I say "tomato" and you say...that's a pineapple you son of a bitch! That's pretty much where the country is at when it comes to anything these days. In an age where your political leanings may influence whether you see the sky as blue or not, there is one thing that most people on the "right" and "left" can agree on: "Cats" was terrible.
If movies are a reflection of our society, one "side" claims to see themselves reflected much less often these days. As the Academy Awards continue to see their viewership dwindle over the years (this year's 23 million viewers is the lowest in the show's history...a trend that is affecting all awards shows, not just this one), there are cries from the "right" that her fair lady Oscar - and Hollywood as a whole - are more disconnected from reality than ever. The opposing view of course, is that there is never been a more dire time in our nation's history, and that it's the DUTY of anyone with a platform of any kind to try to affect change, for the betterment of us all.
But one thing is true: Bitching about the Academy Awards is as American as apple pie, and has been a commonality in our country long before people were wearing red mesh or pink knit hats. For anyone that knows me, they know that the Oscars telecast is my favorite day of the year...it's a time for celebration of all things movies, and it's the clearest night to see all of the shiniest stars. I've been ridiculed (I want the Oscars to be LONGER, not shorter) and I've vehemently defended keeping the technical categories as part of the show...these categories, after all, are what made me aware of what movie-making is all about in the first place.
When I asked the newest Movie Show Plus contributor, Pedro Schwarzenegger (yes, that's his real name), to participate in a friendly debate about the Oscars, the reason was thrice-fold: One, he's one of the best writers and critics out there that you need to pay attention to, if you aren't already. Two, I knew that he had...shall we say..."strong feelings" about what the Oscars have become over the course of the past few decades. And Three, I know we have different overall tastes, like how he liked Liam's Neeson's "The Grey" and how I can feel his side-eye whenever I gush publicly about "La La Land."
The idea was pitched as a friendly debate.
And of course, it was friendly. But as you'll see below, the conversation opened up in directions that I hadn't expected. Not to speak for Pedro (Pedro is the only one who speaks for Pedro), but I think we both came away with an absolutely MIRACULOUS discovery: That we - two dudes perhaps on the opposite end of the political spectrum and definitely on opposite ends of the Oscars spectrum - have much, much in common than we have differences.
In other words, Pedro and I are a model of what civility should look like, and we hope that you can learn from us that starting a dialogue is the most effective medicine to heal this country's deep wounds.
You're welcome, America.
With that, I give you the epic Oscar-showdown: Santilli v. Schwarzenegger.
TOM SANTILLI: All right Pedro, let's do this...
PEDRO SCHWARZENEGGER: Ready
TS: So first things first Pedro...I want you and everyone reading this to know that I love your style, I love your writing and a stop short of just loving you romantically. However as this article will reveal, we have some differences in our take on the Academy Awards. I'll let you lead...what are your overall biggest gripes with the Academy Awards?
PEDRO: You mean why I quit watching a decade ago? Or last Sunday’s awards show specifically? The only reason I even watched this year were two-fold. I knew you wanted to do this piece with me, and I like to put in the work. And some sweet-hearted moron finally invited me to an Oscar party.
TS: Yes, so let's go back to the beginning a bit...so you were watching the Oscars and then stopped at some point...was there ever a point that the Oscars were "enjoyable," "entertaining" or whatever word you'd like to use? And if so, how have they changed and morphed into something you seem to despise?
PEDRO: In 1995 Jamie Lee Curtis was lowered onto the Oscar stage by a helicopter in a short skirt and barefoot. That’s what’s missing in the Oscars. The showmanship. The escapism.
TS: But honestly, here's your platform, dive right into it....from reading some of your reaction to this year's Academy Awards (on Facebook), I feel like it cuts much deeper than simply the showmanship of it all...
PEDRO: I mean it does. But right now the Oscars, without a host, (can someone please call The Rock’s agent) the show feels like it’s allowed the inmates to run the asylum. Everything’s so dour. Americans go to the movies to escape that bullshit.
TS: So what was the moment that made you walk away from the Oscars 10 years ago? Was it one thing or was it a build up of things?
PEDRO: It was when the Academy decided to nominate up to ten films for Best Picture and only five directors. Meaning five of the films were just a gift to give the public a horse in the race that they were never going to give a Best Picture Award to. Illustrated wonderfully by last year’s nomination of Black Panther. I quit that very year. Tom, how great would it have been if Brad Pitt walked out on that stage last Sunday with Brandy, the pit bull from Once Upon a Time In Hollywood? Or if they had the Ford GT-40 come out on stage? Give the public something to love?
Treat the viewer, not the celebrity.
TS: That would have been cool, I get it. So you think in other words that the Oscars - and as an extension Hollywood in general - have sort of lost touch with the average movie-goer? I've been criticized on my platforms for defending the Oscars as the one night a year that we SHOULD be celebrating all things movies: The movies, the industry itself, the star power, the celebrity, the actors, the crew, the whole shebang. I say let it run 4 hours. 5 hours. Add categories for stunt work, casting. Let it be a night that all movie lovers should be able to enjoy.
PEDRO: And I totally concur with that. If the show has a host, and he/she’s clever, let it run on. Right now, to me at least, it’s a show subliminally responding to Twitter backlash.
TS: Last year the host-less Oscars seemed to be a big success...this year, people seem to think that no host was the biggest problem. Should the Oscars ALWAYS have a host in your opinion?
PEDRO: Yes. Just like every ship has a captain. The host brings that old school American glamour to the occasion. Look how successful Ricky Gervais was at this year’s Golden Globes. The audience ate that up. Best speech last weekend was given by Adam Sandler by the way, at the Independent Spirit Awards.
TS: Oh i TOTALLY agree on Sandler....that was an amazing speech, loved it, and it was the perfect tone. [watch it here when you're done reading this].
TS: Gervais is about as "anti-establishment" as it gets when it comes to award show hosts...some thought his "i don't give a shit about any of this" schtick this past year was a big of a drag. Should the host be ripping on the very thing he's Captaining? Or is that sort of criticism seen as necessary to keep all of these "elite" movie stars in their place...not let their heads get bigger than they already are?
PEDRO: I mean Gervais would have taken one look at Natalie Portman’s cape, with a list of female directors who didn’t get nominated, (for Hustlers? Lmfao) and probably would have reminded her that in 66 films, she’s worked with a female director only a single time. Yeah. I think the stars need to be put in their place occasionally. And I don’t care about what they say in their speeches. That’s their moment. Say what you want.
PEDRO: Let me ask you what you liked about the Oscars this year Tom?
Or why do you continue to watch?
TS: The Oscars are personal for me, as they are for many. When I fell in love with movies at a young age, a huge part of it was that I watched Jessica Tandy receive (or present) some kind of an award at the Oscars on TV, and I thought it was my Grandma. I was enamored and fascinated. As I then would tune in every year, I'd watch it intensely...I remember as a kid being fascinated that there were people that worked on movies and only worked on sound. On costume design. On set design. The Oscars, in a way, tuned me in as a movie-watcher as to what to look for when I watch a movie, and to understand just how many people are involved in movie-making. It gave me hope that I could one day be a part of it all. I used to dream I'd be on stage, or what it would be like to be in that room.
TS: I think that our society has totally changed as to how we approach "celebrity" or "star" culture since we were kids...it's not as "special" anymore to watch a movie star playing himself at an awards show, when you can follow and chat with many of them on Twitter. So that's a long answer, but what I liked about the Oscars this and every year is that it's the big one. It's the Super Bowl. I watch it even when I don't like or care about the teams.
PEDRO: And I used to be that guy. I watched every year with my father. We both loved going to the movies. And we both loved griping about who won and who should have. It was a key component of my childhood.
TS: By the way, good point about Portman. I think there's no denying there is a level of hypocrisy in much of this. Then again, I don't think someone's voice should be rendered invalid simply because they have reached "star" status. And I'm sure many of them feel like they're using their platforms to "raise awareness," a phrase that I know you have some feelings about...
PEDRO: It’s the cry of the useless. When the oceans finally drown Atlantis, we won’t be needing the people who raised our awareness. Maybe as a protein source.
PEDRO: But Tom, what can Oscar do to get viewers like me back?
TS: That's a great question, maybe I will have the answer once I do some more digging! Before I make some suggestions, I'm generally interested...if next year they pull a car on stage, or Captain Marvel flies into the room to present an award, I don't think you're watching still, and it doesn't change your opinion. What is it inherently about the show that turns you off? Do you have these feelings towards all awards in general or is there some specific things with the Oscars that stick in your craw?
PEDRO: I mean there are no punk rock awards... or it wouldn’t be punk rock. I’ve turned kind of punk in my old age. But I think if they cut the bullshit, nominate five films for Best Picture. Tie those directly to the five directors who made those films, or even better, TEN directors, include the International Best Picture directors. And have a host and not everything has to tackle issues. We out here in the public tackle issues. We’re foot soldiers. We’re tuning in to escape that stuff.
PEDRO: So one Best Director Award. Two Best Picture Awards. Domestic and International. And a host. And celebrate movies. Solved. I’d watch that show.
TS: I do get that argument. But I think that it's all part of it. If I make a documentary about how dogs are being abused, and my film gets nominated and wins an Oscar, I am likely going to use that moment to shed light on my film and the issues my film raised and that I'm passionate about. In this politically-polarizing era we live in, people - famous or not - feel like the world is facing desperate times one way or another...I don't think you can have acceptance speeches and not give room for people wanting to "tackle issues."
PEDRO: This year’s Best Feature Length Documentary winner quoted Karl Marx.... you think that didn’t ruffle some feathers in the fly-over States? I’m not saying you can’t tackle issues. But do we have to tackle them all in three hours? It’s tone deaf.
TS: And that's what I think the key issue is...in these polarizing times, I think it just stings much deeper than it used to perhaps. I mean, I remember Sacheen Littlefeather accepting the award on Marlon Brando's behalf (OK I wasn't alive yet but you understand). That was 1973. Has the Oscars changed that much or is it just the world we live in that's changed?
PEDRO: I think you’re onto something. I think even the most staunch Rightie allows the Oscar winners their moment, and just looks at it as a person saying what they want in their moment to do so. Like Joaquin’s speech was bat-shit crazy - but so is he. It was all him. And that moment he brought up River Phoenix - that touched even me. He’s a tortured soul.
TS: My brother by the way hasn't watched the Oscars since Michael Moore won for "Bowling for Columbine" and gave that politically-charged speech. I get how that sort of platforming turns people off from the whole thing. But I think it's complicated to cut out political messages completely...to someone, somewhere, one joke or one comment will be too far over the line. So it's hard to please everyone. I do agree that the main drive, the main focus, should always be the movies.
PEDRO: I feel like the tone at the Academy Awards is a schizophrenic reaction to their own nominees. They’ve allowed the inmates to run the asylum. And you can’t make both the inmates and the public happy. The Oscars are the standard. You’re the boss of content. Make decisions, hand out awards, and quit apologizing to these spoiled brat celebrities.
TS: The Oscars were down, down, down this year as far as viewership. 23.6 million tuned in, the all-time low. at their peak in 1998 (the year Titanic won) there was nearly 60 million. However award shows across the board are ALL down. Is this a problem with the Oscars specifically?
PEDRO: I mean are country music award shows down? Because it feels like we have one a month.
PEDRO: I think people have more options. But I know all my conservative friends roll their eyes when I even bring up the Oscars.
TS: And fact check: I just looked it up and yes, even the CMAs are on a downward decline ratings-wise [2019's show had 1 million more viewers than the 2018 show, but overall both years are among the lowest ratings for the CMA Awards].
PEDRO: Hahaha! We should start a Punk Awards show while there’s still time! I don’t think the Oscars ratings decline are an incurable form of cancer. You can get guys like me back.
TS: LOL. And that's what I'm interested in, as a movie-lover, what you said about your conservative friends. When did movies become "left"?
PEDRO: When Al Gore won an Academy award [for "An Inconvenient Truth"]. And then every “documentarian” started looking to make the next An Inconvenient Truth - instead of making the next Hoop Dreams. The next My Brother’s Keeper...
I used to love documentaries too.
TS: So...I’d like to push back on the documentary thing if I can...this category specifically has always been political...the first two doc Oscars given out in the 40s went to films dealing with hardships citizens and soldiers dealt with during WWII (one about pilots and one about Chinese citizens facing Japanese invasion) [Kukan and Target for Tonight]. So again I think it’s always been like that, but that our society has maybe changed beyond the threshold where many can handle it.
PEDRO: Then mix it up. Grizzly Man wasn’t political. Fantastic documentary. I get that documentaries are going to be the forum for politics. Must they always lean one direction though? Admittedly, eighth wingers don’t make great films... unless we’re talking about John Milius.
PEDRO: I’ll be honest man. For me, giving Parasite three of the biggest awards, and nominating American Factory king felt like a political endorsement to me for Bernie Sanders. Call me crazy. My mother does.
TS: Just curious though...do you think the films this year for example are “fake news” or are based on things that aren’t really going on? The winner, American Factory, was about stuff really happening in our society and economy. HoneyLand I think fits in the GrizzlyMan category of just an amazing human experience story .
PEDRO: Which is the film I was pulling for. HoneyLand. I haven’t seen American Factory, but I did spend twenty years in construction.
TS: Wondering though (truly fascinated by the topic), does the young Pedro Schwarzenegger watch Parasite and see it through a political lens? Like i watched that and thought it has some amazing insights on class and on human nature but didn’t walk away feeling it was a “political film." Has politics forever tainted the movie going experience moving forward?
PEDRO: I don’t think anyone during a movie awards show speaks for the labor industry. If they do, then invite us to your exclusive Oscar after party. Open that shit up to the public you so speak for when handed the mic. Otherwise it’s just bullshit posturing. And I don’t buy any of it.
TS: Are you an outlier, implying that the Oscars could somehow draw you back in? Do you think most conservatives are forever done with Hollywood, so by extension, Hollywood is never going to do anything the proper way and there's nothing that there's nothing the industry can really do?
PEDRO: I don’t think they are. Conservatives flocked to Ford V Ferrari. Great films find an audience. My dad was ultra conservative. The last film we discussed was Michael Moore’s Sicko. He was (decease now) just as burned out by medical insurance costs as anyone else. He liked the film. Politics didn’t matter to him when it came to what he was engaged by.
PEDRO: I can tell you what film was hot in 2019 on the Conservative/Liberatarian podcast circuit - because I do listen to a few of those. (None of which voted for Trump if that matters) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the most talked about film among that group. They LOVED IT.
PEDRO: I didn’t hate Parasite. It took me three sittings to get through - the main characters were like nails on a chalkboard. I just don't believe it will have the cultural impact of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. That film is why I devote so much of my life to seeing and writing about movies. It’ll still be around by 2030. I think Parasite leaves the conversation by 2024. The love of the critic is fleeting and shallow.
PEDRO: I said it. Mark it. Make me eat those words in 2024. I’ll be happy to discover I’m wrong. Snowpiercer is Bong Joon-ho’s best film.
TS: Well personally that’s what I love about movies! You’re not wrong. Like, I left Roma and was over it 5 minutes after I saw it. Thought it was pretentious. It was just OK. For me, it’s out of the conversation instantly. To someone else, maybe Roma is the movie that changes your life and will be talked about in 20 years.
PEDRO: Roma who? EXACTLY Tom.
TS: I still talk about Popeye with Robin Williams.
PEDRO: My Popeye is Steve Martin’s Roxanne. I know a lot of critics. You seem more grounded than most. But they’re a love em’ and leave em’ breed.
TS: I love Roxanne!!! Like everything it takes some nuance and some intellect to sort through the bullshit. I would never defend all critics. But I would fervently defend some of them.
PEDRO: Right now Michel Hazanavicius (Director of The Artist) can barely get work let alone another Oscar.
TS: LOL right?
PEDRO: He got dumped for the next big thing. This was Tarantino’s year to finally be recognized for his directorial talent, and they botched it.
TS: I agree, but then again it goes to that old argument about winning an Oscar really isn’t a marker of being “great.” There are several filmmakers and actors that it’s hard to believe they never won an Oscar. Cary Grant. Gene Wilder. Sidney Lumet. Spike Lee. Robert Altman. Robert Redford. Charlie Chaplin (although he won an honorary one). Unlike my Super Bowl analogy earlier, I don’t think you need to have an Oscar to be considered a “great.” I do think that of sports (looks at Dan Marino).
PEDRO: Which is why it was so easy for me to abandon the Academy Awards. Our tastes drifted apart. This was the first year they sort of aligned. Which made it interesting for me to tune in and discover that epic disappointment all over again. I think part of Tarantino’s punk mystique is he’s never won best picture or best director. It’s like a finger to the establishment. So I’m half glad Parasite won.
TS: Let’s pull this train into the station. What brings you back next year to the Oscars? A host....but not any old host right? Like if Bill Maher is the host then it’s a no...just as James Woods would probably turn off the other half of movie goers. So it need a host who is ...non-political? Is that the key?
PEDRO: Get Dwayne Johnson. He’s a terrific neutral point of entry. And I doubt it’ll happen, but cut the #Oscarso...horseshit. Elevate film without degrading the audience. 99% of the public doesn’t care about who needs representation. They just like good movies. Sounds cruel but it’s absolutely the truth. Nobody cared who made The Hurt Locker. They just knew they were talented.
TS: So step one, get a guy like Dwayne Johnson to host. Step 2 I'm trying to understand still...you want a host that is "neutral" but you want to go back to the days of just 5 Best Picture nominees, where more mainstream blockbuster-type movies like Ford v Ferrari and Black Panther have less a chance of being nominated...
PEDRO: Yeah. Because the public isn’t buying that con. They look to the Oscars as an authority figure. Or they used to. They think “I need to see these five films because I want an informed opinion Oscar night.” They never think Black Panther is anything other than a patronizing effort for the Oscars to appear like they care about diversity. The Oscars should care about art more than messaging. And I still think Ford v Ferrari would have been in the five films nominated. Make that film the public’s horse in the race.
TS: OK I get that! So we have Dwayne Johnson, we have 5 Best Picture nominees. Now another tricky subject for Pedro: There has been an Animated Feature category, and for a much longer stretch, a Best Foreign Language Film (now called "Best International Feature"). So your take on this is that a film should only be eligible for one of the above? So for example, if Pixar thinks they have a real gem, they should bypass the Animated Feature category and enter their film for Best Picture? Can't there be any cross-over? Can't the Best Animated Film also be the Best overall Film?
PEDRO: No. Just one Best Picture win per picture. Submit your film for Best Picture at your own peril. Nobody but a handful of critics liked it that Parasite walked away with two Best Picture awards. What a buzzkill. How’s that fair to Tarantino? Or Villeneuve or Christopher Nolan next year?
TS: I feel like a "Parasite" double-win occurrence is so rare though. This of course, is the first time it's ever happened. Other Best Picture foreign-language nominees in my life time (forgetting altogether about Roma), Life is Beautiful and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon....both amazing films that deserved to be among the best films of those years. Would not for a second have been upset if either would have won both Best Foreign Language AND Best Picture. It's such an uphill climb for a foreign language film to land in America...don't you love a good underdog story, Pedro?
PEDRO: When’s the last time anyone watched Crouching Tiger? Honest question. I do love the underdog. But if you have a Best International Picture award. Just have a Best Domestic bracket. Let the intelligentsia argue over which was better.
TS: I say they should just have their categories and award the best in each category every year. If there is cross-over? I'm good with that. Now, is it a debate that they should even have a Best Animated Feature, or even have a Best "International" Feature? Maybe, maybe not.
PEDRO: Yeah I agree that "International Feature" was a super-lame change to the category. It’s not helping. I can’t help but worry that the Oscars are heading toward a Best Female Director, Best Male Director future, dude. It’s frightening. By then the audience will be gone for good.
TS: I also remember that "Apocalypto" was not eligible for Best Foreign Language, because, by rule, it didn't feature a major spoken language of any country (since it was in Mayan...it would like a movie that was in all Klingon being disqualified). Not that they would have awarded a Mel Gibson film at that point, but just sayin'.
TS: It was also VERY troubling last year that they wanted to add a "Popular" category and then also wanted to boot all the technical categories off of the broadcast.
PEDRO: Which was a travesty of theological proportions in my opinion...
PEDRO: It’s interesting you bring that up...Because that’s the Oscars second guessing their leadership - trying to make everyone happy. That’s not the answer. The public sees right through that. They used to look to the awards as the standard. Not some desperate old uncle trying to keep his job.
TS: So Pedro, we've hit on a bunch of shit over the course of this discussion. I don't think there are many (hopefully) constructive conversations like this anymore, especially in this industry. I thank you. And I hope that you tune into the Oscars next year...like Winston Churchill once said about Democracy: "It's the worst form of government except for all the others." I think the Oscars is the worst awards show except for all the others.
PEDRO: Agreed. If we’re both still around next year maybe it would be fun to do this again?
TS: Absolutely...if nothing else, it would trick you into watching again.
TS: Hope you had fun. I think this was a super-interesting conversation. You?
PEDRO: Totally? It’s the discussion that needs to happening more in the industry
I think we agree on a lot more than we disagree on.
TS: And that my friend, is the revelation that I think many of us need to have (realizing we agree on more than we all disagree).
TS: I still don't like "The Grey" though.
PEDRO: I just wrote a 3,000 word piece for Rebeller on that very movie.
TS: LOL of course you did.
(What are your thoughts on the conversation just had between Tom Santilli and Pedro Schwarzenegger? Leave your thoughts in the comments below).
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