Mansour: The Oscars Used to Be Big, It’s the Pictures That Got Small

Oscars: the show must go on... without a host

Few of us watched the Oscars because few of us cared.

Though its ratings are slightly up from last year, I’m assuming that’s due to people tuning in to see what it was like without  Jimmy Kimmel. (And who can blame them? I’d watch ABC at least once for that.)  We weren’t always this indifferent to the Oscars.  In fact, we should never be because there can be no civilization without culture. Andrew Breitbart understood this. His axiom that “politics is downstream from culture” implied that the latter made the former possible.

Filmmaking has always been the pinnacle of American pop culture because it is the most authentically American art form. We invented it (Thank you, Thomas Edison), and we perfected it (Thank you, Golden Age Hollywood).

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a cat meme video on Twitter got more viewers last night than the most prestigious awards show for our most important art form. At a time when we’re haunted by the specter of American decline (which some of us are doing our damnedest to chase off, no thanks to Hollywood), it’s not heartening to see our cultural capstone crumbling under the weight of its own irrelevance.

I can think of two reasons why no one watches the Oscars anymore.

First, because the films mostly suck. Hollywood churns out shallow, derivative, boring mediocrity unworthy of three hours of our attention. Pull up a list of Best Pictures from years past, and you’ll see just how far the mighty have fallen.

Still, for a long time, we tuned in out of habit and nostalgia. And that brings me to the second reason why no one wants to watch the Oscars anymore.

When Trump got elected, the celebs went next-level woke. Like the egotistical morons they are, Hollywood turned on the customers who had been patiently humoring them despite diminishing returns. As John Nolte likes to say, “If Mr. Whipple called you a racist homophobe, would you buy Charmin or something else? We’re just hating you back, Hollywood.”

Yes, we’ve been insulted, and we’re sick of it. But I can overlook a lot of insults if you give me something worthy of praise. Maria Callas insulted a lot of people, but we still wanted to hear her sing. Can we say the same about the films nominated for Best Picture?

And this brings me back to my first point about the movies sucking.

Let’s be honest. How many of us watched the films nominated this year? I’ll go first. I’ll start with the one I did see…

Bohemian Rhapsody. I despise Bryan Singer, but I watched his film because I love Queen. For those of you who don’t want to see it or don’t have the time, watch the YouTube of Queen’s Live Aid performance. There. Now you’ve seen the best part of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Roma. I tried to watch it. I really did. I got through the opening sequence where a woman is mopping water down a drain for what feels like forever. It was an apt metaphor for my receding patience. I quit about five minutes in and felt guilty for doing so because the film came highly recommended by a colleague I respect. But to be honest, I felt more obliged than inclined to watch it, and I’m tired of movies that are more “important” than enjoyable.

A Star Is Born. It’s been re-born four times. It’s had more reincarnations than Shirley MacLaine. Let it reach nirvana already.

Vice. If you’re going to make a movie about Darth Vader, at least let there be lightsabers in it.

Black Panther. It’s a comic book movie. Grow up.

The Favourite. Didn’t see it. Looks funny. Might see it someday, but a film about a lesbian ménage à trois starring Queen Anne is probably too niche for inflight viewing.

Green Book. It won Best Picture. It looks like Driving Miss Daisy meets Ray, both of which I enjoyed. The Driving Miss Daisy analogy wasn’t lost on Spike Lee, whose Do The Right Thing, which I also loved, was bested by Miss Daisy in 1989. Last night, he was reportedly double-fisting cocktails at the after-party bemoaning Green Book beating his BlacKkKlansman, a film which is as far from Do The Right Thing as Godfather III is from the first two installments.

And that brings me to the final film. Sore losers go last, Spike.

BlacKkKlansman. When I was in film school, they taught us, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union.” Translation: stick to good storytelling because no one wants to see your “message” film. That was back in quaint old 1999. In 2019, everyone is sending messages, and Spike Lee’s message to America is that we’re all closeted racists.

His film about a secret KKK network in the 1970s ends with footage of Donald Trump in 2017 talking about the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. Subtle, I know. Spike wants us to know that Donald Trump and, by implication, his voters are probably hiding white hoods in their closets behind the MAGA gear and tiki torches.

Far be it from me to chastise a great filmmaker like Spike Lee, but once upon a time, American filmmakers inspired us to be tolerant without berating us. They appealed instead to the better angels of our nature.

Take, for example, the great George Stevens, who won the Best Director Oscar in 1957 for his masterpiece Giant. Stevens started out in Hollywood as a director of light comedies.  During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signals Corp, where he filmed the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and helped prepare the evidentiary footage for the Nuremberg Trials. The war changed him forever.  For the rest of his life, he dedicated his artistic talent to ensuring that the horrors he witnessed were not repeated.

Without lecturing or insulting his 1950s audience, Stevens used his epic film about Texas to show that our patriotism transcends race. In one of the film’s most moving sequences, Stevens depicts the return home of the flag-draped casket of Angel Obregon, a Mexican American cowboy who the audience has seen grow up from being a sickly baby who nearly died in poverty to becoming the first young man on the ranch to volunteer to serve in World War II.

Stevens needed no dialogue to convey his message. Instead, he showed a burial at dusk. A Catholic priest blesses Angel’s casket, an honor guard fires a three-volley salute, and a choir of Mexican American children sing The Star Spangled Banner as Angel’s weeping parents are handed the flag their son died to defend.

The subtext was not lost on the patriotic Americans of 1957 who had lost so many of their own sons in that war. Stevens was saying, “Angel died for his country just like your sons. Surely he deserves the same respect.”

By the time we reach the film’s climax, when Rock Hudson’s character fights a racist diner owner who refused to serve an elderly Latino couple, the audience is cheering for him in righteous indignation.

That was how Hollywood used to do it. They didn’t lecture us about how bad we are; they reminded us that we are good.

Unlike Spike Lee, Stevens didn’t think Americans were evil. He knew we were the good guys who defeated unspeakable evil. Yes, we are made of the same crooked timber as the rest of humanity. But we’re the country that freed the world from totalitarian racists.

But that was then. Now Hollywood makes movies that mostly make us want to watch old reruns of just about anything made in the era that I call “B.M.” – as in, “Before Millennials.”

Before the woke Millennials came of age we had things like free speech, comedy, and two sexes. Safe spaces were places where you put your jewelry, and triggering was something John Wayne did with a gun. Back in those days you had to speak to a person face to face to arrange a one-night stand; you couldn’t just swiping right on an app.

Hollywood was always full of obnoxious liberals, but they became insufferable left-wing bores in the “A.M” era (i.e., “After Millennials”). Trump’s election just pushed them over the edge.

Though it pains me to say this, we need Hollywood because, as noted above, civilization requires culture. So, let me offer Tinseltown some advice.

If Hollywood cares about winning back its lost audience – and that’s a big “if” because narcissists seldom notice when the room is empty – they could start by making better films.

Artists need stimuli to create. I suggest they tap into the rich reservoir that is America by actually getting to know the American people. They could start by leaving their coastal bubbles and venturing forth into fly-over country. Imagine their surprise when they learn we’re not all Klan members!

And who knows, with a little luck they’ll be inspired to make a movie that hasn’t been re-made three times already.

Rebecca Mansour is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. Follow her on Twitter at @RAMansour.


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