Tuesday 20 March 2018

The shock frocks, the tears, the air kisses: it's the Oscars

Last year, host Ellen DeGeneres broke the internet with her A-list selfie. Julia Molony wonders what is in store for the 87th Oscars.

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie

Julia Molony

AS you tuck into your Sunday morning coffee and croissant, spare a thought for the poor award-season show-ponies who haven't consumed a carb since Christmas.

While you and I are gingerly feeding our hangovers, they have been living off vitamin infusions and oxygen for the last month, and as we speak are each being sucked, plucked, sprayed and peeled by their own personal swat team of pre-awards fluffers, tasked with readying them for their red carpet turns at the world's most high-profile, highly-strung dog show, the annual Academy Awards at the Dolby theatre this evening.

For the stars, tonight is not just the one-off event it is billed as, but rather the cumulation of weeks and weeks of a rigorous and demanding schedule of dieting, detoxing, schmoozing, winning and/or losing - sometimes separately, often all at the same time.

It looks fun, but it's work. Don't be misled by the much-hyped talk of "parties" around award season time. Mardi Gras it ain't. Those on the inside say that the flesh-pressing opportunities which come thick and fast this time of year, the lunches, galas, the pre-parties and even the private gifting suites, are dry in all senses.

As one Fox executive explained of the unofficial prohibition that descends on Beverly Hills at this time of year, "Nobody wants to be the one breathing fumes on Angelina." It's probably safe to say that the wildest social encounter most of the performers have had recently is likely to have been with their colonic hydrotherapist.

It wasn't always that way. It's only in the last couple of decades that the monstrous coupling of purest Hollywood phonyism with fashion industry image-fascism birthed a culture in which the red carpet was reborn as advertorial. Now, best-actress nominees are grilled on the red carpet about their chosen brands, their chosen diets and whether they are wearing support underwear, or are pressured to submit to the "mani-cam" a mini-catwalk specially designed to allow celebrity fingernails their long-overdue moment in the spotlight.

Though the idea of the iconic Oscars' dress was launched in 1953 by Audrey Hepburn, who turned up to collect her statuette for Roman Holiday in a white, full-skirted floral Givenchy number that helped secure her place as one of fashion's favourite muses, it was almost half a century before award-ceremony collaborations between designers and stars became the convention. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s and even up to the 1980s, a star could get away with pulling something out of the back of her wardrobe to wear. In 1979 Meryl Streep re-purposed her wedding dress to accept a Golden Globe for Kramer vs Kramer. Even as recently as 2001, a streak of genuine anarchy could occasionally be seen at the Oscars, at least in the case of Bjork, who arrived in fancy dress as a giant swan that year, and proceeded to lay an egg on the red carpet. Though even then, the world press were confused and dismayed. One journalist said "it made her look like a refugee from the more dog-eared precincts of provincial ballet," while the late Joan Rivers, blunt as ever said simply, "this girl should be put in an asylum."

Back in 1966, Julie Christie stepped up to accept the Best Actress award clad in a gold lame jumpsuit that she'd (gasp) made herself. How hokey that idea seems now, in an age when fashion and film are only just arms of the giant corporate machine the Oscars has become.

Now, even historic moments of genuine fun and joy are parsed for their marketing potential, as was the case for Ellen's iconic "selfie that broke twitter" from last years ceremony. She gathered Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Channing Tatum, Lupita Nyong'o, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Kevin Spacey into a snap on her mobile phone, which was re-tweeted so many times Twitter crashed - but later turned out to be a stunt on behalf of event sponsors Samsung.

And as for the films, the Academy, whose taste often reflects their dominant demographic (old, white and male), have been criticised this year for their unchallenging, conservative choices, and for the lack of diversity among the nominees. The favourite for best actor, Eddie Redmayne, turned in an accomplished performance as Stephen Hawkins in The Theory of Everything - clearly strong work and all that, but nonetheless a glaring piece of conventional Oscar-bait. The same could be said of Benedict Cumberbatch - another upper-crust English actor nominated for playing a beleaguered outlier genius, this time in The Imitation Game, a biopic of Alan Turing, the mathematician and cryptanalyst who broke the Enigma code which helped to lead to victory for the Allied Forces in World War II.

Zanier choices came in the form of Wes Andersons The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Birdman, the oddball, eccentic offering from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu featuring Best Actor nominee Micheal Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up Hollywood actor and former superhero action-man, trying to restore his career credibility by adapting and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story. Birdman is nominated for nine awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Nonetheless, all the best director nominees this year are male, all the best actor and actress nominees are white, as are the stars who feature in the best supporting actor and actress categories. It was a bad year in general for female filmmakers - African American director Ava DuVernay, the woman behind Selma was snubbed, as was Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own novel Gone Girl, for the screen. Had Duvernay been nominated, it would have been the first nod in history for an African American female director.

Maybe there was consolation to be found in the nominees goodie bags. Even the losers get to take home a collection of swag worth a reported $125,000, which is said to include not only a three night luxury stay in Tuscany and a lifestyle makeover package, but, for the ladies, an Afterglow vibrator and a vaginal rejuvenation procedure, known as the "O-Shot" worth $2750. A fact in itself which speaks volumes about women's true value as defined by Hollywood.

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