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Jeff Simon: Amid massive social protest, Frances McDormand could bring heat to Oscars

Pray for Frances McDormand.

Mind you, there's nothing wrong with her as far as I know. Her health, mental and physical, seems to be good. And so, bless her, is her penchant for speaking out of turn and making a little trouble.

Here we are in the middle of a Hollywood Award Season involving the biggest wave of social protest and anxiety to hit American media and the Entertainment Industrial Complex in 50 years and it looks as though McDormand's tendentious streak is the only thing separating the Oscarthon from being the crashing bore it has usually been in recent years.

The 21st century problem is simple: The movies up for award consideration are almost always very good and sometimes terrific these days. What they're not, generally, are big popcorn movies. Nor, in our era, are they often Big Star vehicles made by people who are household words from Bangor to Baja.

Only one of those this year -- Spielberg's "The Post" starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep -- stands a shot at being announced as a Best Picture Oscar nominee. "Dunkirk" too will, of course, be an Oscar Best Picture finalist. In the best of all possible worlds so, too would either "Wonder Woman" or "Logan" or "War of the Planet of the Apes."

As you may have noticed, this is not the best of all possible worlds.

As always these days, the Oscar noms to be announced Tuesday morning will be full of very good movies and scant mass audience appeal. The one most talked about exception is Jordan Peele's "Get Out," a hugely successful horror film which I found to be the most overrated film of 2017.

I very much liked the first hour of the film when it stuck to very creepy doings for an interracial couple visiting her white parents in the country. The second hour, when it re-wrote Ira Levin's "Rosemary's Baby," seemed to me to go a very long way for a pretty feeble result.

That's why I'm holding out McDormand as the one possibility to blast through the predictable gentility with a nice bit of indiscreet blowtorching during a year when, quite literally, the women of Hollywod (and TV news) are leading a major gender rebellion in contemporary America.

When sexually abusive men are losing jobs right and left and causing problems everywhere for DA's looking for crimes they can actually prosecute (Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer anyone?) Hollywood has, so far, sought only the most tasteful and inspirational nods to it all.

At the Golden Globes, all the women wore black and some of the men too. All the commentary was inspirational and forward-looking -- none more so than Oprah Winfrey who was so predictably rousing that many people immediately wanted her to be sitting in the Oval Office instead of the former reality show functionary who's there now.

McDormand is s sure thing nominee and a probable winner on Oscar night for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri." Her closest competitor will be Saoirse Ronan for "Lady Bird." They each won Screen Actor's Guild Awards on Sunday -- McDormand for Drama, Ronan for comedy -- on a weekend when women all over the country crowded the streets to demonstrate their disgust with the powers-that-be.

Ronan was terrific in her film and if she wins on Oscar night, she could probably charm the Devil himself with her gloriously musical Irish brogue. But McDormand is the one who has genuine stilettos in her rhetorical arsenal and I don't mean heels either.

If only she'll use them Oscar night --  if and when she wins. (Never mind that Streep -- not even mentioned in the SAG nominations playing Katharine Graham in "The Post" -- gave a smarter and infinitely more nuanced performance. What could possibly be more boring than giving Meryl Streep yet another statue?)

The Oscarthon that's shaping up grievously lacks pizzazz. Gary Oldman will, most likely, make for a graceful first time winner. And, as Brits always do, his acceptance speech will be a sterling specimen of the genre. But it's still an Oscar for playing Winston Churchill. Things were a lot more daring in 1964.

The Best Picture front runners -- "Three Billboards," "Lady Bird" and "The Shape of Water" -- will be a terrific nod to three of 2017's best (What, no "Phantom Thread?") but they're not going to get a lot of discussion at the hair salons, barbershops and lunch rooms of America.

More, popular, if she wins (which is likely) will be Allison Janney for "I Tonya" who won a SAG award on Sunday. America has loved Janney since watching her on "The West Wing" so it's high time the woman got an Oscar out of it to go with the Emmys.

A Supporting Actor Award for Sam Rockwell in "Billboards" -- as he received at the Sunday SAGS -- will be a perfectly meaningless award for community sentiment when the gutsy and in-your-face thing to do would be been to give it to Christopher Plummer for brilliantly taking Kevin Spacey's place in "All the Money in the World."

To love and truly know movies in America is to be increasingly satisfied with the increasingly smart results on Oscar night.

If you must know, I kind of miss the grandly magnificent stupid Oscars that could actually go to the likes of "Rocky" and "The Greatest Show on Earth."

I liked it better in America when Oscar night could be mind-bogglingly stupid and election night was credible and sometimes even hopeful.

Maybe, once again, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could be conscripted again to hand the Oscar to the wrong movie. There's a new eye-opening tradition I could get behind.


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