Opening Argument: It’s July, Right? Might As Well Call It Oscar Season
This week’s opening argument is brought to you by Pop Culture Happy Hour’s favorite dad, Stephen Thompson. — Linda
Now that time has lost all meaning — did you know that Billie Eilish’s Grammy sweep, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win, and the theatrical release of Onward all occurred this year? — I say we scrap everything and declare this Oscar season.
It’s not as if, say, sports are shaping up to fill the current void in our lives. The Olympics got booted to 2021, baseball season keeps getting miniaturized beyond recognition, the NBA is keeping its fingers crossed that it can isolate itself back into existence, the NFL has spent four months failing to come up with a plan better than “we’ll see what happens,” and college athletes are helpfully reminding the NCAA that they’re not actually getting paid to risk their lives. So if you’re looking to spend months speculating about the outcome of something less meaningful than the November elections, let’s just go with the Oscars!
Sure, they’ve been moved to April 25 — roughly 30,000 news cycles from now — and it’s best not to contemplate how many catastro-pocalypses we’ll have stared down by then. But 2020’s awards-friendly movies are already rolling out on streaming services, with two significant contenders popping up in the last month or so.
We talked about Spike Lee and Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods on the show last month, so you likely already know that Delroy Lindo is getting nominated, barring a typical PR disaster for the Academy. But neither should you sleep on Hulu’s Shirley, which spans a short but crucial period in the life of writer Shirley Jackson.
Set shortly after the publication of Jackson’s classic 1948 short story “The Lottery,” Shirley stars Elisabeth Moss as Jackson and Michael Stuhlbarg as her college-professor husband, Stanley Hyman. Fictional newlyweds Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) come to stay with the couple, and Rose becomes an alternately tormented and tantalized muse as Jackson toils to craft her follow-up to “The Lottery.”
Shirley has polarized audiences a bit, both for the liberties it takes with the historical record and for the way it sacrifices linear storytelling in favor of artily fragmented opaqueness that suits the story but leaves some cold. But it worked on me: Director Josephine Decker frames her shots in thoughtful and inventive ways, while Sarah Gubbins’ script deftly adapts Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel of the same name, teasing out complex ideas about the limits on women’s mobility and agency — and the ways creativity can be nurtured or stifled by forces from both within and outside.
But, while it’d be lovely to see Decker recognized in a category that’s been grossly unkind to women (to put it mildly), Moss seems likeliest to break through as a serious awards contender — surely aided by her well-regarded work in The Invisible Man. (Update: The Invisible Man came out in this calendar year!) Here, Moss taps into a toolkit she’s been building since well before she was even Jed Bartlet’s babyfaced daughter Zoey on The West Wing: You get the tortured resiliency, the curdled wisdom, even the sinister glimmer Moss brought to her role(s) in Us. And, given how much the Academy loves a good celebrity impersonation — and a good transformation — it’s remarkable how much Moss looks the part.
As for Stuhlbarg — a man who once appeared in three Best Picture nominees in one year, back in 2017 — he may get passed over for his work as Stanley, if only because Moss’ juicier work overshadows him. But he does a marvelous job upending the sweet-professorial-dad archetype he’s played in movies like Call Me By Your Name. Here, he’s like a cross between Robin Williams (at his creepiest) and Joaquin Phoenix (on a normal day), and it works for him.
So if you need a break from handicapping Best Animated Feature — will it be Onward, or Trolls World Tour? — it’s worth popping over to Hulu to contemplate Shirley’s odds. It’s the next best thing to ever again getting to watch live sports.
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From the world of weird animation comes Dicktown, a new short form series in which John Hodgman voices a grown-up version of Encyclopedia Brown, still solving cases with his former bully, played by noted writer, host, and artisanal pencil sharpener David Rees. Both guys have been drawn as essentially themselves, they’ve assembled an impressive lineup of guests, and you can check it out on Thursdays at 10 as part of FXX’s “Cake” animation block, or see it on Hulu, where it’s also under Cake, season 3. (Very confusing, I know.)
I’ve found reading fiction during the pandemic very hard, but I greatly enjoyed The Heir Affair, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s sequel to The Royal We. And while I’m still in the middle of listening to the audiobook of this one, I also want to alert you to a book Jessica and Heather and I talked about at their book event: One To Watch, by Kate Stayman London, which is about a plus-size blogger who becomes (essentially, slightly fictionalized) the Bachelorette. So far, I absolutely love it.
I’ll have a full review to read over the weekend, but the Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti romcom Palm Springs is now on Hulu, and while I found it a little slight, the leads are very charming and the story is appealingly weird. (Don’t read about the plot any more than you have to.)
What We Did This Week
It’s weird how busy weeks pop up during times when so little sometimes seems to be happening. This was such a week.
I wrote about the Netflix documentaryMucho Mucho Amor, about the astrologer Walter Mercado. Whether you’re among the legions who grew up with him on television or not, the documentary is well worth your time. And while you’re checking it out, also check out this piece from PCHH fourth chair Monica Castillo, who did grow up with Mercado and also recommends the documentary. (Warning: You will, after watching it, want to end every Zoom call “Con mucho, mucho, mucho mucho mucho … AMOR!”)
I wrote about Gina Prince-Bythewood’s marvelous new filmThe Old Guard, adapted from the comics by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez. Starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne, it’s a summer action blockbuster that’s also a good drama, and if you’re okay with some grody violence, it’s got a lot to offer.
Our Wednesday show was a re-up of our discussion of John Wick: Chapter Three — Parabellum, which we revisited because we just miss big action blockbusters. (And because we try to give ourselves and especially our producers a break around the Fourth of July.)
Our Friday show brought our friend Kat Chow to the table to talk about Padma Lakshmi’s new show Taste The Nation, which is on Hulu and which we all really like.
What’s Making Us Happy This Week (and other show notes):
Every week on the show, we talk about some other things out in the world that have been giving us joy lately. Here they are: