Beyoncé is many things, but subtle isn't one of them. “Stop shooting us,” reads graffiti on a wall in the music video for the R&B singer's new single, “Formation,” intercut with scenes of a boy in a black hoodie facing off against a line of riot police with nothing but his dance moves. But the clip, directed by Melina Matsoukas, is much more than simply an audio-visual manifestation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Doubling as a tribute to New Orleans, the video opens with a pointed shot of Beyoncé standing atop a New Orleans Police Department car submerged in floodwater, and it dips even further back into our country's racially charged history to ask, via a fake newspaper titled The Truth, “What is the real legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and why was a revolutionary recast as an acceptable Negro leader?”
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The intensity of Oscar's love for The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road is most keenly felt here. Not that either film is undeserving of its nomination. Quite the opposite in the case of the latter's Jenny Beavan, who after earning nine nominations and one win for hemming and lacing and draping stiff-lipped Brits in Merchant-Ivory period films and their descendants (Sense and Sensibility, The King's Speech), utterly rebranded herself with a tour-de-force KISS tribute-band roadshow mash-up of Lawrence of Arabia, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The audacious playfulness of her work, though, faces the same disadvantage that Jacqueline West's mangy, desiccated duds in The Revenant's do as well. Oscar flirts with leather like a curious, submissive pup-in-waiting, but almost always prefers to slip into something a bit more comfortable when he heads home for the night. It's why the instantly iconic looks worn by Angelina Jolie in Maleficent fell short last year despite the category's otherwise decent track record for rewardingly queenly fantasies.
Jack Fisk's résumé boggles the mind. The production designer met his wife, Sissy Spacek, on the set of Badlands in 1972, and since then has worked on every single Terrence Malick film. (Other credits include Brian De Palma's Carrie, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.) His participation in The Revenant was perhaps inevitable, given how closely he's worked with Emmanuel Lubezki in the last decade, and to the film's credit, among the few things that aren't flattened into symbolic gruel by Alejandro González Iñárritu's torturously somber aesthetics is the astonishingly tactile quality of Fisk's production work.
Will voters who secretly agree with the eternally crusty Charlotte Rampling's tempest-in-a-teapot comments about the purported reverse racism of #OscarsSoWhite feel like tempting fate this year? Will those who don't even care one way or the other about her performance throw her a secret vote in solidarity? She quickly recanted her comments, saying she was misinterpreted, but this is one year no genies will easily go back into their bottles. It doesn't matter matter how great her performance may be in Andrew Haigh's patient 45 Years. Her impatient retraction, made as Academy members are publicly sighing their collective exasperation over being called out, simply felt unconvincing. Rampling's firm, tony demeanor on and off screen, compounded by almost exclusively highbrow critics' enthusiasm in her favor, was probably never going to move the needle much for an AMPAS still struggling to reassure the public they're in touch with the times. But sticking to her guns may have given the longshot her best chance.
The false narrative advanced by 20th Century Fox and its multi-million-dollar Oscar publicity strategy that The Revenant was made at a great cost to the physical well-being of many is one that has, throughout this awards season, paid dividends, and will continue to do so in at least a number of Oscar categories. But the unfortunate side effect of convincing audiences that Alejandro González Iñárritu and his cast and crew, especially Leonardo Dicaprio, almost died for their art in sub-frozen weather will likely, and ironically, work against the film in the category where its most worthy of acclaim, as it may sufficiently cast doubt about whether The Revenant's pageant of chaffed skin, frizzy hair, and frozen nose snot can entirely be attributed to makeup artists Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini.
So far, this season of The X-Files has suggested a kind of Whitman's Sampler box, containing a variety of modern covers of the sorts of episodes that were once traditional to the series in its heyday. “My Struggle” is an affectionate update of a conspiratorial alien “mythology” episode, as written and directed by creator Chris Carter, and “Founders Mutation” is a fusion of mythology and monster-of-the-week formula, as written and directed by veteran series writer James Wong. Now, this week brings “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” a monster-of-the-week standalone wedded to the comic stylings of another X-Files legend, writer Darin Morgan, who also directed the episode.
Only two rather basic flavors are represented in this year's documentary Oscar rundown, and it's to the doc branch's great shame that they couldn't see fit to nominate a pair of movies each containing multitudes that would give Baskin-Robbins a cold sweat: Laurie Anderson's very subjective and philosophical Heart of a Dog, which astonishingly managed to make it to the list of 15 finalists, and Frederick Wiseman's uncompromisingly democratic In Jackson Heights, which didn't. A nomination for either would have single-handedly liberated the entire category from its continuing, medium-reductive fascination with activist-leaning, politically charged current-events studies and intimate, troubled personal portraits from the arts industries.
Our firm and perhaps cynical belief that confirmation bias motivates the average AMPAS voter's decision process has served us well over the years. One rare exception was when we aligned ourselves with history and predicted that Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness would upset Asghar Farhadi's A Separation at the 2012 Oscars. In the end, the latter's welcome victory mostly corroborated film critic and unlikely awards pundit J. Hoberman's tacit acknowledgement, in an article for the Los Angeles Times about Hollywood's relationship to the Holocaust, that the only way for a film about the Holocaust told from the perspective of its victims to lose an Oscar is for it to compete against a film, like The Virgin Spring, whose breaking into the mainstream so clearly meant that it was destined for greatness.
The original U.K. title of The Blue Hour is The Heat of Betrayal, which is a more apt description of the novel's events. The Blue Hour may home in on the Morocco-set story's air of mystery (“the hour at daybreak or dusk when nothing is as it seems; when we are caught between the perceived and the imagined”), but it implies a more metaphoric meditation on the liminal spaces at the periphery of author Douglas Kennedy's twisty story about, yes, the burning fires of betrayal.
Kennedy begins with a schematic sketching of a married couple's life. Robin is an accountant who prides herself on being cautious and organized. Her husband, Paul, is an artist who revels in his own impulsive drives. They're on their way to Morocco, where Paul is to work on new lithographs and Robin plans to relax and work on her French. Maybe, too, the wild sex they plan to have will finally bring them a child. But their expectations of an idyllic summer stay in the picturesque North African country soon turns sour when Robin finds out something about Paul that upends everything she's known about him.
Cultural watchdogs taking notes from both sides of Oscar's problem with representation this year can probably breathe a little easier knowing that there's at least one category that won't automatically bring shame, or (if you prefer) confirmation bias, upon the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Unfortunately, it's going to happen in a category where one of the nominees focusing solely on white characters isn't only the most compelling piece of filmmaking in the lineup, but also doubles down on the peculiar schizophrenia of the whole reactionary mess, albeit obliquely.
Everything Will Be Okay, from director Patrick Vollrath, depicts a father's day of unsupervised visitation with his daughter following an evidently messy divorce from which his ex-wife has clearly recovered. It isn't a few seconds inside a toy store before audiences will start to realize just what the girl's dad has up his sleeve. The film operates for most of its tense running time within the same child-in-peril parameters of many a recent failed contender from this category (among them Just Before Losing Everything and Miracle Fish), though with a clearer sense of dread, conveyed expertly by both the Teutonic Louis C.K. lookalike playing the father and the girl who has to negotiate her way through a mounting, terrifying surge of cognitive dissonance.