Vague Visages Writers’ Room: Weekend Vibes 3.2.18

Weekend Vibes is a Friday column about streaming recommendations, new release hype and entertainment events. 

Natalia Winkelman (@nataliawinke)

The Florida Project received exactly one Oscar nomination: Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe. The only familiar face among a constellation of (fantastic) first time actors, Dafoe was a safe pick for Academy members; endorsing his performance allowed them to casually pay tribute to director Sean Baker’s expressive vision without going out of their way to champion a gritty, atypical underdog. On his performance alone, Dafoe deserves to win — his rendering of the motel manager as a part-time grump and full-time father figure is understated and organic — but on top of that, recognizing Dafoe with the award would serve to symbolically redress the cold shoulder received by Dafoe’s director. The Florida Project revolves around a tricky conceit, one that undeniably merits Baker a directing nod. Where a less savvy filmmaker might have fallen into the moralistic trap of emblazoning Moonee with some broader allegorical significance — romantic notions of childhood innocence, or decaying social mores, for example –– Baker just lets his characters be. Subtlety isn’t typically recognized in the Best Director category, which persistently prizes the large-scale, ostentatious epic (see: The Revenant, Gravity, Life of Pi, etc.). The magic Baker conjures may be less obvious than Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling a bear or Sandra Bullock superimposed against the starry cosmos, but it is also rarer, and much more difficult to replicate. So here’s to hoping Dafoe wins on Sunday. When he does, I’ll be envisioning a large slice of that Oscar pie going to his director.

Colin Biggs (@wordsbycbiggs)

Mudbound is up for four Oscars this coming Sunday, but you wouldn’t know from the way Dee Rees’ film has been batted around on Netflix lists since mid-November. The film was a big step up in terms of scope from the director’s debut character piece, Pariah, and Rees stepped up to the plate in a big way. Her adaptation, which garnered an Academy Award nomination, changes the novel’s structure to place the spotlight on Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) and Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund), veterans left in shambles by World War II. The two men find a sympathetic ear in each other over a bottle of rye whiskey, dealing with Ronsel’s seething fury at the country whose unreciprocated freedom he fought for and Jamie’s shattered illusions of what coming back a hero actually means. Left tragically entwined by their families, yet undeterred by history, the heartfelt conversations between two sons make up the beating heart of Mudbound. Add in a canvas rendered beautifully by cinematographer Rachel Morrison and it’s a wonder why Rees and her film aren’t competing for Best Director and Best Picture on Sunday night.

Devika Girish (@devikagirgayi)

Given 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite movement, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey’s rousing Golden Globes speeches and 2018’s system-shattering #TimesUp initiative, award shows have now become legitimate platforms for Hollywood protests and activism. Although political gestures at these ceremonies often preach to the choir and can feel a bit self-congratulatory, there have been some iconic moments in the history of the Oscars in which celebrities have daringly risked their colleagues’ favour to voice unpopular opinions and stand up for important causes. In anticipation of Sunday’s ceremony, check out the five most (in)famous protest speeches at the Oscars:

  • In 1973, when Marlon Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to protest both the government’s mistreatment of Native Americans and their degrading depictions in film.
  • In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave produced and narrated The Palestinian, a documentary about the Palestine Liberation Organization. When she was nominated for an Academy Award for her film Julia, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Oscars in retaliation (and one member was even convicted of exploding a bomb in front of a theater which was showing the documentary). Redgrave criticized the picketers as a “bunch of Zionist hoodlums” in her acceptance speech, which was met with a round of jeers.
  • In 1993, while presenting the award for Best Art Direction, Richard Gere condemned Chinese president Deng Xiaoping for his government’s violations of the human rights of Tibetan peoples and asked the audience to send Xiaoping “truth, love and a kind of sanity” to encourage him to pull his troops out of Tibet.
  • In the same ceremony, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins started their presentation of the Best Editing award by asking the American government to let in the 266 Haitians who were being held in Guantanamo Bay for being HIV-positive. Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates responded by banning Gere, Sarandon and Robbins from presenting at the Oscars.
  • In 2003, when Michael Moore accepted an Oscar for his documentary Bowling for Columbine, he denounced the American invasion of Iraq, castigating President George W. Bush for sending people to war for “fictitious reasons.” He was booed by the audience and cut off by music.