DUNKIRK Try to contain your excitement but it’s almost Oscars night again!

This year, the Academy will doubtless be relieved if the ceremony passes without a hitch and that it makes the headlines for all the right reasons.

After spectacularly goofing up the best film award last year and being under the shadow of the Weinstein-related sex scandals, the spotlights in 2018 will be about as comforting as interrogation lamps.

Under this kind of intense public scrutiny, the stakes are high. Political correctness used to be routinely ridiculed but is now the order of the day and woe betide those who step or speak out of line.

A sign of the pressure was evident at this year’s BAFTAs. Frances McDormand did not wear black and, while apologetically admitting “I have a little problem with compliance”, she was at pains to express her solidarity with the women who dressed to show their allegiance to the #TimesUp and  #MeToo campaigns.

McDormand will probably win the best actress award for her rampaging performance as Mildred Hayes in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ if only because this character so fully embodies the angry mood of many women these days. The cult of ‘Ebbing’ is a triumph of hype over quality in my view but is nevertheless a telling illustration that movies do not exist in cultural vacuums.

Maybe it’s just me, but this year it seems that most, if not all, the nine nominees for the ‘Best Picture’ award can be directly linked to pressing sociopolitical causes in Britain and America.

‘Call Me By Your Name’ can be read as a glossy thumbs up for gay rights; ‘Get Out’ gives black Americans just cause to fight back against oppressors and Lady Bird screams ‘yeh for feminism (and teenagers)!’ .

I am well aware that these are superficial and one-dimensional interpretations but, hey, what’s new?

Let’s face it, few are writing about ‘Dunkirk’ and ‘Darkest Hour’ as deeply nuanced historical dramas. Although conceived well before the Brexit vote, both these movies have unwittingly given sustenance to the jingoistic “we will fight them on the beaches” mood currently infesting the UK. How else can you explain the standing ovations in response to Gary Oldman’s rousing speech in the role of Winston Churchill or the renewed praise for the plucky Brits in small boats outwitting the might of the German army.

Sometimes, the links to current events are even more obvious. In ‘The Post’, Steven Spielberg has made no secret of the fact that his film is a direct response to Trump’s unhinged attacks on ‘fake news’ stories. The Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 neatly satisfies the illusion that America still has a ‘free press’. (n.b. I confess that this is the only one of the movies in contention that I opted to avoid. I couldn’t face having to spend two hours staring at Tom Hanks’ stupid wig or enduring yet another flouncy starring role by the ubiquitous Meryl Streep).

Finding contemporary parallels for the artier ‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘Phantom Thread’ is more of a challenge but I’m willing to give it a shot. Each could be seen as metaphors for the abuse of male power and the depiction of the creature from the deep as a silent and sensitive lover (with discreetly hidden penis) perhaps makes it (‘him?’) the ideal sexual partner. If you are of an optimistic frame of mind, the fact that the women in both these movies ultimately get the upper hand indicates that the gender balance is finally shifting in favour of women.

Whoever wins on the night, the Oscars will provide a glitzy indication that we live in interesting times.
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Spoof Dunkirk poster courtesy of Shiznit.Co.Uk
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