What to lead with?
a) The Oscars were boring as hell without a host.
b) Green Book is NOT my best picture.
Although the Oscars did see a modest bump in audience this year, it is not likely to have converted any of the first-time watchers as the show felt listless and low energy without a host or opening number. Many of the presenters were good – I like the John Mulaney-Awkwafina pairing, and of course Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey, though I think the win goes to Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry who really went balls-out in paying tribute to costumers (and kudos to the costume designer in charge of her cape who actually got every single one of those bunnies to stand up).
It was a great night for women, and for women of colour in particular. Rachel Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first ever African American women to win in their categories – costume design for Carter and production design for Beachler. They’re the first African American women to win in a non-acting category since 1984, when Irene Cara won for cowriting Flashdance. Both wins come courtesy of juggernaut Black Panther, which may be the actual best picture of 2018, trophy or not. “Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king,” Carter said in her speech. “It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes. Thank you to the academy. Thank you for honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen.” Beachler, meanwhile, paid it forward “I give the strength to all of those who come next, to keep going, to never give up. And when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough.”
Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Rami Malek all earned the Oscars they were expected to in the top acting categories. I have trouble calling Ali’s performance a supporting one since he has pretty equal screen time to Viggo, but his award is deserved – not only was it the best and only good thing in an otherwise shitty movie, he ran a very gracious and thoughtful campaign. So did Malek, which is probably what pulled him out ahead of Christian Bale, who probably turned in the more effortful performance as Dick Cheney in Vice but didn’t campaign at all. Olivia Colman pulled out the night’s biggest upset (well, one of them) with her best actress win over the favoured Glenn Close (clearly not The Favourite though, haha, movie puns). Close is great in The Wife, which is not a good movie. Colman is great in The Favourite, which is an exceptional movie. Again, you can’t and shouldn’t really call hers the leading performance above Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz when all 3 ladies get equal screen time, but thanks to wonderful editing, her story line acts as the emotional anchor. And oh boy is she emotional! It’s such a forceful, impassioned performance. Truly deserving, even if poor Close has now lost 7 times and won 0 – a dismal track record, and she’s the got the dubious title of most nominated but never winning actor – male or female.
Spike Lee finally won his Oscar, for BlackKklansman‘s best adapted screenplay. A tough category, which makes it exciting. You could have had heaps more in there for sure. I think If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were just as good (and so different!) but I’m glad Lee won, and super glad that pal Sam Jackson was there to tell him the good news. Their on-stage celebration was one of the highlights of the night. So, by the way, was Barbra Streisand telling the audience the many things she and Spike have in common – including (but not limited to) their love of hats. God bless her!
Alfonso Cuaron won best director, as he should, from great friend and last year’s winner, Guillermo del Toro, who got out of his sick bed to do so. And Cuaron accepted Roma‘s award for best foreign language film on behalf of Mexico. And he won best cinematography, the first DP to win who also directed the movie. Interestingly, the American Society of Cinematography gave its highest award to Cold War’s Łukasz Żal, but that’s because Cuaron, a director, is not a part of this guild. Cuaron is the first person to be personally nominated for 4 Oscars for a single film (best foreign language is not personal, but awarded to a country), the fourth being for his original screenplay, which he lost in a tragic incident I don’t even want to get into. Anyhow, in presenting the award for cinematography, Tyler Perry noted it was a pleasure to do so “live on camera, not during the commercial break. Thank you, Academy.” You may recall that just a few weeks ago, the Academy said it would hand out several awards, including this one, during commercial breaks, but had to rescind its decision due to the wrath of nearly everyone.
It used to be that best director and best picture often went hand in hand, which makes sense. But in the past 10 years, since the Oscars opened up the best picture category to a potential 10 nominees, things changed. Now it uses a “preferential ballot” system, which means the most liked movie wins – but not necessary the most popular, which could explain the now 50% discrepancy between best picture and best director wins. Members are asked to rank the best picture nominees from best to worst. This year there were 8 nominees, so the accountants made 8 piles and sorted all the ballots according to their #1 choices. If no movie has more than 50% of the votes, and with more than 5 nominees that’s practically impossible, then the smallest pile is removed. Let’s assume that Vice had the smallest pile. Now all the ballots that listed Vice #1 are re-sorted into piles according to who their #2 pick was. You can see why canny members are now voting strategically, and how the movie with the most #1 picks won’t necessarily be the winner. The win could easily go to the movie with the most #2 picks, which is weird, but that’s also how Americans pick their presidents, and we all know how well that turns out. So Green Book is the Donald Trump of best pictures.
Green Book shouldn’t have been nominated. At best, it’s a pretty pedestrian movie. At best. But it’s also a movie about race relations that’s written and directed by white men. Solely by white men. Which is why so many of the Academy’s old white men felt comfortable voting for it. They could pat themselves on the back for being ‘diverse’ while still rewarding the status quo – for reframing the story of a black man’s experience into the perspective of his white driver. Never mind that director Peter Farrelly has a history of consulting his penis during meetings. And that writer Nick Vallelonga has said some weird Islamophobic shit, agreeing with Trump of all people, tweeting “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down” – and that was still on his time line when he won the Golden Globe this year. Gross.
Meanwhile, Roma is a work of art from start to finish. I’m so proud that a black and white movie, with subtitles, with no stars or recognizable names, about society’s less visible women, is such a huge deal, so gorgeous and relatable. What a win for Netflix, and for taking chances. And If Beale Street Could Talk is also completely worthy. It’s visual poetry. I was electrified, from the colours to the dialogue’s flow, and the story’s timeliness and timelessness. Perfection. And there are many other terrific movies besides: The Favourite is funny and incisive and beautifully acted; BlackKlansman is galvanizing wizardry; Sorry To Bother You is risky and bold; Blindspotting is culturally significant; Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse is ground breaking; Eighth Grade distills a moment in time, taking us back while pinning us in place with its precise observation; Black Panther elevates the super hero game and asks more of us as an audience and a culture; Can You Ever Forgive Me? is funnier than almost any comedy released this year but the humour comes from a dark and interesting place, a true voice for society’s losers; Leave No Trace is heart breaking in its truth and simplicity; First Man is cold and wonderful and ambitious and intimate; Crazy Rich Asians is visually stunning and a cultural milestone. I’m going to stop there, but you get my point. 2018 was a great year for movies. I was moved, I cried in utter delight, I was horrified and invigorated. I think Green Book is a step back. I wish it didn’t win. But instead of complaining about Green Book, I’m going to keep pushing forward the movies I love, because that’s what’s so great about cinema. You don’t have to like them all, but if you keep watching, you will find something to love.