Politics & Policy

At the Oscars: Revenge of the Hollywood Crybullies

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz beckons the cast of Moonlight to the Oscar stage. (Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)
Rudeness at the awards show and big-screen violence attest to our fallen film culture.

The moment La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz ripped the Academy Awards announcement card from Warren Beatty’s hands told you everything you need to know about the brattiness of La La Land and the people who made it.

Caught in a moment of surprise and anger, after learning that the Best Picture Award announcement was in error, Horowitz, who had just made an unfortunate acceptance speech, responded to the instant humiliation with take-charge arrogance. The annual ceremony was now his show. Instead of waiting for Academy officials to correct the slip-up (which, according to protocol, was done by notifying designated presenter Beatty, who then attempted to explain what happened) Horowitz showed the world how type-A Hollywood hot dogs operate: He summoned Moonlight’s producers (the official winners) to the stage with all the authority of a high-school principal calling order to the basketball squad, or herding cats.

What are the politics of this incident? The same that we see in La La Land and Moonlight and in the adulation heaped on them by the movie industry. Both films exemplify this era’s cinematic illiteracy and social hypocrisy: La La Land director Damien Chazzelle misunderstands the movie-musical genre; Moonlight director Barry Jenkins aesthetically distorts the race-problem genre. (Currently these directors star on the Variety cover in a brotherhood pose to assure the industry that all is utopia.)

But the Horowitz incident exposes the truth about Hollywood’s principles and egotism, and thus it was a fitting climax to the most politicized — and most nauseating — Oscar program in history. Horowitz’s undisguised selfishness bum-rushed Old Hollywood ceremony. Horowitz, a 37-year-old neophyte, reduced 80-year-old Beatty (forgotten producer of the classic Bonnie & Clyde and star of the classics McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Shampoo) to befuddlement. Beatty’s gallant attempt at politesse and procedure was overrun by Horowitz.

Beatty looked both baffled and abused. Despite more than a half-century spent among Hollywood’s ruthless, competitive, untrustworthy jackals, this public display was something new. (Ironically, it came right after Beatty’s introductory speech had parroted PC nostrums.) Horowitz’s affront resembled the meanness of post-election protesters who, with their secretly funded placards and pink pussycat hats, intend to have their way while trying to appear righteous. But imagine Horowitz going gangsta on John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Charlton Heston, or Katharine Hepburn!

This spectacle revealed the same money-man intimidation and artistic gentility (aggression vs. passive-aggression) behind the compromises that ruin so many Hollywood movies and keep them from being works of art. It was consistent with the evening’s low point: Kimmel’s ushering a busload of tourists into the front row of the Dolby Theater to gawk at their fancy-dressed superiors. Historians should note this as a key moment illustrating the mores of the Obama-era aristocracy and the culture war: 1-percenters lording it over 99-percenters as if Hollywood Boulevard were Versailles.

Horowitz’s undisguised selfishness bum-rushed Old Hollywood ceremony.

The entire disgusting display felt absolutely un-American, except that Hollywood, for the past eight years, has worked (on- and off-screen) to perpetuate the false notion that Hollywood’s liberal Democrats have a great concern for the common man — even while they reside in ranches, and exclusive penthouses, and gated mansions protected by armed guards. One has to live in a delusional La La Land to overlook Horowitz’s patronizing tone and his hostility. Naturally, he’s been praised by the Washington Post as “the truth-teller we need right now.” But, in fact, Horowitz demonstrated that peculiar yet familiar self-righteousness of white liberals who pretend to sacrifice themselves for the downtrodden black. (“But don’t take too much,” Billie Holiday warned in “God Bless the Child.”)

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs took her requisite spot to boast about “diversity” when she should have curtailed host Jimmy Kimmel’s partisan flatulence and vetoed the ugly tourists’ episode altogether. Instead of running the show efficiently, Boone Isaacs taunted America’s great unwashed by dangling the carrot of celebrity; perhaps that’s the true meaning behind La La Land.

Contemporary Hollywood lacks dignity, star power (President Trump tweeted “Where’s the glamour?”), and grace, as Horowitz, in his boorishness, demonstrated perfectly. (I’ve had plenty experience handling awards events with Hollywood types; some are cordial, some are not, but it requires tact and a firm sense of occasion.) Previously, at the British Oscars, Horowitz lectured the English about “diversity,” even though La La Land’s cast is ethnically segregated. At home, he acted like one of the crybullies and snowflakes who can’t get over post-election trauma. So no wonder Hollywood rewards both La La Land and Moonlight for being snowflake and crybully fantasies.

*****

Not much to say about Logan, the latest in Marvel Comics’ X-Men franchise, this one pushing Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) toward retirement. It’s really just another exercise in violence featuring Logan’s adamantium claws — a trait shared with teenage Laura (Dafne Keen) in overblown action scenes that recall the sickeningly sadistic kiddie assassin movie Kick-Ass. Mel Gibson’s Blood Father handled a similar father-daughter plot better, but this penchant for on-screen violence is part of contemporary culture’s ugliness.

That ugliness is critiqued in Catfight, a sometimes-funny satire of class in which two former college rivals (trophy wife Sandra Oh and lesbian artist Anne Heche) meet years later and clash over their personal and political differences. Writer-director Onur Tukel makes pertinent points about political hypocrisy. (“Come on, there’s no such things as wealthy Democrats!”) But his absurdist storyline, perching New York sophisticates on the edge of dystopia, goes no deeper than his late-night talk-show running gag (Craig Bierko imitating Steve Colbert’s hateful partisan monologues).

Oh, and Heche’s sharp performances don’t need amplification, yet the three big melees between the two women are poorly stylized — bloody and with exaggerated sound effects. A hammer-vs.–monkey-wrench battle recalls Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine in Robert Aldrich’s brutal Emperor of the North, but it lacks the ferocity of that film’s historical analogy. Tukel means to shake up “our state of unawareness” and “collective dread,” but the Oscars inadvertently beat him to it.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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