BRIAN VINER: Godzilla's gobbled up all the fun in tinseltown!

BRIAN VINER: Godzilla's gobbled up all the fun in tinseltown!

BRIAN VINER: Godzilla’s gobbled up all the fun in tinseltown!

Whatever happened to the glamour of the movies? It’s the very last question that should be asked on Oscars weekend but, honestly where did the fun go? Did Godzilla gobble it up?

Those of us who sit through this Hollywood hoopla every year are used to watching the clips before the big announcement for Best Picture.

‘Here’s a reminder,’ says Jimmy Kimmel or Ellen DeGeneres or whoever is hosting, our cue to watch a few moments of movie magic. But this time, it will be far more thrilling to go and make a mug of cocoa.

Frances McDormand in a scene from the film Nomadland which is most likely to win an Oscar

It’s not the organisers’ fault that the 93rd Academy Awards will be bereft of much that makes the Oscars usually such a glittering spectacle.

Covid has seen to that, and everyone understands. But, having seen the eight Best Picture contenders, what I don’t understand is why you will find more excitement in a single episode of, say, Call The Midwife on TV than in all of these films put together.

Not every movie needs soaring thrills, captivating fantasy or edge-of-the-seat tension to engage an audience. But as a whole this lot are worthy beyond belief, each forcing a powerful social message down our throats, as if that is what everyone wants in these times.

The opposite is true. We want escapism and joy, and Hollywood has let us down.

To be in contention for the big awards, it seems films need to be about race or gender politics, physical or psychological impairment, alcoholism or poverty.

‘There’s not a single film my parents would want to see,’ said my wife, when the Best Picture nominations came out. She then realised there weren’t many she fancied either, nor our children.

A scene from Judas and the Black Messiah, which tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton

Let’s look at the list. Nomadland, likeliest to win, is about a widow left homeless by the 2008 financial crash who drives through the American West making friends in what are basically refugee camps.

There’s Minari, about the bitter travails of a Korean family settling in 1980s Arkansas. Promising Young Woman is a feminist film about a damaged woman’s obsessive bid to punish predatory men.

Judas And The Black Messiah tells the true story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, murdered by the Chicago police in 1968. The story overlaps with that of The Trial Of The Chicago 7, about anti-Vietnam protesters who fell foul of a corrupt police force and judiciary.

Carey Mulligan in a scene from the film Promising Young Woman

In Sound Of Metal, a musician (Riz Ahmed) struggles to come to terms with deafness. The Father tells the story of an elderly man and his daughter, dealing with his dementia.

The one with a solitary sequin of glamour is Mank, about the making of 1941 movie classic Citizen Kane. But it’s also about alcoholism. And it’s black and white.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I greatly admired several of the films. They contain wonderful performances — from Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Gary Oldman (Mank), Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman).

It’s also worth emphasising that they were all conceived long before we knew Covid-19 from Catch-22. But the point is they were selected in the pandemic. There were 366 films to pick from, and these are the eight Academy voters chose.

As U.S. TV host Bill Maher put it: ‘The 2021 Oscars, brought to you by razor blades, Kleenex and rope. Please welcome our host, the sad emoji.’

What were they thinking?

Sadly they weren’t thinking of their industry’s glitzy heritage, or of movie-goers.

Hollywood is still trying to purge itself of producer Harvey Weinstein’s sins plus racial inequality, under the enduring influence of the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements.

To quote Maher again: ‘Academy nominations used to say, ‘What great movies we make.’ Now they say, ‘Look what good people we are.’

The most chilling line to come out of La-La Land for ages was the Academy’s announcement that in considering future Best Picture nominees it will ‘implement new eligibility with an eye towards diversity’, as it backs ‘inclusion initiatives’.

With each of those joyless words, a little more of the magic evaporates.

Riz Ahmed in a scene from Oscar nominated Sound of Metal

Let Hollywood reflect society, of course. Let people make political movies. But when directors are told what their films must and must not contain, then we have a modern-day version of the 1930s Hays Code, written to ensure depictions of sexual relations outside marriage did not ‘arouse passion’, that there could be no same-sex attraction, that criminals must be punished.

The irony is film-makers need more creative freedom now. UK cinemas can re-open on May 17 but where are the films that will pull in punters?

True, the pandemic has postponed releases and we will get our share of silver-screen heroes, like James Bond. But cinema managers — who have invested so much hope in the Oscars — must be in despair.

Tragically, we don’t have to go very far back to find them celebrating entertainment. Last year, Joker, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, 1917, Little Women and The Irishman were up for Best Picture.

Actor Riz Ahmed attends the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center

Go back a year further and we find Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born. A year before that, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Shape Of Water and Lady Bird.

Had the Academy short-listed another eight films, they would probably have been just as unenticing. Not because there aren’t cracking escapist movies out there, but they are now considered in this age of ‘wokeness’ to have less merit than issue-led features.

So the Best Picture contenders might just be the tip of the iceberg. On which subject, I recall Titanic winning 11 Oscars in 1998. I didn’t adore that film, but it wasn’t half fabulous to look at.

When is a slab of extravagant, old-style movie-making like that next going to cause a big splash on Oscars night? No time soon.

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