Decades from now, film lovers will remember 2017 as the year of “Stronger,” Jake Gyllenhaal, Hong Chau in “Downsizing,” Chadwick Boseman in “Marshall,” and great work by Luca Guadagnino, James Mangold, Alexander Payne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Giacchino. These are just a few of the names who serve as a reminder: Everyone who received an Oscar nomination deserves it, but a lot of deserving people were left out, for whatever reason.
For the entire 2017 awards season, Oscar remained a wide-open race. There is usually a front-runner, maybe two, for best picture. This year, at least five of the nine nominees seem like credible winners, which ensures suspense until the final envelope is opened on March 4. The best-film race includes movies that had been part of the awards conversation for most of the year, such as “Call Me by Your Name” and “Get Out,” as well as 11th-hour entries “The Post” and “Phantom Thread.”
But despite all the twists in the Oscar season, the Academy Awards were rarely the No. 1 topic at industry gatherings.
Instead, people were obsessed with Washington — not even Preston Sturges could have invented a screwball scenario like what’s going on in D.C. — and 2017’s extreme weather (e.g., hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the California brushfires and mudslides), as well as guns and school shootings.
Matching all of those in industry obsession: the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. Following #OscarsSoWhite of a few years ago, the entertainment industry was reeling from the one-two punch and wondering how awards should celebrate an industry that has so much to atone for.
The film and TV industries are serious about improving things. But the Variety Archives show that in every decade since the 1950s, Hollywood questioned its lack of equality in terms of gender, race and under-represented groups like people with disabilities. Every few years, the battle cry goes up, and people form committees — and then talk it to death with little action, until the next cries of outrage a few years later. So the goal now is to sustain the momentum, beyond conversations.
The January Golden Globes, the first major awards of the season, set the tone of gender politics. There was a funny monologue by Seth Meyers, a surprise appearance by Barbra Streisand and a moving acceptance speech by music-score winner Alexandre Desplat as he paid tribute to “The Shape of Water” director Guillermo del Toro and the musicians, among others. But Globes coverage was dominated not by the winners, but by speculation whether Oprah Winfrey should/could run for president in 2020, after her rousing speech promising “a new day is on the horizon.”
Globally, the two top-earning films were “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Beauty and the Beast,” which together earned $2.5 billion. That ultimately will cause the decision-makers and the money people in Hollywood to sit up and take notice of gender equality, much more than any protests. In addition, the Oscar nominations were dominated by movies that centered on women (“Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards,” “Lady Bird,” “The Post”), gay romance (“Call Me by Your Name”) and racism (“Get Out”).
While Donald Trump, mudslides and #MeToo dominated the discussions, the year’s most significant event was actually the Disney acquisition of Fox.
On March 20, 1953, Variety carried a package of stories about the first televised Oscar ceremony, a day earlier. A chart showed the wins by each studio. There were seven studios listed; only three of them remain active in production: Paramount, Universal — and Fox. (Others, like Republic, RKO, etc., have faded away.)
No one knows what the Fox buy means for the future of film, or the future of major studios. Certainly Fox had one of Hollywood’s most colorful histories, with its Marilyn Monroe films, “Cleopatra,” “The Sound of Music,” “Star Wars,” “The Simpsons,” “Titanic” and “Avatar,” among many others. And Fox Searchlight has proven to be a well-run and profitable example of what a specialty label can be. (Attention, Disney executives: Don’t let the Miramax experience sour you! A specialty label can be your friend!)
The Fox sale was another dramatic piece of evidence that the industry is changing.
In the past decade, only one major studio has won the best-picture Oscar: Warner Bros. with “Argo,” while Fox Searchlight won three (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman”).
Companies behind the other best picture winners include A24, Summit, Open Road, The Weinstein Co. and Paramount Vantage. The last-named already is long gone; TWC may be back, but under a new name. (James Franco and Aziz Ansari will also undoubtedly be welcomed back in the industry, but it’s impossible to believe that the Weinstein brothers or Kevin Spacey will ever work again in showbiz. Hollywood loves a good comeback story, but there are limits …)
While the studios seem to be embracing Oscar with less frequency, there are new companies that have picked up the mantle. Aside from A24, they include Netflix, Amazon and others. It’s a brave new world and 2017 offered many reminders — as well as some great Oscar work, lest anyone forget.