Believe it or not, Oscar and Plugged In can sometimes agree on what makes a great movie.
Sure, the Academy Awards will always have its share of grim dramas and salacious stories amongst its nominees, but some years it goes out of its way to praise inspirational fare that even we curmudgeons can gave a cautionary thumbs up to. Take last year, for instance: During our Plugged In Movie Awards, all five of our nominees for “Best Movie For Adults” were also nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture.
Yeah, don’t think that’ll happen this year.
The Academy’s voters picked nine movies to be in its Best Picture tourney this year, but just three were rated PG-13, and all three were stories rooted in fact: The Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, the harrowing war flick Dunkirk, and the 1970s journalistic drama The Post.
The others were rated R, and sometimes scathingly so.
The Shape of Water—which, incidentally, snagged a year-high 13 nominations, including nods for Sally Hawkins (Best Actress) and Guillermo del Toro (Best Director)—is a touching romance in many respects, but marred by several explicit nude scenes. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which has been racking up honors right and left this awards season and gathered in seven nominations this morning, is a blistering rumination about righteous anger and the cost of rage. But all that rage and anger often manifested itself in its profanity: Characters uttered around 100 f-words, according to our reviewer Bob Hoose. And Call Me By Your Name, hailed by many secular reviewers as a beautiful love story, is still a love story between a 17-year-old boy and one of his father’s male graduate students.
Other best picture nominees include Phantom Thread (one of the strangest, most discomforting “romances” I’ve seen in a while), Get Out (an insightful, bloody horror satire that says some important things about race with a really foul mouth) and Lady Bird (a deeply moving coming-of-age story that, again, doesn’t stilt on language or sexual content.)
This is not to say that these films don’t have artistic merit: They do, naturally. And many have some important, even inspiring messages. But for discerning filmgoers concerned about a film’s problematic content, the Oscars are filled with content aplenty. Indeed, if you look at their Plugged In ratings, the Best Picture flicks average just 1.78 “plugs” a piece. If you take out the four plugs that Darkest Hour earned, the family-friendly plug ratings flip to 1.5.
The Oscars did honor a handful of navigable nominees. Gary Oldman is considered the frontrunner for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Darkest Hour. Victoria and Abdul, an insightful period drama, picked up a couple of nods, in Costume Design and Makeup. Star Wars: The Last Jedi snagged at least three in some technical categories.
Normally, reliably family-friendly Oscar contenders can be found in the “Animated Feature Film” category. But even that’s a little dicey. Pixar’s Coco, considered to be the category’s front-runner, had some spiritual issues to navigate, according to reviewer Adam Holz. Loving Vincent was quite creative artistically … but being based on the life of artist Vincent Van Gogh (who famously cut off his ear), it has some issues, too. And The Boss Baby? Up for an Oscar? Really? In this category, Ferdinand might be a discerning family’s go-to choice.
The Oscars are obviously a big deal. On March 4, lots of folks from Hollywood will offer their thanks on stage, hoist their golden statuettes up high and give due credit to their fellow nominees.
But this year, with a few exceptions, it feels as though fans who love great movies but love clean ones, too, have already lost. Better luck next year.