Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: Oscar nominations and royal drama galore!

Jan 13, 2020

Is your favorite book or show over? The discussion here is just starting. Pop culture writer and editor Alyssa Rosenberg will be online every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Pop Culture Live, where she'll talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. She'll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world. Submit your questions comments on pop culture and her latest columns.

Read Alyssa Rosenberg's columns or catch up on past Act Four Live chats.

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Hey all! Big day for everyone: Oscar nominations, Royals drama, etc. Let's dive right on in.

Hi Alyssa -- not sure how much of an Oscar-phile you are, but what surprised you the most about this morning's nominations? I love Kathy Bates to death, and I didn't see the film, but I fear she may be the recipient of some serious piling on for taking the Jennifer Lopez spot.

I have struggled to write about "Richard Jewell," which is often the case of movies or television shows that have glaring, conseqential flaws, and yet that I find myself loving anyway. "Richard Jewell" was like that; the decision to turn Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) into an ambitious slut means the movie obscures major issues in the way the Atlanta Journal-Constitution practiced journalism at the time, and it kind of lets the FBI off the hook. And yet, I thought Paul Walter Hauser was tremendous in the movie, and that Kathy Bates was as well. I hate this tendency to blame one actor or another for the fact that someone didn't get a nomination, and I think it would be a shame here: it's not like Bates is a part of the worst decision in "Richard Jewell," and she's tremendous in it.

I will never quite understand the "Oscars don't matter" while simultaneously "this person not getting a nomination (even just nominated rather the point which is winning) is super outrageous and capital I important" Maybe people (or at least certain people) being mad is just part of it.

Yeah, while in general I'm opposed to performative outrage, I sort of enjoy the itchiness around the Oscars for this reason: I think it's the one time of year we almost universally do what I think is sensible, which is to participate in *and* argue vigorously about an institution that drives us nuts and that we think has real problems. I'm not universally opposed to boycotts, but when it comes to art, I think there's a lot to be gained by sitting with our discomfort and our attraction to stuff that also irritates, or even repulses us. Because the Oscars generally give individual viewers something to champion, I think the Academy Awards make it somewhat easier for people to do that. If nothing else, if they encourage us to engage with things that drive us crazy during the rest of the year, that's a contribution.

Isn't it kind of the point that it's your professional peers making the votes rather than the general public or the professional commentary?

Yes, and part of the value of the Academy Awards is explanatory: they're a potent illustration of the Academy's collective taste, which in turn has at least some power to explain why certain kinds of movies get made and why others struggle. It's absolutely the case that the Academy's tastes and the general public's tastes are not the same thing, otherwise, we'd be looking at endless Academy Award nominations for "Avengers: Endgame." Ultimately, these tensions are a good thing! They prevent Hollywood's output from being completely homogeneous as opposed to just mostly homogeneous.

The monarchy since Queen Victoria has been the symbol of Empire and mumsy Englishness, so it's especially galling to reactionary people when members within it try to be woke since that it's was these people have expected to get from that institution? Diddo people with Oscars nominations where Hollywood is suppose to care about being woke and therefore progressives feel a bit entitled to call it more for slights against that imagine?

I'm going to answer the question I think you're asking, which is, do both Royals insiders and Oscars watchers get grumpy because the results sometimes confound expectations? I think these are probably somewhat different scenarios, in that we're talking about what insiders and outsiders expect, and about populism versus a more elite vision. So while they're not precisely comparable, I do think there is some tension between expectations and outcomes in both circumstances that inevitably leads to conflict.

So The Daily Beast's Spencer Akerman wrote a piece where he wrong "reviewing Biden's record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection." People are pointing that Biden's first wife and toddler daughter died in a car crash at an intersection. I kind of don't know what to do with it. Do I impugn his motive? Does the author's motive matter since it was pretty gross (and also needless) reference?

This feels more like a question for Erik Wemple than for me! 

Does an egalitarian and democratic England need a royalty ? Perhaps this could shakeup their feckless political class.

I'm not British, but my sense is that a lot of people like having a royal family, even if they're not precisely sure they need it. Certainly it's a more fun soap opera than the one we've currently inflicted on ourselves.

This situation reminds me of historical Scotland with royal family members attempting to separate and rule.....now including merchandising and celebrity courtiers.....

Yeah, I think it's going to be an incredibly complicated situation, and sorting out what the Duke and Duchess will be able to do as they attempt to strike this balance without leaving the royal family entirely will certainly be challenging.

To all make last week's Live Chat full circle, might also mention that Ricky Gervais is half Canadian? www.cumberlandnewsnow.com/lifestyles/ricky-gervais-sought-canadian-citizenship-thinking-useful-in-a-war-33915 twitter.com/rickygervais/status/469166184626413568

You may!

Because of your advice last week, I saw Richard Jewell, then listened to you and Sonny and Peter talk about it on Across The Movie Aisle. (Plug!) It’s a good movie, with all the hallmarks of an Eastwood picture: beautiful cinematography, outstanding performances, well-suited music, etc. However, I don’t think it quite makes the leap to greatness because, ironically, its themes are too grounded in the characters; Bobi Jewell’s final speech is so consistent with her character that I didn’t really catch on to the thematic implications until I listened to your podcast. (Parenthetically, I will also say that in the context of the movie, the Kathy Scruggs character isn’t that jarring to me; it seems more that she is a reporter who occasionally dates a man who ends up as a source, rather than a sleep-with-anyone reporter, and she has a little redemptive arc. You are right of course that the trope is exhausting [and exhausted], but in itself it didn’t take me out of the movie. As a college administrator, I was personally bothered most by the campus scene; on a private college campus, college employees have the legal right to enter a dorm room, especially when they have reason to believe illegal activity is happening, although they rarely do in practice. Of course, I doubt general viewers have any idea of this, so they just accept the scene and its implications for Jewell’s character.)

Hah, this is a wonderful reminder that there's always someone with professional insight into a choice a movie's made. I do think that "Richard Jewell" goes a little bit further than you suggest here in implying that Kathy isn't doing real reporting, but we're talking about inches rather than miles here. 

I wonder if, while growing up, Harry felt so keenly about all the negativity his mother experienced from both the Royal Family and the media that he saw in Meghan a chance to escape it. E.g., I gather that being as near as circumstances permitted to a "regular guy" in the British military was a high point in his life, and has been the impetus for his involvement with veterans' issues, including wounded warriors. He's also taken up his late mother's crusade against landmines.

I am always a little bit concerned about trying to speculate about what people in the midst of stories like this are thinking, especially in royals stories where people are very, very constrained in the way they can speak in public. That said, this reads as broadly correct to me: I think he's long wanted a more normal life in as much as one is achievable for him. This is why I often feel a little bit sorry for members of the royal family, even as I recognize the astonishing privileges afforded them. It's got to be incredibly strange to be born into these sorts of constraints and to be scrutinized this way basically since your birth.

Do you think Kathy Bates will win?

I have no idea! I am horrible at handicapping this sorts of thing. I highly recommend Nate Jones at Vulture and Mark Harris in general for insight into this sort of thing. I can't quite say that I recommend reading the Hollywood Report's Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots, just because they can be so blood-pressure-raising, but they are a pretty fascinating insight into how actual Oscar voters think.

Everyone likes to joke about how the Academy has terrible taste and doesn’t get what’s truly exciting. However, I’ve been watching a lot of the BeLind Rewind YouTube channel, which is mostly about Best Actress races over the years, and it’s really pointed out how forgotten some of these films are. I was wondering if you ever sought out an otherwise obscure film that was nominated or win an Oscar and thought “this should be seen more” or does it mostly reinforce the impression that the Academy just doesn’t get it?

It's a mix, right? There are a lot of Best Picture nominees that are totally worthy, and that I'm glad got nominated because it will sort of function as a bookmark in people's minds in years to come. For example, I hope that "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie I love and that I found to be really misunderstood and almost aggressivley misinterpreted, will be a movie that people come back to in subsequent decades and read in a new way with some distance. But there are definitely silly or feckless Oscar nominations, and that's okay; it's part of how we measure that taste has changed over time.

Right now it seems more open-ended on who will win, but by the time the actual awards ceremony is broadcasted, there will be so, so many other awards show that if Laura Dern for example has won them all, it's way more obvious she'll win, right?

Not all awards shows are equally good barometers of what is likely to happen come Oscar night. There is not, for example, overlap between the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Oscar voting pool, so what happens at the Golden Globes has very little bearing on what will happen at the Oscars. On the other hand, the various guilds do have members who vote for the Academy Awards, so they do provide some sense of how some Academy members are going to vote. 

I just watched it last night and I gotta say...I did not like it. The closest I can come to why is that there is a Venn diagram of sorts when it comes to comic book villain trauma and real world trauma. In this case, what Arthur Fleck suffered from and was subjected to by others could have been its own movie. What the Joker become could be another. But morphing the two resulted in just too much overlap between the two for my taste. There was just too much sympathy for the character to see him as the bad guy, too much cognitive dissonance going on for me.

This was not something I wrote about a lot at the time, but I do think that the decision to present traumatic suffering as not just transformative, but transformative in a literally superhuman way to be...a real decision. The best argument for me that the movie doesn't deserve its accolades is that Todd Phillips seems to have very inconsistent control of what he's trying to say. And this is an area where the iffiness of the insight really shows.

Wow. Brad Pitt did SO much while not really doing all that much is the only way I can describe it. Until the end of course, and then he taught a master class in acting in a truly twisted and outrageous scene, which harkens back to his roles in Fight Club and 12 Monkeys. Whenever he was off screen I wanted him to come back, and I can't imagine anyone else in that role.

Yeah, Brad Pitt just really holds space; I feel like that's one of the qualities that distinguishes a very good, maybe even an outstanding, actor from an honest-to-God movie star.

The LEGO Movie not getting a nomination was kind of an example to me for that. The general public loved that movie, but from a professional animator's stance, it was highly easy and unoriginal computer software that was used and wasn't as impressive as other movies.

Which is not necessarily to say that the directors didn't put that software to use in service of a novel and sometimes moving ways.

Yeah, it's not Kathy Bates's fault that the voters didn't think Lopez was better. It's not even Todd Phillips's or Martin Scorsese's or Quentin Tarantino's fault that the voters didn't nominate Greta Gerwig or Alma Har'el or Marielle Heller or Lulu Wang. It's the voters' fault. But I think what's most useful about the exclusion is that it provides a very visible example of how much easier it is if you are a white man. (To be fair, none of us is complaining about how Clint Eastwood or Noah Baumbach got snubbed, but that's cold comfort.)

I might put it a slightly different way, which is that there is something of an overlap between the kinds of movies white male directors tend to direct and the kinds of movies a lot of Academy voters have decided are serious, important and worthy. That confers a kind of built-in advantage to those movies, and to the people who make them.

Don't a certain number of royals get jettisoned every generation, for being too distantly-related ever to expect to inherit the throne? Certainly some of Elizabeth II's first cousins experienced this (and I believe some became self-supporting), and already Princess Anne's children, I think.

There have been periodic attempts to trim the list of royals who get public support, but it's not as if there's a regular generational culling. I think it's to Anne's credit that she and her first husband wanted to give their kids a shot at a more normal life, but that was probably not ever going to be an option for Harry, given that at one point he was in line for the throne in a way he's not really now.

Given the tourist dollars brought in by the royal pomp and circumstance and the Brexiteers determination to leap over the separatist cliff, I'd say "egalitarian and democratic England" would be advised not to shed its dwindling assets. A diminished, second tier power with scant resources and limited clout should be more careful.

Fair enough!

Seems more folks believe they want "brand" themselves more, but I don't get how that works? How exactly does Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make money (a question for us of all really)?

I would imagine this is a significant subject of the negotiations between Harry, William, Charles and Queen Elizabeth II.

But you can't compare the British Royal Family to the current occupant of the White House. I think he is more similar to the current occupant of 10 Downing Street, whom I'm guessing many in Britain feel as though they've been "inflicted" with.


Can someone tell me the fascination with this movie? In a desperate attempt to pass the 9 hours between Munich and Dulles, I watched this movie, or at least tried to. Boring story, tired 60s references (yes, I was there) so so acting and WAY too long. I pulled out the ear buds and read the in-flight magazine until I could see it was about to end and watched. I just don't see all the fuss about it, much less the rewriting of history is just sad. What does the Academy see in this crap?

A couple of thoughts:

1. I think you're mistaken to describe this as "so-so acting." Certainly, what DiCaprio is doing is fairly hammy, but the quiet way both Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie behave when they know (or think) that no one is watching them is lovely and has a lot of power. 

2. To my mind, the appeal of the movie is atmospheric. It's about showing you what was gorgeous and a little seedy about the entertainment industry of the era, and about avoiding an exceptionally ugly episode.

She is a singer who dabbles in acting and she's done it with such scattershot results that her most remembered film on IMDB was Maid in Manhattan. Besides, Lopez has millions of dollars and countless Grammys

I don't think anyone feels like she lives an unenviable life, just that she did good work and they would like to see her recognized for it.

Not to say that all of those Royal Family dramas on TV and movies get it wrong, but usually it's presented as a normal person trying to "Royal" and I kind of wonder if it's really more like a Royal person struggles to normal?

Oh, I don't know if that's the case. Certainly Peter Morgan, who has really made the definitive work about the contemporary monarchy, it's more people who were born into the institutions wondering what it would be like to live outside it.

I generally look at the Windsors the way I did Michael Jackson - incredible privileges, money and fame but not a lot of happiness or peace of mind to go with it. And Queen Elizabeth could give Katherine Jackson a run for her money in the mother failure sweepstakes.

I think those are fairly different failures, with fairly different outcomes.

I gripe about the Oscars because, while they *shouldn't* be that important, they are. Oscar-nominated movies make more money, which means movies LIKE those or made by those same people are more likely to be funded in the future, which means that when the Oscars are so white and so male, it's perpetuating that white male movies will get made in the future. So even though the Oscars seem dumb, and it seems dumb to get so passionate about them, they are a very visible part of a system that very badly needs transformation and/or dismantling.

Yeah, I basically agree with you: the reason to get het up about the Oscars is that they could play a role in transforming their industry, but too often, they end up keeping it preserved in amber.

any chance Harry isn't the child of Prince Charles? or that Andrew isn't son of Prince Philip

I think fairly little, and also, who cares: they've chosen to live as a family, and that's what matters.

I noticed in an article elsewhere in the Post the statement that Harry and Meghan's income may be taxed in two countries. If you live in Canada, your total income is taxed, if you live elsewhere but make money here, Canada only taxes the "made here" part. I imaginge The UK has the same rules. BUT the United states and I believe Eritria, are the only countries that tax a citizens TOTAL income no matter where they live or made it. Unless Meghan wants to continue paying US taxes forever, she'll have to take out British citizenship and then renounce her American citizenship.

Gotta love the tax expertise in this chat!

In addition, foreign press voters sometimes have different (e.g., more European) tastes from those in other groups who are culturally much more American (Oscar, SAG, Critics, People's Choice, etc.).


Why are thirsty conservatives now anointing Adam Driver the next Grover Norquist over the mildest of quips about hating taxes?

Oh, dear. That is rather barrel-scraping.

Gave me so much anxiety, I contemplated going to the bathroom and reading for an hour while waiting for my husband to finish. What did others find fun about it? None of the characters were likable, and it was designed to elicit anxiety from the audience. No, thank you.

I didn't find it fun per se: I definitely left the room with an elevated heart rate. But I found it genuinely transporting in the way cinema is meant to be; it's a perfect example of what can happen when all the different elements of moviemaking come together to do something that wouldn't be possible in another medium.

Why such a public airing of this whole thing? Seems so disrespectful to so many people for so many reasons. Why not quietly then announce?

I believe that the Sussexes thought they were about to be scooped by the tabloid press and chose to preempt it. Obviously not ideal circumstances, but a bit more understandable.

I've got to go to my 2pm meeting, but thanks, as always, folks. We'll continue our conversation about the Oscars and everything else next Monday at 1pm!

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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