Culture Crash 19-07: The Academy’s Unforced Errors

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

As you may have heard, this year’s Oscars have been a disaster since the word “go.” Over the past few months, the Academy has announced a Best Popular Film award, that Kevin Hart would be the host, and that only two of the nominees for Best Song would be performing. All three of those ideas stirred up controversy and all three have been reversed. Best Popular Film has been shelved for discussion another year, this year’s awards show will not have a host, and all the Best Song nominees will perform.

So, problems fixed, right? Well, not so fast, because the Academy is committing another unforced error. Higher-ups at the Oscars have begun insisting certain awards will be announced during commercial breaks and occur off-air to trim the show’s runtime, and I guess to skip on giving hard-working craftspeople their shining moments.

Awards are, of course, arbitrary. Ranking art is a personal endeavor, so calling someone the Best Actress or Best Director of a certain year is relatively insignificant. What many of us who love awards shows like the Oscars are attached to is the celebration of an art form we cherish. I disagree with the winners more often than not, but I like seeing the craft celebrated; I like having a list of things worth checking out, and I like getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the editors, screenwriters, and costume artists who make the movies we all go see. To steal these moments from those artists is to ignore the greater purpose of the show in the first place.

It’s not supposed to be about stargazing celebrity obsession. I mean, okay, of course, it is. But it isn’t just that, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should also be a celebration of filmmaking. To eliminate so-called “lesser” awards so Lady Gaga or Christian Bale can have more time to shine is a shame. The Oscars air once a year. I wish the Academy would let that show serve to honor as many people as possible and not just the famous ones in the fancy tuxes.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 19-05: On Ethan Hawke and Oscar Snubs

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

Every year when the Oscar nominations come out, there is a wave of backlash in regards to the people and the films that were snubbed. This year, one of those notable snubs was actor Ethan Hawke for his work in First Reformed. It would have been his fifth Oscar nomination and his third as an actor since he has two as a screenwriter, but it also really felt like it could have been his first Oscars win.

Now, First Reformed isn’t my favorite movie. It was good, it challenged me and made me think. But it just didn’t all click with me the way it has for others. What is definitely true, though, is that Ethan Hawke was great in that film. It’s frustrating to me, and others, that his work with this wholly original character is overshadowed by so many impersonations and imitations. What Christian Bale and Rami Malek did in embodying Dick Cheney and Freddie Mercury is impressive, but it still boils down to just being really good copy-cats. There is something magical about an actor you love becoming a new person you’ve never laid eyes on before, as they do in original fictional films. And for that, I do think Ethan Hawke was deserving of a nomination, if not an outright win.

But there’s something deeper at play, too. We feel for Ethan Hawke because we like Ethan Hawke. He’s been a working film actor for 34 years and he’s been in the spotlight since 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Through his subsequent roles in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and Boyhood, as well his work in other films like Gattaca, Training Day, Reality Bites, and countless others, Ethan Hawke has earned our affection.

It’s in Hawke’s collaborations with Richard Linklater that I and so many others really opened up a space in our hearts for Ethan Hawke, because he’s charming and honest, and because it really feels like he’s playing versions of himself. Hawke’s character in the Before movies went through a divorce right as Hawke was dealing with his own public divorce. Hawke’s character in Boyhood tells stories just like Hawke does on late-night programs. And he lights up the screen with Hawke’s natural combination of charisma and charm with philosophical meanderings and good comedic timing.

So yeah, many of us were hoping Ethan Hawke would win his first Oscar for First Reformed. Instead, he’s a notable snub. And that stinks, but to cheer ourselves up we have his whole catalog of great films to look back on. And his work in First Reformed didn’t go anywhere, it still exists. Awards don’t limit our capacity to like the things that we like.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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