Does winning an Oscar actually matter?

Winning an Oscar is great and all, but is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?

 Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The annual awards circus is upon us once again. Numerous red carpets are being rolled out to receive reams of bedazzled famous faces, all of whom are hoping to drive home with a gilded statuette resting on their laps.

We place a lot of value on those who have walked away a winner on Oscar night – just ask Leonardo DiCaprio. For years the Internet yearned for Leo to finally nab one – and then he did in 2016 so we all collectively rejoiced and laid the dank memes to rest.

Apparently, an actor or filmmaker can’t claim to have truly arrived until they score an Oscar statue of some kind. Right? Eh, not exactly.

Even though it’s all very exciting and generates a lot of gossip, the Oscars aren’t actually good for all that much (and this is coming from someone who gets invested every year and is genuinely still upset that Eddie Redmayne beat Michael Keaton back in 2015).

Across its history, the Academy Awards have made a habit of routinely shunning some of the best and brightest talents and minds of the era – which sort of defeats the purpose of rewarding those who produce the best films, surely?

Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock have famously never won anything for their directorial efforts, with the latter losing out in the Best Director category on five separate occasions. Kubrick’s entire catalogue only took home a single Oscar win; 2001: A Space Odyssey won Best Visual Effects in 1969. For those of you playing along at home, that’s the same number of Oscars as Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. So it’s not like the Academy is a great barometer of quality and lasting legacy, huh?

The same could be said for actors; Bill Murray has never won an Oscar, but do we view his filmography with any less reverence? The same can be said for umpteen actors and actresses from across the decades. For many people, Harrison Ford is the literal embodiment of sharp and sophisticated Hollywood stars. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan in the flesh – we don’t need the Academy to tell us Ford is a living legend, he has crafted that legacy without their adulation.

The same goes for Gary Oldman, Edward Norton or Joaquin Phoenix; they’re back catalogues speak for themselves. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver have all been denied Hollywood’s highest honour – but that hasn’t hindered their standing as some of the most talented actresses to grace our screens.

Some may think that winning an Oscar is also guaranteed to usher in a string of professional riches for the lucky winners, but too often that isn’t the case. Hunger Games sensation Jennifer Lawrence has racked up a surprising number of nominations (four) and one win at the tender age of 26 but it wasn’t until recently with Passengers that she was given a bigger slice of the pie than her male co-stars, financially speaking.

You only have to glance at the list of the highest paid actors across the industry today to see that those raking in the most cash aren’t necessarily those who took home the most awards. Robert Downey Jnr routinely makes in excess of $50 million for each Avengers performance whilst Johnny Depp is still throwing on funny hats and making bank despite never winning an Oscar. Meanwhile I don’t see Disney or Marvel throwing $10 million at Mark Rylance or JK Simmons, the two most recent winners in the Best Supporting Actors category.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t matter whether La La Land scored four, fourteen or zero nominations; what matters is how it is making audiences feel. The same goes for Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea or any of the other films nominated this year.  After the cameras inside the Dolby Theatre have gone out on February 26 and all the very famous people have gone home, regardless of who won or not, these films will continue to captivate and enthral audiences long afterward.

Films like Sing Street, The Witch, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Midnight Special all characterised my cinema experiences in 2016 but didn’t get a look in at the Oscars. Should I feel any less moved by their characters or narratives because they can’t claim to have been ‘Oscar nominated?’ No, of course not. Films mean so much more than just handing out trophies and racking up stats; we can leave that sort of thing to sports thank you very much.

Rather than taking a snub personally, just brush it off with a shrug. So what Amy Adams didn’t get nominated for Arrival? That doesn’t change how moving and powerful her performance was. Who cares that Sing Street didn’t get any love for Best Original Song? It doesn’t mean I don’t still love that soundtrack to pieces.

Don’t get me wrong; awards season is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of meaningless and banal bullshit that ultimately shouldn’t change how we view art or place value on what something made us think or feel.

Enjoy the Oscars, lap up the glamour and laugh at all the gaffes – but don’t forget that there is a whole myriad of wonderful films out there whose enduring qualities don’t change regardless of who wins or loses on the night.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – The Edge of Seventeen

Open, honest and awkwardly charming – what’s not to love about The Edge of Seventeen?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The coming-of-age teen comedy genre is not short of memorable movies filled with delightful characters; most notably, John Hughes’ 80s catalogue is held in high regard to this day. Well, you can go right ahead and add Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen to the list. It’s got everything you could want and need, with all the maudlin bits expertly sliced out to leave behind a tight and sharp film with brilliant writing and some even better performances.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a bang average student struggling to find her place in the social hierarchy of high school. With her loyal BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) by her side, Nadine has settled into being one of those snarky outsiders with a penchant for sardonic wit, Converse sneakers and baggy sweaters. Her world gets flipped upside down when Krista drunkenly decides to hook up with Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), an action that forces the two apart. Disenchanted and alone, Nadine seeks comfort in the seedy arms of Nick (Alexander Calvert), but doesn’t realise that dorky friendzone dweller Erwin (Hayden Szeto) might have been more her cup of tea all along.

What makes The Edge of Seventeen such a rip-roaring success is that it both instantly feels familiar and fresh at the same time. Serving as both writer and director, Fremon Craig has crafted a film that both follows a formula and actively works to subvert your expectations at every turn. Her film is a heartfelt open book that will feel all too real for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider during recess. It doesn’t sugarcoat school but isn’t a total downer – somehow, she finds space in the tight 104-minute runtime for fully-fleshed shades of both.

Plus, not only is the writing sharp as a whip, its also complex and layered. Played wonderfully by Steinfeld, Nadine isn’t seen as the epitome of wit like we’ve seen in the past with characters like Ferris Bueller. Nadine is actually sort of a shit person; she doesn’t think of anyone other than herself, she is forever pointing the finger at other people and she pushes anyone who tries to help away.

Y’know, like an actual teenager? This isn’t a movie where the cast of teens race around and make the adults look like fools – it’s more realistic than that and doesn’t shy away from the harsh truth that actually, like Nadine, we can all be a bit of a crap friend or family member at times.

Steinfeld is radiant as Nadine; we buy into her teenage angst from the get-go and she handles the rapid transitions from jokes to anguish with ease. It helps that she melds well with almost everyone else in the cast, particularly Woody Harrelson’s hilarious history teacher and Szeto’s dorky and whimsical love interest.

Fremon Craig aims to surpass the limitations of the average coming-of-age film and wholeheartedly succeeds. Her film easily finds itself in the upper echelon of recent angst-ridden teen films, up there with the likes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sing Street and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Like those John Hughes films in decades gone by, it has a little bit of something for everyone.

The Edge of Seventeen is available in Australian cinemas from January 5th 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Sing Street

Prepare to smile and sing along like a complete dork; John Carney’s Sing Street is joyful, cinematic heaven.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Sing Street travels a path well trodden; we open with 15-year-old schoolkid Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) idly strumming his acoustic guitar to drown out the sound of his parents fighting downstairs. It turns out that they can no longer afford to send Conor to his posh private school, instead enrolling him at a crummy public school run by the overbearing Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).

It’s here that Conor meets a whole range of colourful characters, including the enigmatic girl who hangs out by the school gates, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who Conor one day invites to star in his band’s new music video. Of course, in order to achieve this, Conor must actually start said band. Dubbed Sing Street, Conor and his desperately uncool friends start writing originals that riff on everything they see on Top of the Pops; Duran Duran, Genesis, The Jam and so on. Along with increasingly fleeting fashion phases, Conor and the crew’s hapless attempts at ‘finding their sound’ become increasingly difficult whilst also navigating the pratfalls of high school and the looming reality of adulthood.

Writer/director John Carney has a lot of fun remaking his tearaway youth during which he played bass guitar in Irish pop group The Frames. The shabby streets of 1980’s Dublin are lovingly recreated, as are some of the more outlandish outfits of the era. Costume designer Tiziana Corvisieri is given free reign to play with flyaway hairstyles à la The Cure or Adam Ant-inspired trench coats, making for a great visual gag that builds through the film.

Jack Reynor is practically unrecognisable as Conor’s stoner older brother Brendan; his dank haircut and thick Celtic brogue adding to a fantastically layered supporting performance. Likewise Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy impress as the embattled parents who fail to see Conor’s unfurling talent.

Sing Street peaks numerous times throughout the tight 106-minute runtime, but chief among them is a cathartic Back to the Future-esque daydream that won’t fail to bring a smile to your face.

Sing Street might be telling a tale as old as time itself, but through a string of catchy musical numbers and a talented ensemble, it transforms into a euphoric, triumphant ode to adolescent love and heartbreak. Having fine-tuned the formula through his past work on Once and Begin Again, Carney delivers his most accomplished and confident film yet in Sing Street.

If you’ve ever picked up an instrument and sucked, Sing Street is for you; if you’ve ever loved someone beyond all logical reason, Sing Street is for you. But, most importantly, Sing Street is for anyone who has ever been young, bright-eyed and had the world at their feet. It’s incredibly mawkish at times, but Carney’s insatiable screenplay is hideously uplifting. Rarely is a coming-of-age tale executed with such burning passion, gentle nostalgia and wry wit. It’s an absolute must-see for fun-loving film and music fans of all ages.

Sing Street is available in Australian cinemas from July 15

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films