It was acceptable to give the Oscar to The Artist in 2011, when Obama was in the Oval Office and the liberal world order appeared unassailable. But to reward another trifling, self-regarding romance set in the entertainment industry now would suggest that, for all its humanitarian posturing, Hollywood really only cares about the world within five miles of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
There are several ways the Academy could go in the unlikely event that it shuts out La La Land. Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Washington’s Fences all feature black casts (and, in the case of Moonlight and Fences, black writers and directors). Their nominations offset some of the damage from two years of #OscarsSoWhite; a win would tip the scales further.
On the other hand, some people blame Meryl Streep, Katy Perry et al for sealing Hillary’s fate with their smug celebrity electioneering. So maybe Academy voters should venture outside their Hollywood liberal comfort zone and acknowledge Trump’s America by giving the gong to the religious-pacifist bloodbath, Hacksaw Ridge, a true conservative cockle-warmer.
Or, if they’d rather something without Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson’s name above the title, there’s Hell or High Water, a contemporary Western about two Texas brothers who rob the banks that ruined their family to save their farm from foreclosure. If the economy made them desperate enough to turn to violent crime, maybe it made them desperate enough to vote Trump, too.
Of the more broadly message-y films, Lion is an immigrant story about colour and culture and identity, while Arrival is an alien-encounter movie about the importance of communication and mutual understanding, which felt somehow reassuring when it was released in the immediate aftermath of November’s crushing presidential election.
The last film on the shortlist might be the finest of the lot. But I can’t think of a good political reason to give the Best Picture prize to Manchester by the Sea, a clear-eyed depiction of regular people coming to terms with awful, inescapable circumstances, which makes you laugh as it breaks your heart.
Of course, it doesn’t need an Academy Award to prove that. And besides, the Oscars are rarely about rewarding the year’s best movie (though sometimes that happens by coincidence). In case you hadn’t noticed yet, they’re all about politics.