After the Oscars
Winners and losers
The necessary winners won: The Shape of Water for best picture and Frances McDormand best actress for Three Billboards. It’s just a shame that The Shape of Water was the worst film of the year, filled with schlocky, clunking metaphors and a mute female lead. As Maren Thom explains on a recent episode of Aufhebunga Bunga, it’s the sort of film that a man (del Toro, who won the Best Director Oscar) trying to make a feminist film would come up with. Call Me By Your Name — easily the best film on the best picture shortlist (with Get Out a clear second) — never stood a chance. Three Billboards left me cold personally, but it’s difficult to deny that McDormand did all the right things to win. The most memorable frames of the year were undeniably from Blade Runner 2049 (some of the most epic filmmaking I’ve experienced at the cinema for years, albeit in a story that doesn’t find its way). These were recognised with the best visual effects award and best cinematography for Roger Deakins (at the 14th attempt).
How much about real world politics can film tell us, especially one supposedly set in our world but with a technologically-super-advanced invisible isolationist state? Zizek’s excellent article in the LARB makes the point that anything as widely-accepted as Black Panther has to function as an ideological catch-all, into which a diverse set of meanings and interpretations can be poured. Hillary Clinton, after all, went to see it with Bill, and liked it. It is not reasonable to expect any Hollywood flick seriously to challenge the existing political world order; Black Panther comes up against the constraint that Killmonger’s defeat must be inevitable as he represents the possibility of completely unsettling American global hegemony through distributing powerful weapons to Wakandian cells. In the battle between T’Challa’s ‘Socialism in One Country’ and Killmonger’s attempt to globalise the revolution, the latter ends up with a Vibranium ice pick that makes his ribs burn. Killmonger’s project is of course not presented in terms of class or revolution, reduced to the villain’s lust for power, explained by his personal psychodrama of abandonment and his uncle’s fratricide.
The Year Ahead
The films at the 2018 Oscars were not, of course, originally birthed in ‘Trumpian times’ (with the exception of the terminally dull The Post). It will be the coming year that we will see a series of “responses” to Trump’s America. In other words, I think it’s going to be necessary to accept as increasingly routine the disappointment of seeing a quote unquote good film being marred with a heavy-handed and banal Liberal political message (as if this wasn’t enough of a problem already). The alternation of thinly-disguised anti-Trump Liberal hectoring and superhero fantasies of the expert use of violence suggests that cinemagoers this year are likely to need deep reserves of patience to make it through alive.