Don’t let others dictate your truth.
Absorb, acknowledge, and observe all opinions, ideas, thoughts, and rhetoric, to their fullest degree. Then cast your own aside, and view them as heresy. Because in the end, you must shape your own belief.
Don’t let others dictate your truth.
These ideals may seem naïve, arrogant, or short-sighted, but they are what I’ve learned since one fateful night in 2006.
There is something to be said about prescience, intuition, and the ability to recognize greatness before others, in the moment. When true growth and learning is being achieved, that pattern will begin to emerge. You will begin to sense and understand things as they happen and before they happen, while others are still processing their effects.
For cinema, the movies of Stanley Kubrick gave me my first education on film and it’s potential. The greatest director’s director, Kubrick is perhaps the most prime example of recognizing greatness in the moment. In certain moments, it’s unmistakable. But to view such giants with your feet planted on the ground is arduous. And so the movies of Ang Lee allowed me to know what’s possible, what’s tangible, and to dream of that possibility through another lens. To see a Taiwanese director embark on his career in his 40’s and reach such heights, it was like witnessing greatness as it was happening.
But on March 5th, 2006 at the 78th Academy Awards, my cinematic world was upended. In a last minute upset, Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash for Best Picture, despite winning for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Music. For a 17-year old Taiwanese-American film fanatic and Ang Lee devotee, it was like being told Santa doesn’t exist.
Much of my brooding was directed at the fact that Crash was just a bad movie with a teaspoon-deep message about racism. Another white-savior in disguise, Matt Dillon heroically overcomes his racist cop character arc because he saves a black woman at the end of the film. Wow, he must have really learned his lesson! Truly Paul Haggis at his worst. That was an instantaneous moment of recognizing not greatness, but garbage in the moment. To add insult to injury, I remember just HOW many people thought Crash was a good, even great film. Countless people. Big critics, nameless critics, producers, friends. I remember the names. And we’re still playing massive catch-up in 2021.
So how is it, that hundreds, sometimes thousands of talented, top-of-their-class, hard-working individuals have such choice opinions in the moment? A complete and utter lack of foresight.
Don’t let others dictate your truth.
JUMP CUT TO:
The Year 2021. The 93rd Academy Awards. Everyone and their Vietnamese pot belly pig is now hella woke in Hollywood. People of color, transgender folks, ASL folks, disabled folks, all ya’ll getting recognized. This is, The Year of Marginalized Voices.
The Best Picture candidates were a huge step up from previous years. No more run-of-the-mill generics like Bohemian Rhapsody or Green Book getting overly saturated nominations, instead you saw nuanced and difficult films being nominated: Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Father.
For Best Actor and Best Actress, you have one of the most stacked sets of nominees on both sides. There is no doubt that Frances McDormand became Fern, and encapsulated that feeling of being displaced and isolated, like so many are in America. But I also feel like it’s something we’ve seen before from Frances, I’m not sure I saw anything completely new from her in this film, but she was excellent in what she did and what she needed to do.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is one of Earth’s greatest living actors and so it was never an easy decision between him and Chadwick Boseman. Certainly his performance in The Father warranted the recognition. But I think there was just so much momentum for Chadwick leading up to the Oscars, that it was hard to picture anything else but a beautiful, posthumous win for him. An endearing crown, fit for a King to end his legacy, and perhaps the only win we would truly receive from his early departure. I think Sir Anthony was correct in his own surprise that he had won, though his humility comes from his own understanding of the moment. You can see the respect and gratitude that he has for Chadwick, for he himself has seen nearly all of his contemporaries, his rivals, and his peers, pass on before him.
Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay felt like the biggest locks to me. A strong first-timer script with a unique voice and direction, along with a meaty and introspective journey through the mind of a man at the end of his days. Those are just ripe for selection, and I think there’s too much improvisation and adlibbing from Nomadland to garner a writing win there.
For Cinematography, it’s probably more of a surprise to see Nomadland not win for Best Cinematography than it is seeing Mank win for Best Cinematography, because Mank is such an exquisitely shot and lit film. The light and shadows in Mank ooze from all corners of the frame, a beautiful callback to the cinematography and texture of the 1940’s. But I do think Nomadland in many ways was carried by the tone and beauty of the cinematography, and if Nomadland was the film that touched or resonated with people the most, then perhaps that should have carried more weight from the DPs and technical artists that voted on Best Cinematography. But it’s usually a more technical or proficiency vote given from this category anyway.
Easily the greatest speech of the night, and the 2nd best moment of the night next to Glenn Close’s bubble butt, Yuh-Jung Youn’s acceptance speech was everything we had hoped for and more. Leading up to the Oscars, Yuh-Jung’s previous acceptance speeches at SGA and BAFTA, were already trending for their hilarity and honesty. She is the embodiment of your firecracker Asian Grandma; Korean, Chinese, or Japanese. But her grasp of English and foreign concepts is beyond worldly. Having her riff on live television in front of millions, about not wanting to be in competition with people like Glenn Close because she’s been watching her films for decades, to her surmising that maybe she was just a bit “luckier” than everyone, to her noting that perhaps to some small degree, American voters wanted to go out of their way to acknowledge an Asian actor, shows that she’s as wise as she is wily at 73 years young. What a deserved win.
The recognition and overall reception towards Minari has been pretty powerful. I think people have really taken to the film and are seeing how Asian-American stories are vastly untold, but beautifully unique and universal as well. These efforts will undoubtedly pave the way for more stories and more storytellers to make their mark.
The true jewel of the night though, was Chloé Zhao. With The Rider and with Nomadland, you can recognize some of that greatness in the moment. You can feel what she feels. There is a lightness, almost like a calm breeze that sweeps through you and carries you gently through her films. There is an Eastern-influence, an Asian-influence that you can feel in the quiet moments of her films. An honesty and lack of judgment in the way she views things. It reminds me so much of Ang Lee, and of Brokeback Mountain.
Her speech was very much the way she carries herself. With grace and with compassion. She exudes an overwhelming sense of Good. Her inclusion of traditions, her childhood, and her father’s teachings are all the markings of a young Chinese girl. And the last time we heard Mandarin spoken on stage at the Oscars was when Ang Lee won for Life of Pi.
To have another Asian director win Best Director, following the great Bong-Joon Ho’s emphatic win for Parasite the year before, the world is showing you that change is coming. We are being given the foresight into how the voices of cinema, movies, and television will change in the coming years.