Oscars 2021: Two Queers Discuss The Very Pandemic 93rd Academy Awards

Oscars 2021: Two Queers Discuss The Very Pandemic 93rd Academy
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Last year Riese and I started what I am now calling an annual tradition of us talking about the Oscars. We usually talk about queer media here at Autostraddle, but I think it’s worthwhile to get a queer perspective on the straight movies all the straight people are buzzing about. Once again Riese showed her commitment by watching all of the Best Picture nominees and I… did not. But I did watch twenty-two lesbian+ releases so cut me some slack.


Riese Bernard: Hello I am here and ready 4 cinema.

Drew Gregory: I love cinema!

Even if for the second year in a row you’ve seen most (all??) the Oscar nominated films and I have seen… some.

Riese: I think I’ve seen all the films that were nominated for Best Picture or for a Best Actor. Except Hillbilly Elegy because I simply shannot.

Drew: I support that decision.

Riese: You’ve seen all the Best Pictures except Mank right?

Drew: No…

I also haven’t seen The Father because I saw the play it’s based on and while I thought it was well-done I just didn’t want to go through that again. And I haven’t seen Trial of the Chicago 7 even though I know you liked it because I watched three seasons of The Newsroom and I didn’t want to go through that again.

Riese: So this is year two in which you have abandoned your previously established personality of being a person who has seen All of the Oscar Nominated Films.

Drew: I didn’t even see THE WINNER the year Green Book won.

But yes, for a long time the Oscars were very important to me. I have seen every Best Picture winner pre-Green Book going back to 1927 when Wings and Sunrise both won. And in 2017 I watched EVERY film nominated including shorts.

Was last year the first year you watched all the Best Picture nominees?

Riese: Yes, unless I accidentally did at some earlier point in my life but that feels frankly impossible.

Drew: Yeah most years there’s at least one that is not worth it. Except 1975.

Riese: Ok update: in 1994 and 1997 I had seen all the nominees.

Drew: Great yes.The 90s: the best decade for movies

Riese: Yes agreed.

Watching all of them is not necessarily super fun but also I enjoy an excruciating media exercise that makes me feel like a more well informed-person.

Drew: Yes I understand that having seen 350(?) lesbian movies.

Riese: However this year, marathoning all the ones I hadn’t already seen was REALLY FUCKING DEPRESSING

Drew: It was a rough year!! Movie wise and otherwise. Which I think is connected.

Riese: Right this was a weird year for cinema. Usually there are more big action-adventure movies or sweeping historical epics. This year felt quieter.

Drew: If the pandemic hadn’t happened In the Heights would be the frontrunner!

Riese: Oh interesting.

Drew: At least my frontrunner lol

But I do think part of how the films skew is because some of the more fun films were not released or not campaigned for. I think producers look at the landscape and decide not only what to release but of the released films which films to push for the Oscars which is connected to what fits the moment. And the moment is oh wow we’re over a year into this pandemic huh?

Riese: “we are sad and so are these films”

Nomadland felt particularly pandemic-adjacent.

Drew: Yes and at the same time I really wish I could’ve seen it in theatres.

Riese: That’s so funny because I was glad I didn’t see it in a theatre.

I guess it would’ve been pretty.

the desert

humanity

campfires

frances mcdormand

the great expanse of middle america

men with beards

nightgowns

tumbleweeds

prairie dogs

Drew: An IMAX experience !

At least I watched it with my roommates on the TV which helped me to put my phone away for the duration of the film and really sink into it. It’s tough sometimes to focus on a slower film when it’s just like you and your laptop.

Riese: Right. So I think Nomadland was good objectively. And I liked that the people had normal faces. Usually in movies everybody has a supernaturally aesthetically curated face. It was an interesting lifestyle I didn’t really know much about!

Also every time I opened Hulu for like two months they were like PERHAPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO WATCH NOMADLAND. So I felt like “ok I did it!!!!” and I hope Hulu is proud of me.

Drew: They really pushed it PR-wise! Which is really cool! The films that get nominated are nominated because studios support them. This being the first year to ever have two women nominated for Best Director and the first year to have a woman of color nominated for Best Director is because the studios decided to do that. They could’ve done that many times in the past.

I’ve seen Chloé Zhao’s previous two films (Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider) and I’ve felt similarly about all three. She likes working with non-actors, she likes exploring cultures she’s not a part of, her cinema is deeply connected to nature. And I think she does all of that exceptionally well. It’s just not really my thing? I think I tend to respond to art that feels very personal. I don’t know. I guess that’s not always true. And I did like the film. I liked all three films. I’m just not sure they’d ever be my favorite or she’d ever be my favorite filmmaker even if I think she does her thing so well. If that makes sense?

Riese: That makes sense! By “personal” do you mean personal for the director or personal for the protagonist?

Drew: Personal for the director.

Riese: Mmm like The Watermelon Woman is your favorite film and that is VERY personal for the director.

Drew: Yes exactly.

Riese: Meanwhile Muppets Take Manhattan is my favorite film.

Drew: Hahahaha

Riese: Personal for Kermit

Drew: A veiled autobiography for Jim Henson.

Riese: That is awesome though about this being the first year to have two women nominated for best director. Also sad.

Drew: Yes it’s very exciting! I can be grumpy about firsts. But I do think it’s worth celebrating and complaining.

Riese: Do you think it happened cuz a lot of the man-movies were delayed?

Drew: Ooo that’s interesting. It depends how cynical I want to be.

I can be very cynical and say that yeah this year was already a “weird” year plus the two films nominated are Nomadland which is directed by a woman of color but has an almost entirely white cast and stars a previous Oscar winner and feels important in a way the Oscars like and then Promising Young Woman is a movie that similarly feels important but is extremely from a cis straight white woman’s perspective.

But idk! I can also be hopeful! Because Nomadland and Promising Young Woman are far more interesting than a lot of what usually gets nominated.

Riese: Yes.

Drew: And I mean The Hurt Locker — the only movie directed by a woman to win Best Picture — barely has women in it at all. Well except Evangeline Lilly at the end which was very exciting to me as someone obsessed with Lost at the time.

Riese: I loved Lost so much.

Drew: Wanna just pivot and talk about Lost?

Riese: Yes let’s just make this a Lost chat.

I can talk about when I went to Hawaii and spent a day looking at all the places where Lost was shot even though I had been in a traffic accident and my back was bleeding but i did not want to cancel my Lost tour.

ANYHOW

Drew: !!!!

Okay I have follow up questions about that but we can save them for later.

Riese: Okay definitely. So we have yet to have a woman of color nominated for directing a movie about women of color?

Drew: .Right. But this year might be the first where we have a woman win for a movie not about men so I guess that’s progress.

I think such a big part of my pivot away from watching every Oscar film was sort of giving up on these institutions because they improve so slowly. But it’s difficult to ignore them altogether. Because who gets nominated and who wins DOES influence careers and what gets made.

Riese: Yes. They have been improving though in very recent years. But also that’s not a defense of the Oscars. My theory about the Oscars was it existed to celebrate sweeping historical epics where a famous white man plays a now-dead famous white man. Movies which I found fairly boring. For example, last year’s thriller1917.

Drew: What’s wild though is every decade has a mix! Part of going back and watching all the winners and so many of the nominees was realizing that every year has its 1917s and every year has its Parasites.

Riese: Oh god I just remembered Joker and got upset all over again.

What is this year’s 1917? IS IT MANK

Drew: Definitely.

Riese: I just want everybody to know that ONCE AGAIN this is where I carried Drew. And watched the film.

Drew: So I would’ve watched Mank despite its subject matter because David Fincher knows how to make a movie.

Riese: Right! Honestly low-key The Social Network is one of my fave movies.

Drew: The Social Network is great! So many of his movies are great! Fight Club! Zodiac! The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! Gone Girl!!!

Buuuuuut Gary Oldman was accused of assaulting his ex wife and suffered zero consequences and I just can’t watch him.

Riese: Mank is a boring black and white movie starring 45 white people about a boring black and white movie starring 45 white people.

Drew: Okay so I do think Citizen Kane is a masterpiece lol

But I don’t need a movie about the making of it.

Riese: I mean I was 15 when i watched it and my feeling was BIG SNOOZE. But you are better at classic cinema than me.

Drew: I’ve revisited it fairly recently and I do think it holds up as like a very good movie that was very influential and also if nobody watched it again that would be fine.

Riese:. All the critics adore Mank. It makes me feel like an alien. Who cares? I had no idea why I was supposed to care about any of those people.

Drew: Critics love movies about movies! I mean, I’m aware we are critics… But like THE CRITICS, ya know?

Riese: You’re a critic. The only movie review I’ve written in the last six months was for Deadly Illusions, arguably more of an experience than a film.

Drew: Hahaha I haven’t seen Mank but I’ve seen that!

Riese: Well it took me an entire day to get through Mank and I hated it.

Drew: The final push to not watch it was when I realized the real age of Mank and the real age of Amanda Seyfried’s character like…. Come on.

Riese: Eeek. It comes in last on my rankings.

I also carried you re: The Father.

Drew: You did. But I’ve seen the play!

Riese: Did you like the play?

Drew: I remember thinking that it was very well done except I didn’t like one of the actors. So I could see the movie being good? But good in a way where I don’t really care about it…

Riese: I felt like if my father had dementia, which he doesn’t because he is dead, I would’ve enjoyed The Father. Or like, been touched by it. I mean my grandfather had dementia, but that’s different.

But it seemed really grounded in that experience and like it would be really resonant for people who have that experience?

Drew: That’s great! Something I’ve realized in recent years is not everything is for everybody and that’s just fine.

Riese: Except Deadly Illusions, which is for everybody.

Drew: 100%.

Riese: I’m gonna be straight with you about The Father and admit that I did not understand what was happening most of the time, which I think was the point, but also, it felt like I was missing something.

Drew: Hmm yeah I could see that.

Riese: So again I think The Father is objectively good and also had very good dialogue, like when you said it was based on a play I was like aha!

I saw Judas and the Black Messiah in January I want to say. So like before Oscar Chat Cram.

Drew: That’s probably good. I’d say it deserves to not be binged alongside Mank and The Father.

Riese: Afterward I was lost in Wikipedia for the next four hours reading about Fred Hampton. And also O’Neal, who I read a LOT about. Anyhow I thought it was very good and I liked it.

I’m so good at this. “It was very good” “I liked it”

Drew: Yeah with a film like this reading more about the history as well as reviews and essays from Black critics is as much part of the experience for me.

Riese: Yeahh for sure.

Drew: Like I also thought it was good and liked it but I also don’t really care what I have to say about it, ya know? But I appreciated a lot of the varying perspectives on it I read after.

Riese: Yup!

Drew: I felt similarly about Sound of Metal! Certain things bothered me while watching it but reading more from deaf writers and writers with hearing loss clarified a lot of those feelings for me.

I understand that movies don’t always show every detail of an experience accurately but I also think so much disability representation focuses on an actor without a disability playing a character who is adjusting to life with a disability and I’m just not interested in that no matter how good the sound design is.

Riese: I agree, it’s not really for me to comment on. I found it interesting if a little slow — but also it was one of those things where when I was watching it I was like “I’m learning a lot! Wait, is the information I am learning accurate????” So I was googling THE SHIT out of it.

Drew: So much of the Oscar campaign around the film has been praising the director’s commitment to authenticity. But it’s clear once you read about it that the director was committed to his hearing person’s idea of authenticity.

All the celebration of Paul Raci has infuriated me. His parents were deaf and ASL was his first language so yes there’s more authenticity than an actor who just learned to sign for a part. But that is not a substitute for casting a deaf actor! All it shows is that you actually can take a chance on an unknown actor and still get your movie funded. And then he can get an Oscar nomination! It really shows there was no excuse not to cast a deaf actor in that part. And while I understand not casting a deaf actor for Ruben and while I do think Riz Ahmed is really great I also think that problem wouldn’t come up if we had more stories about people just living their lives with disabilities as opposed to stories about GETTING the disability.

Okay rant over.

Riese: It was however the only film nominated for Best Picture to have a lesbian character.

Drew: Yes, I did enjoy that. And Chelsea Lee, the actor who played that part is deaf and queer! The rest of the supporting cast playing deaf characters were deaf actors. I’d love to see a movie where they were centered.

Also love the confirmation of lesbianism by wanting a tattoo with pubic hair.

Chelsea Lee and Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal. They're sitting on a bad discussing a tattoo Ahmed's character drew. Subtitle: I prefer it with a little hair.

Riese: ICONIC

I would love to see a movie starring them.

Drew: The hope is always with these stepping stones that it helps us get somewhere with more authentic representation. I’m just so tired of stepping stones. I want it now.

Riese: YOU DESERVE IT NOW

Drew: We all do !!!

Okay but moving onto a very personal story and my personal favorite film nominated… I LOVED MINARI SO MUCH.

Riese:  Gretchen and I were talking about which Best Picture we would cosplay as for a party where you had to dress up like an Oscar nominated role and I picked “David from Minari” hands down.

Drew: Awww!

Riese: Great polos. Great colors Cute shorts! Fashion icon. Love this era of fashion.

Drew: So adorable.

Riese: Anyhow that’s likely not what you wanted to talk about for this film.

Drew: I do think any time a child actor gives a really great performance that’s really a testament to the director. The ability to create an environment where a kid felt comfortable and free to explore. I guess it’s true for any actor. But especially with children.

God I thought the whole cast was so great !!

Riese: Yes for sure they were so great. I also related to David being disgusted by everything in a way that was obviously very rude.

Drew: Hahaha

Riese: What did you love about it?

Drew: I think it goes back to talking both about preferring stories that are personal and how the movies this year skew depressing.

I think when you are telling a story that you know intimately there’s just an added nuance there. Both in literal detail and in emotion. And I think something that otherwise might be depressing or maudlin doesn’t feel that way when it has that nuance. I understand thinking this movie is upsetting. It’s definitely heavy at times. But it made me feel really good?

Riese: That’s interesting!!

Drew: Because when movies feel real and feel made from love and are filled with characters who are trying to be better and love one another better even if they fail… it makes me feel good!

Even if it’s emotional or difficult in certain ways

Riese: Mmm yes that makes sense. I can’t really imagine what issue a critic could have with this movie.

Drew: Hope amidst despair is more hopeful to me than just hope. Which is why I hate Aaron Sorkin! It feels like he cheats. Or doesn’t understand the gravity of the reality. And it undermines his little hope moments.

But this isn’t based on Trial of Chicago 7 because I’m sorry I didn’t watch. Sell me on it.

Riese: I LOVED IT. I LOVED THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7.

I mean, it’s a great story, he had that going for him. It was also a story I didn’t know.

Drew: Do you usually like Sorkin? Social Network aside.

Riese: (yes)

I mean I love The West Wing. I liked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The Newsroom felt like he was patting himself on the back in some weird way, I didn’t get past the first few episodes.

Drew: Maybe my opinions are skewed by having seen all of The Newsroom and not that much else. I never watched all of The West Wing. But I’ve watched parts and I can’t imagine it holds up… lol

Riese: Oh really? i don’t know how I’d feel about it now. But when I watched it wow I fucking loved it.

Drew: Oh I’ve seen his directorial debut Molly’s Game! I also did not like that.

Riese: I think Trial of the Chicago 7 was interesting because it was a lot of conversations about what kind of activism works — it’s always interesting to me to witness conversations from different civil rights movements that we are still having today, conflicts between activists who are seen as being too safe or too radical or asking for too much or for not enough, how various movements sideline the people they claim to be advocating for, etc. And it was just a very interesting story.

I think it’s very palatable. Like it’s not an arthouse movie. But I am a sucker for something based on a true story!!!

Drew: Yeah I’m interested in all that. I guess I just can’t imagine being interested in Sorkin’s POV on that? Sorry I know talking to someone about a thing they haven’t even seen is very annoying.

Did you watch Mangrove? It was one of Steve McQueen‘s Small Axe movies.

Riese: No I only watched Lovers Rock.

Drew: I think you should watch Mangrove! I get what you’re saying about Chicago 7 being palatable. And there’s a place for that! But artistry aside I think I’m just like well if I’m going to watch a movie about a trial against protestors that deals with different forms of activism I’d rather have McQueen and his writing team’s POV than Sorkin’s. Though I guess it’s not an either/or.

Riese: Honestly the trifecta of One Night in Miami / Trial of the Chicago 7 / Judas and the Black Messiah was a real dream for me. So many hours of supplemental research to become entrenched in after the film! Supplemental research is my passion.

And One Night in Miami had a similar appeal in that — different types of activism and advocacy conversation.

Drew: Ooo yes!

I liked that a lot.

Riese: I loved it so much.

Drew: I wish it had been nominated over Mank

Riese: That was probably my favorite movie of the year?

Drew: That makes sense given your love of true stories and research. You get four converging stories there!

Riese: I KNOW. There was a Sam Cooke documentary I watched after. So much for me to dine out on.

Drew: I think my favorite movies of the year were Lingua Franca and The Half Of It. And I wish we lived in a world where they were nominated for Oscars.

Riese: I wish we lived in that world also.

Also where One Night in Miami had been nominated for Best Picture. GREAT ACTORS GREAT FILM A++++

Drew: I also did love Promising Young Woman. Which I’ve read so many conflicting feelings about and have my own conflicting feelings about but I still love it.

Basically I love the movie if it is interpreted the way I interpret it, but I understand why some interpret it differently.

Riese: Yes we talked about it right after you saw it I think.

I watched it on New Year’s Day, hungover, with a screener.

Drew: Yikes.

Riese: And I had to wait a month for anybody else to have seen it. I just had to sit there alone with it.

I liked it but I didn’t like the ending. It brought up a lot for me! Which we talked about.

Drew: Can we do a spoiler tag? It’s very hard to talk about without spoilers.

Riese: We could do a spoiler tag I think??

Drew: Great. SPOILERS FOR PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN BELOW.

Riese: For me in college, sexual violence against women by groups of men and specifically frat boys was so just woven into the culture, it was benign. The film really brought me back to that era and how …. awful it was? There was a girl who had sex with three frat guys in one night and SHE was almost kicked out of her sorority for it while the boys just got a lot of high fives. It was very normal to have sexual pictures or videos of you shared widely without your consent, and it never occurred to any of us that we could hold anybody accountable for any of it.

I didn’t like that she died at the end.

Drew: I always felt like I was in such a weird position within that culture. Because my sister and my female friends would tell me these horrifying stories about things that happened to them and then men would talk to me like I was on their side. It made me very misandrist and also feel crazy because it seemed like it was EVERYWHERE and no one cared. Then I got a job after college filming legal depositions and I did so many harassment and assault cases and watched the system just crush all these women. I felt so angry. And still feel so angry. The Me Too movement at least made me not feel crazy. Like I could see oh it really is this prevalent.

And that’s why I like that she died.

Because revenge doesn’t look like Kill Bill. Revenge is impossible. And there is a place for escapism but personally I want a movie like this to feel despairing because the reality is despairing.

Riese: This is a solid case I think you have sold me.

Drew: What’s been fascinating is seeing people think the movie is supposed to still be like “badass” or whatever. My experience of it was not that. The whole time I felt so sad for her. Sure it’s satisfying to see her concoct revenge scenarios but then all of them felt so pointless and hollow? And that was the point to me.

When the cops showed up at the end I didn’t feel happy? I know how our justice system works and I feel confident those guys can still get away with it. And even if they don’t who cares because she is dead and her friend is dead!!

But I also think I might be projecting my own politics onto the movie in a way it doesn’t deserve. Like maybe the movie wants us to feel like the cops showing up is good?

Riese: Right, like “the bad men are getting punished” and that felt weird to me, like she had to sacrifice herself so they could go to prison… maybe.

Drew: Either way they’re showing up because of murder not rape.

Riese: Right. And any movies where cops save the day is never really a full cheer.

Drew: But I think the movie is very much in a cis straight white woman gaze. And with that in mind I think it’s fair to assume the cops showing up were not supposed to make me feel as depressed as it did

But also my experience of the movie still feels like an experience of the movie? idk

Riese: Yes for sure.

Drew: Aisha Harris wrote a really good piece about the movie that is good because she’s one of my favorite critics but also because she pretty much agrees with me lol

Riese: My experience of the movie was so absolutely entrenched in my own experiences in undergrad. What we expected of boys and each other. At the time I was like, “It’s fine, this is what I have to accept and this is what I have to let people do to me to be a Cool Girl.” Like if anything about it seemed fucked, I thought that was a personal problem, not a systemic one.

Drew: Yeah I think that’s really pervasive.

Riese: And this was like the early 2000s! It was not the stone age.

Drew: Right I mean I think even if things have gotten a bit better it still continues today.

But also the other thing about it being in a cis straight white woman gaze is these issues around rape and consent and patriarchy are not as neatly gendered as the movie shows. All types of people commit harm and experience harm. So I think this is a good version of engaging with what it’s engaging with? But as a queer trans woman it captured my anger while not capturing my experience.

It’s not just men perpetrators, women enablers and victims. There are a lot of problems within queer community we don’t engage with, because we think of ourselves as separate from the more obviously wrong frat culture. And I think a more astute writer could’ve used best friend Laverne Cox better. To explore some of those things.

Riese: Yeah!! that would’ve been great. Laverne Cox’s character did end up being such a side note.

Drew: Which I assumed would happen. Stepping stones !! Sigh.

SPOILERS FOR “PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN” HAVE NOW ENDED

Riese: Who do you think will win Best Picture? I hope it’s not Mank.

Drew: Wait I also want to shout out Time which is nominated for documentary and is directed by Garrett Bradley who I was lucky enough to see speak at a screening of one of her shorts at the ARRAY theatre before the world shut down. I think she’s so great and the movie is so great and it’s streaming on Prime and everyone should watch it.

I hope that wins Best Documentary. And I hope Minari wins Best Picture. But if Nomadland won I’d also be just fine with that. I’m really rooting against Mank and Chicago 7 (sorry).

Riese: It’s ok. I don’t think it’s going to win.

Drew: I think Nomadland will win? That feels right.

Riese: Yeah? Interesting. I have no idea what these people are into these days.

Drew: The whiplash of Spotlight, Moonlight, Shape of Water, Green Book, Parasite.

Truly who knows what will happen.

Riese: GOD GREEN BOOK

Da 5 Bloods was only nominated for sound, and Ma Rainey for acting, but also I think one of the more exciting things about cinema this year were that we had quite a few films that had just like INCREDIBLE ensembles of Black actors.

Drew: Yes! And they’re on major streaming platforms and are being widely discussed and celebrated. The films have always existed. But finally they’re more accessible!

Riese: Yes!

Drew: And Ma Rainey and The United States vs. Billie Holiday are queer! I really do feel hopeful. Even if sometimes I forget.

Riese: Yes, it’s super exciting that two of the Best Actor nominees are nominated for playing Black queer roles. I am rooting for Viola Davis.

Drew: I am too!

Riese: But also sucks that Ma Rainey didn’t get a Best Picture nomination. And yeah, it’s funny because this year I watched them on streaming platforms. Last year it was all screeners. I moved in December so I don’t think i got a lot of the screeners I was supposed to get. But regardless they’re all available.

Drew: They are. Which is great! I want more people to get to see all the films.

Riese: I do miss the cinema though.

Drew: I MISS IT SO MUCH.

Riese: I am upset about the Arclight. I was excited that I live so close to it now. I don’t really know how it can just close.

Drew: I’m so sad. Growing up an hour outside LA the Arclight has meant so much to me throughout my life. The times I went there as a kid and teenager were really special. I used to celebrate my birthday by spending the whole day there with my two best friends and we’d watch three movies.

Riese: That’s really cute and nerdy.

Drew: Extremely.

Riese: I did melt butter in the microwave and pour it over the microwave popcorn when we watched Sound of Metal.

Drew: That’s good. Gotta do what you can.

Riese: Also i want to add that the worst film i saw this Oscar year was Wonder Woman 1984.

Drew: The Riese Razzie goes to…

Riese: Yes straight to Wonder Woman 1984 — an unforgivable film.

Drew: I’m not sure what the worst movie I saw was… Maybe I’ll say Ammonite just to get more angry cis women in my DMs.

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