cash.
Perhaps the truth is that the Oscars, and awards shows in general, are only as relevant as you want them to be. Are they as important as the Republican debates? It’s all just show biz, so maybe. Ultimately, unless you’re an actor, a director or a shareholder in a nominated film the Oscars are probably not extremely significant to your life. I pay attention to them as a function of my job, and I enjoy them, but this year I’m on board with my friend but for different reasons.
I’m disappointed in Oscar’s failure to acknowledge diversity. For the second year in a row all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. To be clear I’m not implying the Academy is overtly racist. There are too many voters for there to be a conspiracy to keep actors of colour out of the headline categories. Have you ever gone to a restaurant with more than 10 people and tried to get everyone to agree on an appetizer for the table? It’s nearly impossible. Now imagine trying to arrange collusion between 6,000 members of the Academy. Totally hopeless.
So if it’s not a conspiracy why were stellar performances from Creed’s Michael B. Jordan, The Hateful Eight’s Samuel L. Jackson, Sicario’s Benicio Del Toro, Beasts of No Nation’s Idris Elba or any of Straight Outta Compton’s top line cast not nominated? I think it’s a combination of studio decision makers, who tend to be white, male and older coupled with the same demographic of voters at the Academy.
It’s a systemic issue being addressed by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ effort to mould the Academy’s membership to be more in line with the population.
Until the Oscars represent the full width and breadth of the best in Hollywood, regardless of race or gender, they will continue to slide toward irrelevancy. My guess is that the most interesting part of this year’s ceremony won’t be who wins Best Actor but host Chris Rock’s opening monologue, which, if the movie gods prevail, will address the situation in no uncertain terms. It’s a speech I’m predicting will be just as entertaining and provocative as any of the nominees, Star Wars: The Force Awakens included.
It must take some clout to get a movie like “The Hateful Eight” made. Over three hours, with an overture and an intermission, it’s a western featuring an assortment of dastardly people doing dastardly things. It’s the kind of talky, violent film only Quentin Tarantino could conceive of, let alone get financed.
Set a decade after the Civil War, most of the action happens during the “white hell” of a Wyoming blizzard. Eight people find themselves holed up at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the last mountain pass stopover before the town of Red Rock.
Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), infamous union soldier-turned-bounty-hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and proud southerner Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) arrive by stagecoach. They’re on the way to Red Rock, where Daisy will be hung for her crimes while Ruth and Warren will split the bounty on the woman’s head. Mannix claims to be the town’s new sheriff, but given his rebel past no one believes him.
They are met by Minnie’s handyman Bob (Demian Bichir), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). The storm keeps them housebound, thrown together by circumstance, not choice.
Suspicion soon spreads like a virus, infecting everyone in the room until a sudden burst of violence changes the dynamic.
There are no heroes in “The Hateful Eight,” nary a Cary Grant or Randolph Scott in sight. Instead Tarantino brings together eight tough ‘n terrible people, puts them in a room and lights a fuse. The first half—yes, there is an intermission—is dynamic and tense. Secrets are uncovered while Tarantino skilfully manipulates the claustrophobic situation, edging it toward the inevitable bloody climax. It’s dynamic, gritty stuff that places the focus on the actors—Jackson, Goggins and Jason Leigh lead a terrific cast—and their actions and sets the scene for what I hoped would be an exciting, character driven second half. The first half ends with a bang—literally—a blast that signals the change in tone to come.
The second part is where “The Hateful Eight” gets bloody… and problematic. Tarantino spends the length of most features to provide a set-up, one that hints at a powder keg situation about to erupt, and then adds another element—there will be no spoilers here—that undoes the good work from the first half. To me it felt like a cheat, a great unknowable wedged into the story to move things along. At that point the movie becomes a lot more Peckinpah but less interesting.
There is no doubt Tarantino is pushing the envelope here. This is a defiantly uncommercial film—for the first half anyway—whose indulgences—use of the “n” word, lingering shots of cruelty and gore—detract from what is essentially the director’s master class in genre filmmaking.
Everything about “The Hateful Eight” is big. It features big stars set against a vast backdrop of snow and revenge. There are huge themes—revenge, triumph of the righteous and race—and an even bigger blood budget. In some theatres (like the one I saw it in) it’s even being projected in the grand 70mm format. It’s a Valentine to Tarantino fanboys and girls, with Ennio Morricone’s lush score as the cherry on top.
It’s big and daring but also, I’m afraid, bloated, with a pay off not large enough to justify the more than three-hour running time.
Richard’s CP24 reviews about the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
Richard and “Canada AM” guest host Melissa Grelo discuss the big movies opening on Christmas Day: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling in the financial drama “The Big Short,” Quentin Tarantino’s neo-western “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro and Will Smith in “Concussion.”