Remember Spotlight? Nobody remembers Spotlight.
Like so many times before, the Oscar for 2015's best picture went to Hollywood’s low-resolution version of socio-political content. The story of the Boston Globe’s campaign to expose child abuse in the Catholic church was worthy, sure. But in terms of advancing the art and technique of cinema, Spotlight was a dud. (Beating Mad Max: Fury Road in the process—a film that ended up on innumerable best of the decade lists, where Spotlight was nowhere to be seen.)
That was the year that I co-hosted an Oscar party at the Vancity Theatre and managed to alienate the entire audience when I called bullshit on that meaningless win.
“You guys buying this?” I asked the crowd.
Turns out the answer was a slightly angry yes, although I wonder how Spotlight looks on the other side of #MeToo. Here was a film that allowed Hollywood to pat itself on the back for its crusading liberal shtick while ignoring the monumental and ongoing abuse inside its own cathedral. (For its newest trick, see Judy, in which Tinseltown picks over and profits from the corpse of its greatest victim/saint.)
All of which brings us to the 2020 Oscar noms, announced this morning.
And the prize for this year’s biggest WTF? Joker, obviously, which scored an inexplicable 11 nominations including best picture, director, adapted screenplay and—inside the one category it actually belongs—best actor. Indeed, buried inside Joker is a performance by Joaquin Phoenix so brilliant and committed that you actually worry about the guy. Besides that, the film is stinky even by Hollywood’s demented standards, most visibly in every other thing it was nominated for.
I actually had high hopes for Todd Phillips’ film, figuring anything that incited so much pious rage in the era of Stalinist Woketarianism must have something going for it. I was wrong: dressed up in pretension and film nerd references it can't properly grasp, Joker is a half-assed mess that collapses the rage of a nation’s surging disenfranchised into formless nihilism. Idiots on Twitter screaming “Incel! Incel!” had it dead wrong, but that doesn’t mean Joker got anything right.
Wrangling as much PR as it can from any situation is what Hollywood does best. Or if not best, it’s what Hollywood simply does, ad nauseam, which is why the year’s most talked about film is so prominent in the Academy’s list of nominees. After all, in a time when the gated communities of Beverly Hills and elsewhere are doubling down on their private security measures—unconsciously reflected in Quentin Tarantino’s needless rewrite of hippie 9/11—this multi-billion dollar abuse factory run by lawless billionaires will do anything to keep you watching, up to and including pretending that Ricky Gervais is funny.