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Surprises and Snubs of Hollywood's Awards Season

Mike Ellison talks about the Oscars and how the film industry is changing

Oscars being displayed

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Mike Ellison:

Hollywood recently celebrated its 92nd Academy awards. On today's show, we sit down with two entertainment writers for an award season recap, and we take a look at how the film industry is changing.

Tim Apello:

There's a lot of major 50 plus talent out there on TV and in movies and we dominate some categories.

Mike Ellison:

Hi, I'm Mike Ellison with an AARP take on today. In Tinseltown, where discrimination and isms are as prominent as the Hollywood sign itself, and there's considerable work left to be done, the tide appears to be turning in at least one area. Age. Today we discuss how age played a factor in this year's Hollywood award season, and the second act might surprise you. AARPs Movies for Grownups Awards, a part of the Competitive Awards season, are seen as partial predictors of who's going to get Oscar love. Movies for Grownups, recognized as the years actors and filmmakers who make movies that resonate with older viewers. The program's mission aims to fight age discrimination in the film industry.

Tim Apello:

When the AARP, Movies for Grownups Award started 19 years ago, it was frankly hard to find enough people to honor in first-rate films, because there was even more age discrimination then.

Mike Ellison:

That was Tim Apello, AARP film critic. He believes that there's been progress celebrating older talent in recent years. Renee Zellweger may have said it best in her acceptance speech at the Movies for Grownups Awards.

Renée Zellweger:

I don't feel like we're getting older. I feel like we're winning.

Mike Ellison:

In addition to her win at Movies for Grownups, Zellweger, who's 50, won the Oscar for best actress along with best actor, Joaquin Phoenix at 45, best supporting actress Laura Dern at 53, and best supporting actor Brad Pitt, the oldest at 56. You heard it here first. Every actor who won an Oscar this year was 45 or older. And half of the 20 actors nominated for Academy Awards were aged 50 or older. But it's not just older Americans who are starting to be recognized. It's also the films themselves, and the key audience they appeal to. Meg Grant, AARP talent executive, explains.

Meg Grant:

I think also with the whole expansion of the baby boom generation, Hollywood has realized right alongside our program, that there was a huge audience for this content that's not only about 20 or 30 year olds, but it's about the whole life experience.

Tim Apello:

I think that that speaks to a change in society. I think that the people over 50 are less marginalized now. It's not thought of as an audience that isn't worth reaching. Even television is starting to get that. And this is my pet peeve about television, that everybody talks about the coveted 18 to 49 year old demo. Well that's just because ABC in the 60s, decided that they had a small audience, the smallest, but they had a young audience so they decided to monetize that in the 60s when youth was big. And that caught fire in the imagination of the advertising community. And they're only now starting to catch on that they should pay attention to the mature community as well.

Mike Ellison:

So you're speaking to this notion of ageism in Hollywood. How do we combat that as moviegoers?

Tim Apello:

Well, you vote with your feet and with your ticket. I think you're striking a blow for progressive attitudes about aging when you go support movies. Not just movies that have older people in them, but movies that give older characters a sense of agency, and vitality, so that they're not just in there as some sort of tertiary... Sometimes a figure of fun, you know? But if they are a figure of fun, they're in on the fun or they're stars, they're part of the story and their story matters. And I think that's the kind of movie that we like to support. And I think that our readers like to support too.

Mike Ellison:

Yeah. They're not this like a comic relief character that's always getting made fun of. They're always on the short end of the stick or the joke or something about... Now the Oscars are not without controversy. Joaquin Phoenix had some very poignant remarks ahead of the Oscars about inclusion. The lack of diversity. He also spoke very poignantly about what we're doing to our environment. And Natalie Portman got a lot of attention on the red carpet for her embroidered cape bearing the names of women directors who were not nominated. What do you make of all this?

Meg Grant:

Well, just speaking about lack of diversity and women, I think that what is happening, and it's taking some time and Ava DuVernay is a great example, is that you're having both women and artists of color who are deciding, I'm going to get into the producing lane. And I'm going to start gathering partners so we can make films or television shows that we can have roles in ourselves, and we can put fellow actresses or people of color in. She's doing it. You know, that's kind of what's happened with Reese Witherspoon, has gotten a lot of those middle aged women back into meaty roles on television. Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman. But I think it's going to take a while.

Mike Ellison:

Yeah. I saw a pretty hilarious exchange, I think between Ava DuVernay and a fan, if you will. And they were inquiring about all the bad wigs on black actors in films. And Ava was saying, yeah, because we're not the hairstylist and makeup artists. We don't have enough people who are culturally sensitive to that. And I could say as an actor, I've experienced that on set where they want to style your hair in some way and you just look at them sideways like, nobody walks around like that.

Tim Apello:

The Academy's making steps, I don't want to over criticize them. The minority population has doubled, and since 2015 it's doubled to 16%. Now it could be more, but that's distinct improvement. And so I think that we'll see improvement in the fight against sexism, racism, ageism, all as the Academy gets more diverse. And as a movie like Parasite, that never could have won. Are you kidding? I was all prepared to be bitter about it not winning best picture and winning everything else.

Mike Ellison:

So you saw Parasite coming? You saw that?

Tim Apello:

I knew it would win several, but I didn't know that it would win best picture and I was going to be mad because it deserved it in my opinion. But that is a significant bellwether I think. And look how happy everybody, all the stars were. I mean Tom Hanks was about ready to burst out of his seat and fly around the room. And he was making them keep the lights up so they can keep talking. Don't play them off.

Meg Grant:

I was just reading about the director and he's 50, and he's been making movies about class, about different classes and families consistently. And this is thought to be his best work so far. So, it makes sense, everything we're saying, is that you can do your best work in the middle or later part of your life, and it's a culmination of your experiences. And I think that really paid off for him.

Tim Apello:

I think that it is changing. Like with the Directors Guild. The Directors Guild is a bunch of guys of a certain age who are full of themselves, and they should be. But there need to be women full of themselves in there too. And when there are, you'll see more Greta Gerwig nominations and wins, I think. And not to single her out, but there's a whole lot of people who deserve more play. And I think the wonderful thing, is that as they get more grownup, they're going to get more love from the Academy and from viewers.

Mike Ellison:

Are there any films coming up that you're really excited about?

Tim Apello:

Well, I don't want to make predictions until I've seen them, because I've been burned before. But no, there's, there's a lot of good stuff coming up. I mean, there's going to be another Knives Out, I believe, that'll be fun. When something works once it often works twice. And it's nice to see Daniel Craig escape the bonds of James Bond. And he's going to do that. Of course, he's going to be out in another big Bond, but that'll be the last one.

Mike Ellison:

This is the last one?

Tim Apello:

For him. Yeah.

Mike Ellison:

Speaking of films that you love, from your perspective, I believe you gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, five stars. And did you see... You agree with Brad Pitt's performance? And him being rewarded for that performance. What did you like about the film so much?

Tim Apello:

Well, I'm from that time, and I remember a lot of that stuff that he lovingly researched and put in the film are from my childhood, and before his childhood actually. And it's also good to see Brad Pitt mature. Because he broke out as a set of abs that nobody could remember his beautiful face, because his abs were so beautiful, in Thelma and Louise. And then he worked on it and he became a serious artist. I mean, not that he wasn't serious to start, but he got more serious, and now that he's in AARP years, he's going to be a skyrocket compared to what he was before, I think.

Mike Ellison:

The AARP Movies for Grownups Awards also allows readers to vote for their favorite movie of the year. And so this year the reader's choice for best movie of the year was A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Why do you think this movie spoke to AARP readers?

Meg Grant:

I think because it celebrated a figure that resonated with them. And it also had a subplot which was about friendship between Mr. Rogers and this younger [inaudible 00:10:07] by about 20 years, journalist who was writing about him. And I think that intergenerational subject matter is really of interest to the AARP audience. Those relationships are extremely interesting, right? Not just about exactly your age.

Mike Ellison:

I think those of us who are familiar with Mr. Rogers, there was some nostalgia involved there. I think we were also pleased to learn that he really was a nice man. You know what I mean? Like in this day of vitriol and people being able to attack everyone from behind the keyboard, and public figures having one persona and really being something totally different, it was refreshing to see he's the real... Like he's even nicer than we thought he was.

Meg Grant:

Yeah.

Mike Ellison:

You know? And so I think, for those who are familiar with them, that was pleasant and for those who were not, they're looking at it saying, oh, now come on. Like nobody's really that kind. Is that really... You know what I mean? There's some discovery there which made it interesting. And of course Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks. So I mean he can bring depth to any role. One of the things that obviously... Netflix has been a huge disruptor and game changer going back years. Now this year they had 24 nominations this year. I think that's the first streaming service to lead the Oscars in nominations. How do you think that's going to affect the medium going forward?

Meg Grant:

Well, but at the same time... And they spent a huge amount of money. I just [inaudible 00:11:37] that this morning. They walked away with only two awards. And I think there's going to be some re-thinking on Netflix as part... The best thing I read was that an analysis of why the Irishman didn't win a whole bunch of awards. And the analysis basically came down to, streaming is great and it makes it easier for everyone to access this content. But there's certain... Everything can't be streamed. There's certain content, be it a film or whatever, that should be seen in the theater or in the traditional ways. And the Irishman was one of them. That to try to put that on a television screen where people can get up and take a break and pause it, took away from it.

Tim Apello:

That movie probably wouldn't have been made in the theater these days. A lot of the movies... I've talked to him, Martin Scorsese... And by the way, nobody pronounces it right. It's Martin Scorsese, that's how you're supposed to say it. But even when Spielberg and Lucas gave him an Oscar, they said it wrong.

Mike Ellison:

Everybody says Scorsese.

Tim Apello:

Yeah. Everybody does. Anyway, he has said to me that like a lot of his great movies would no way he could make them today. No way. And so I think that, if you complain about Netflix as the venue, and, oh, it's not as big a screen, well if you want that kind of movie, then you better go with where the technology is going.

Mike Ellison:

Now if you have children like I do, or you have other things in your life, and then committing that kind of time in one setting, I thought it was actually cool that at certain points I could pause, I could stretch, I could... You know what I mean? Get something, come back and then dive back into it. I actually liked being able to do that with that particular film. And I don't know that I would have been able to watch the whole thing in one sitting in this pace that we live in today.

Tim Apello:

That's true. And I think also another thing that I liked about that film was that it's... If you look at it with Goodfellas. Goodfellas is a young person's movie and it builds to this very, very fast paced climax. This is a retrospective movie. This is a movie about time. This is a movie about people who can think about the past and what it means in the present, and where we've come to. And Scorsese is meditating on his own career and it really is... It's moving in a way that I don't think you can understand until you are a grown up.

Mike Ellison:

You've seen a lot, the impact that streaming services like Netflix have had on the industry. Can you provide some context or insight from your perspective?

Tim Apello:

I find a certain satisfaction because I happen to be the launch editor for Amazon Studios when they started it. I set that up.

Mike Ellison:

Nice.

Tim Apello:

We were terrible. Our first year we made about as much as your local Blockbuster, like one Blockbuster.

Mike Ellison:

Okay.

Tim Apello:

And now it's big. And now Netflix is even bigger. And they're of course mano a mano. But that competition is great because now filmmakers who are having a tougher time in the theatrical business, with the theatrical businesses in trouble because it's expensive and the quality is going down. And it's all very few comic book movies, not all of which appeal to grownups. Really, grown up audiences are keeping art films alive. There was a wonderful statistic in an AARP study, 75% of art film attendants are people over 50.

Mike Ellison:

Really?

Tim Apello:

So they better start paying attention to us if they want to have those movies. They need us. But another way they need us is on streaming. And we also help people find out where to find movies and TV shows on streaming services.

Mike Ellison:

You get a chance to talk to the people who make this art and some fascinating people. How much do the Oscars mean to them?

Tim Apello:

They mean the world. That's why there's a million bucks worth of ads in a single issue of Hollywood Reporter on Oscar night. And in a way it's a bit irrational because it doesn't necessarily pay off in how much the movie makes.

Mike Ellison:

That was my next question. Particularly on the streaming platforms. Does Oscar gold translate to gold-

Tim Apello:

It does in a sense. It does in the way that, if you can get an Oscar for a Netflix film, you're going to have an easier time getting Oscar caliber directors to work with you.

Mike Ellison:

I see.

Tim Apello:

And you can also... You want to attract people to your service. Netflix doesn't want you to go to Amazon. Amazon doesn't want you to go to Netflix. And so it's a prestige thing, and so it isn't just, yes, the first thing they're all concerned about is money, but they're also concerned about status. And Oscars are status. It really makes a difference.

Mike Ellison:

It's interesting though because for certain actors an Oscar doesn't translate to better roles. Particularly, it's been noted for a lot of African American actors, getting an Oscar hasn't propelled their career to the next level. For some it's actually... Their career has gone in a different trajectory.

Tim Apello:

Well from the first one, Hattie McDaniel should have had a lot more career, but she had to lobby the head of the studio, to nominate her and then she had to force them to let her in because it was a segregated club-

Mike Ellison:

How about that.

Tim Apello:

-nightclub, so she wasn't technically supposed to even be there. And then she was denied her last wish to be buried in a Hollywood cemetery. Well it's gotten better. Now I'm not saying it's gotten good or that it's where it should be, but I think it's going where it should. And it's getting to be less... Like one problem is I focus on a lot of minority talent, but so much of the minority talent is just under 50, because it only happened lately that they can get movies. But that whole... There is a whole wave of people coming that are turning 50 even as we speak. And so that is going to be, I mean, I'm sure that it'll be more prominent in our over 50 talent pool, just because it's already happened. And you know, when you have a... Like Black Panther wasn't just a superhero movie, it was the best superhero movie.

Mike Ellison:

That movie was fantastic. There were so many historical and cultural references that people... You have to watch it six, seven times and probably have a professor break some things down for you. But I was very happy watching that movie.

Tim Apello:

Yeah. And it's not just that it's... Yes, it's wonderful that it was all black talent, but it was a movie that frankly, it's hard to recommend for a grownup audience. Some of these superhero movies, even if they're very high quality, because they don't have so much upstairs. But now, you look at something like that, there isn't a smarter superhero movie than Black Panther and there are going to be more. And so I think that it breaks it down. But it's like Don Cheadle told me, the main color they see is green.

Mike Ellison:

Green.

Tim Apello:

And so the main thing is the Black Panther success. But then there's also this prestige thing and so there's a lot of prestige projects, even things that didn't make a bunch of money, like if Beale Street could talk. How long did it take for our greatest black writer to, James Baldwin, to have his work on the screen? They finally did it right.

Mike Ellison:

Do you have any parting shots that you want to share with people as it relates to the Oscars, this industry, this platform we call entertainment?

Meg Grant:

I'm thrilled. I'm 60 myself, that we're seeing people like Laura Dern and Renee Zellweger and Brad Pitt get their sometimes their first award, the first Academy Awards in their 50s or 60s. And I hope that this momentum continues in terms of both movies and television, because I think it makes for more interesting content.

Tim Apello:

When I was covering Hollywood in the Hollywood Reporter and other places, the Golden Globes were a joke. Nobody knew... People would really honestly make jokes about the Golden Globes because nobody cared about it. Well, then they got on TV and suddenly they're about as big as the Oscars, or darn near. And Movies for Grownups is now on TV on Great Performances on PBS. And so now the word is getting out, we have a much higher profile in Hollywood than we did. Juliette Lewis who was discovered by Marty in Cape Fear, gave him an award at the Movies for Grownups. And she said, "I think this is my new favorite awards program." And that opinion is growing in Hollywood, and I think that you'll see it. I mean, certainly next year's our 20th anniversary, so we're going to get more prominent. And so I think that, of course I've got to think this, but even if I wasn't, I would say I think keep your eye on the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards because they're coming up.

Mike Ellison:

That was Meg Grant and Tim Apello. For more information about AARPs Movies for Grownups Awards checkout AARP.org/moviesforgrownups. And for a limited time you can watch the awards show at pbs.org/moviesforgrownups. Thank you to our news team, producers Colby Nelson and Paola Torres, assistant producer, Danny Alicon, production assistant, Bridget Launi, engineer, Julio Gonzalez, writer, Joe Higgs, executive producer, Jason Young, and of course my esteemed cohost, Bob Edwards and Wilma Consul. Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well. From AARP Take on Today on Mike Ellison. Thanks for listening.

On this week’s episode, we chat with entertainment writers Tim Appelo and Meg Grant about Hollywood’s awards season, snubs and surprises at the Oscars, and how the film industry is changing.

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