In an age of political, social and ethical scrutiny, sometimes it’s hard to get the tone right.
In the race for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards, nearly all major contenders have been embroiled in one controversy or another.
If, while watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you were empowered by Frances McDormand’s strong female lead and a sense of social justice, think again.
For a significant number of media pundits, Martin McDonagh’s depiction of a small town in the US hides a shrouded racial issue which may affect not one, but two Oscar categories.
Sam Rockwell, who is nominated for best supporting actor, plays a racist police officer in Ebbing who finds redemption after torturing a black man.
The plot point didn’t go down well with some critics, particularly since Ebbing is in Missouri, a state plagued by police violence against African-Americans. Remember Ferguson?
The director, McDonagh, has defended the film by saying he doesn’t think the character “is redeemed at all”, adding: “He starts off as a racist jerk, he’s pretty much the same at the end, but by the end he’s seen that he has to change.
“It’s supposed to be a deliberately messy and difficult film. Because it’s a messy and difficult world.”
It may be so, but Three Billboards is still favourite to win best picture and, if it does, there goes the Academy’s hopes for a politically clean show.
The same goes for the second in line to the throne.
The most nominated movie of the year seemed to have the romantic allure needed to distract voters from all the difficult topics in discussion.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water is about a cleaning lady who falls in love with a giant fish-like creature.
There’s an evil white, middle-aged man doing experiments in the creature, an older gay man trying to help and a sassy black character to help with diversity. The movie was a winner.
That is, until it got hit with a copyright lawsuit for plagiarising a 1969 play from a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Now, the son and heir of said Pulitzer is claiming rights to the script, and the once perfectly fit winner has a controversy of its own.
Which leaves us with the third in line, Luca Guadagnino’s story of a summer romance between two men in southern Italy.
Call Me By Your Name has been praised for being another idyllic escape from modern troubles, in a world where a gay relationship isn’t frowned upon or discriminated against.
It also got raving reviews, indulging art-housers and block-busters alike. Enter controversy.
It just so happens that the main character, played by rising star and best actor nominee Timothee Chalamet, is 17 years old. His lover, played by Armie Hammer, is 24.
The age difference was pointed out by actor and alt-right activist James Woods on Twitter, who accused the movie of promoting paedophilia.
The accusation prompted a response from Hammer, who then accused Woods of “dating a 19-year-old when you were 60”.
The Twitter war grabbed the attention of the mainstream media and the Academy got another tailor-made headache.
All was not lost, though. To shy away from controversy, voters could still lean on the historical grandeur of yesteryear, with the Churchill biopic Darkest Hour or Christopher Nolan’s heroic Dunkirk. Or could they?
Apparently, Nolan’s World War II epic – which tells the story of the evacuation of Allied troops from France – forgot to portray the role of the Indian army.
With a cast filled with white, young men who look like – and, in some cases, are – members of the boy band One Direction, Nolan made a classic mistake in the age of inclusivity.
The Times Of India was one of the media outlets that criticised the mishap.
But wait, what about Churchill? He was nice, right?
Well, yes. The problem lies not in Churchill, but in the actor behind his fat suit.
Gary Oldman, seen in Britain as one of the greatest actors the country has produced, has faced allegations of domestic violence in the past.
He also publicly defended Mel Gibson, anti-semitism and the right to call US senator Nancy Pelosi a “f****** useless c***”. Ouch.
So that’s five out of nine. How about Steven Spielberg’s The Post? That has been hailed as an anti-Trump movie in disguise, which would fit well among the Hollywood elite.
And it would, if it wasn’t for tricking viewers into believing that the Washington Post broke a story about the classified Pentagon Papers, and not The New York Times.
How about the other three? Well, Phantom Thread has been accused of promoting “toxic masculinity”, and is way too highbrow to pick up the main award.
So that leaves Get Out and Lady Bird: one about a black victim of in-law racism and another one was directed by a woman.
Both would be fine choices for the Academy, but could also go down in history among the weakest best picture winners of all time. Better than Shakespeare In Love, worse than Argo.
What this tells us is that, no matter how hard studios try, it’s very hard to get it right when standards are this strict.
But if you’re aiming for a Oscar, you just have to.