Monday, February 27, 2017

The 'A' List

Change is the only constant in life.
So says Heraclitus.

And arts, for it to be important, must progress and evolve.

The #OscarsSoWhite situation that was evident in the past two years has put the President of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, into a tight spot, as she seeks measures to make Oscars stay relevant in the faces of the public and artists alike. In an effort to bring inclusivity a part of Oscar's and the industry's game-plan, a 5-year diversity initiative called A2020 was mooted, leading to a stark change in this year’s nominations. For the first time in history, black representatives are prominent in all the acting categories, while more than half of the Best Picture nominees consist of people of color, which includes, among others, frontrunners Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris from Moonlight, running alongside two hot favorites Denzel Washington and Viola Davis from Fences.

“When it comes to fair & equal representation in our industry, words are not enough. We also have a responsibility to take action, and we have a unique opportunity to do so now.” - Cheryl Isaac Boone.

New members were invited to join, while the inactive members were pushed to emeritus status unless they are able to prove their relevance to the Academy. In the end, 683 fresh faces were ushered to join the latest class of 6,700 odd voters, and roughly 1% of the old members were purged. With the change, the Academy represented 59 countries in which 46% were female and 41% were non-white, offsetting the 75% male and 92% white membership of its previous class. But the problem doesn’t totally cease even with the new pool of members joining in to make up the diversity numbers; the Academy are constantly faced with several challenges when it comes to voting. Nominations can be affected by the vigorous campaigns launched by the movie studios, and above all, personal interests of each voter pretty much dictate his/her opinions on which films should make the cut. No matter, this year’s qualification does show the growing importance of diversification in an age of troubled politics and uncertainty, and the variance in this year’s nominations might bring the #OscarsSoWhite controversy to a halt.

Otherwise, we can put it almost pleasantly that 2016 is an astounding year for films as they shine and reflect the world at large, and this year would be a great time for the Academy to give nods to those who are under-represented. I, for once, am super excited that our very own Singaporean, Ai-ling Lee, is nominated in both of the Sound Categories for her creative audio works in La La Land. Here’s hoping that she gets a hold of that golden statue and raise the Singapore flag high. Concurrently, I am utterly dismayed that outstanding Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, nominated for Best Foreign Film for his film The Salesman, have decided to boycott the event entirely due to Trump’s visa ban on Muslims. The stupidity must end. Or people will pay the price. And I'm not talking about the cost of a movie ticket.

Inspecting deeper in the diversity issues, one will identify the many contrastive themes in the Best Picture nominees, somehow tying them neatly into a dramatic bundle: the undying passions, the declaration and servitude to one's beliefs, the importance of communications, the hunger for change, the making amends, and the drive to seek the things which are truly important in life. The assortment of tones, of ups and downs, like a jazz band improvising their beats while a cineaste escapes from reality, truly make the 89th Academy Awards a celebratory event of many firsts. It is a contrasting sea of colors to an otherwise “all-white” affair, and would be best described by Ryan Gosling’s character in La La Land:

“This is the dream! It's conflict and it's compromised, and it's very, very exciting!

Here’s a quick run-through of the 9 Best Picture nominees, following which I put forth the list of my predictions, and the results...

La La Land a layered tale of two limber and likable lovebirds, lure us to listen, laugh and look at life through luminous lenses, which were creatively laboured to lift us back, little by little, into the long lost days of lustrous cinema.

Hell or High Water A neo-western thriller tailored to flush audience into surprising territories, somewhere that resides between complex narratives and poignant storytelling.

Arrival An intimate and unparalleled look at the signification of communication, masked brilliantly within a sci-fi cacoon, metastasizing into a full-blown work of astounding genius.

Manchester By The Sea A slow-burner that resonates with the working class, directed and delivered unhurriedly to an exceptional conclusion.

Hidden Figures A biographical drama that hinges on the performances of the brilliant leads and supporting casts who internalized characters that are hidden from history, and in so doing, reveal facts and legitimacy in the era of post-truth politics.

Lion To seek truths and meanings, to pursuit life-long undertaking, to be guided by discipline and motivations; these are personifications of a Lion, on a gratifying journey of discovery.

Moonlight The unflinching anecdote of a man told in three chapters - serves as a reason to justify our nights at the movies - to reflect, magnify, and admire life, and recognize that every person has a story dying to be told.

Hacksaw Ridge A colour-by-number war film that flourishes cinematically, proving yet again that Mel Gibson is a director with a taste of theatricality and good, old-fashioned storytelling.

Fences Capturing the best impersonation to date, Washington and Davis soars like nothing we've ever seen before, playing with the source material and turning it like a stagey monologue of a powerful play, enough to move even the most immovable audience.


I need some time to process what just happened in the end.