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3 themes to look for this Oscar season

Sure as the day after Thanksgiving marks the start of Christmas shopping for major retailers, the holiday season contains an alternate marketing blitz in the film world.

Hollywood has a two-pronged goal during the next 7 weeks. As usual, it wants to put bodies in theater seats. But on a more ambitious level, it’s preparing to unveil some of the year’s finest, most prestige-
oriented features.

With the Academy Awards approaching March 4, movie moguls are working full speed to win voters’ attention, hearts and minds. More than ticket sales, idiosyncratic Oscar winners such as “The Hurt Locker,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country for Old Men” offer a long-after-release life­span while upholding the lofty ambitions of the art form.

The question now facing the academy and film fans alike is: Who should define which films, or performances, or concepts, will be included in awards season?

Last year, following two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite protests, the 6,000-member Motion Picture Academy invited an influx of 683 new participants – significantly younger and more diverse – to better represent filmmakers of color and other emerging talents.

These new voters could yield some thought-provoking contenders.

When “Get Out” premiered in February, its filmmakers had only modest expectations for what seemed to be a small horror film from a first-time writer/director.

But its unconventional plot, twisting the interracial romance theme of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with dashes of hypnosis, body horror and upper-class racism, plugged into a national debate about multicultural America. It became a cultural phenomenon and surprise hit, catapulting writer/director Jordan Peele to film industry stardom.

Playing a disabled character has long generated Academy Awards, with examples too numerous to mention, from Colin Firth’s stammering King George VI in “The King’s Speech” to Hoffman’s autistic genius in “Rain Man.” It’s hard to believe that this year will be any different.

Still, it’s rare for an Oscar to go to actresses playing a mute character, with Patty Duke’s performance as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” Marlee Matlin (to date the only deaf performer to have won the award) in “Children of a Lesser God” and Holly Hunter in “The Piano” being the only winners to date.

That will probably change this year with British actress Sally Hawkins for her leading role as a mute cleaning lady in “The Shape of Water.”


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