That was certainly an interesting night. Well, actually it was really drawn-out and boring (as is tradition). But the results were pretty interesting, right? I know this may be a shock to anyone reading this, but I have opinions about those results. Some are positive, which in all seriousness, is a word I rarely associate with, some are negative, which fits my character like a glove, and some are just interesting observations. Since the internet is a thing, I doubt any of my opinions haven’t already been circling the depths of twitter for several hours already, so I apologize if you’ve already heard any of this before.
Let’s kick this bad boy off with positives to be drawn from last night. The Oscars absolutely nailed a few picks, and even though most of them were predictable, I still want to celebrate their wins.
- I absolutely love Lady Gaga. In a world where my most marketable talent is writing petty, unsolicited rants into the ether, she is a phenomenal actress and an otherworldly musician. I am thrilled to see that she won for Best Original Song (along with Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt) for “Shallow”. It’s no secret if you know me personally that I am a fairly emotional guy, and “Shallow” is a song that really cuts to the core of me. Lady Gaga’s vocals on the song are the stuff legends are made of and they are the reason the audience feels what they do when listening to the song. Maybe I am a prisoner of the moment, but this feels like one of those rare wins in this category that will be fondly remembered for years to come, and not fade into the footnotes of cinema history like many others that have come before it.
- The category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling can be a fickle mistress at times. We, as filmgoers, can often be oblivious to the importance of the techniques that help create characters, and too often do we see the subtle nuances go unrecognized in favor of flashy designs in blockbusters and fancy old-English period pieces. This is a category that gave Suicide Squad an Academy Award just for bleaching Margot Robbie’s and Jared Leto’s faces and dying their hair bright neon colors, so it is hard to tell if the academy really values quality over flamboyant displays. Having said that, the Academy absolutely got this one right this year by giving “Vice” the win. The combination of Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia DeHaney turned Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Sam Rockwell into very believable representations of famous, modern political figures. Bale, especially, was so convincing as Dick Cheney and they look absolutely nothing alike in reality. I think we can overlook the sheer difficulty it takes to turn three well-known people into three different and equally well-known people, but I am glad the Academy didn’t.
- It is so satisfying to finally be able to say “Academy Award Winner Spike Lee”. “BlacKkKlansman” was the magnum opus of his esteemed career and a film that I would say did not get close to the correct amount of recognition last night. However, the win for Best Adapted Screenplay still was the category that I valued as the most important for the film to win in last night, and it delivered. The writing in films with themes about racism normally receive praise by default, but Spike Lee’s creation adds so much more to the standard tropes. By mixing seamlessly a brand of dark comedy, humanity, and stressful drama, he and his crew wrote and created a genuinely great film.
- Alfonso Caurón is undoubtedly one of the finest movie-makers of any generation and last night was just a continued trend of the world recognizing that. “Roma” was among my favorite films of the entire year, and aside from personal opinions, it is objectively a technical tour de force. Caurón’s wins for Best Cinematography and Best Director are a testament to his ability to create art. Best Foreign Language Feature was a hanging curveball for him, and not that it isn’t important, but the other two are considered “major” categories with far more mainstream and popular competition. For any person to take home 3 Oscars in the same night, they must have created something truly special, and although he was snubbed for Best Picture, we should not lose sight of what an impressive night he had.
- For a very long time, the mainstream blockbuster was a taboo subject matter for the Oscars. Maybe one or two could sneak a nomination here and there, but rarely would the voters ever take them seriously enough as a genre to reward them. In fact, in 2009, the Oscars faced such harsh backlash for not including “The Dark Knight” in the Best Picture nominations class that they had to amend their voting rules to allow up to 10 nominees to hopefully diversify the pool of films to vote from. Well it only took another decade for the Academy to finally vote in a superhero film, “Black Panther” for Best Picture, and thus finally addressing the initial injustice that caused the rip in space-time that forced the rule change in the first place. Sunrise, sunset. That alone is huge step in the right direction for the Oscars in recognizing a wider assortment of films, but last night “Black Panther” won some hardware too. Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score are all much deserved wins for a film that thrived equally as much on its feel as it did on its content. Here’s hoping this is the start of a very positive trend.
- Speaking of superhero films, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” winning best Animated Feature breathed life into my unwilling corpse. This film might be my favorite Spiderman film to date, and it was so refreshing to see someone other than Disney juggernauts get a win in this category for a change. Nothing against Disney or their admittedly high-quality animated movies, but this category sometimes has the feeling of inevitability, kind of like how everyone knows the Warriors will win the NBA Championship yet again this year. Stagnation is never a good thing when you are trying foster a competitive, creative environment, so this win should be encouraging to everyone who wants to see more films push each other to be better.
YOU HATE TO SEE IT
Enough of that positive crap. I am not sure who the man who was writing all of that was, but he certainly is not welcome in this house again (Unless you liked him in which case, I’ll do anything to conform to your standards. Please, someone love me.). Let’s get down to what I do best: criticizing people for things I could not dream of doing at their level myself. If the likes of social media did not tip this off to you, there were some, let’s just say subpar winners last night and it is only appropriate that we shame them for winning something based on other people’s opinions.
- “Green Book” won Best Picture. Why? Beats the hell out of me. When I saw this film for the first time, I remember my initial reaction was “I have definitely seen that before”. To me, and apparently to the angry Twitter mob as well, “Green Book” was not a special film. That is not to say it is a bad film, and the chemistry between the leads is what carries it, but the subject matter, the plot, the message, and even the character designs are all painfully unoriginal. Vigo Mortenson plays the single most Italian human being that has ever graced the planet Earth with their presence, and Mahershala Ali plays a man that is so blatantly just the reverse of stereotypes for the sake of comparison. I know they are both portraying real-life people and that is what the film is about, but these ideas have all been explored before and the methodology of fleshing out the characters boarders on hackneyed. With Ali’s character, it felt as though the writers had a checklist they used to create his character into the most Oscar-bait mold possible. Is he artsy? Check. Is he a sophisticated man struggling with his identity? Check. Is he burdened by his own genius? Check, but let’s make him an alcoholic for good measure. Oh, let’s add one scene where he admits he is gay, then never mention it again. Is racism bad and friendship good? Hell yeah it is. No one will care about the lack of nuance because no one ever does. Its wins for Best Picture, as well as Best Original Screenplay are not just surprising, they seem like the wrong picks. “The Favourite” and “Vice” had far better original screenplays, and “Roma”, “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” were much better films overall.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” is not a great film. It is a tremendously well-acted compilation of loosely connected events with no plot. Rami Malek definitely deserved his Best Actor win so please remove him from anything I am about to say, but this film won 4 goddamn times last night, leading all films. My brain is having difficulty coping with that kind of reality. “Bohemian Rhapsody” winning Best Film Editing when it is objectively a very poorly edited film will surely rank among mankind’s most awful crimes. There are so many disorienting, and sometimes meaningless cuts that I am mildly convinced that Academy voters didn’t watch the same film that we did. Conspiracies are not really my thing, but I really don’t see any other reasonable explanations. I mean this film should not have even come close to smelling a nomination in this category and yet it won the damn trophy. I can sort of justify winning Best Sound Mixing with the way the music was composed for the film, but how could it have beaten “A Quiet Place” for Best Sound Editing when that entire film is based on its use of sound? This is a film with some strong elements, particularly the acting, but it is inexplicable how it got so much love and recognition when it clearly does not deserve it.
WELL ISN’T THAT NEAT
Time for some miscellaneous thoughts about last night. You can view any of these as positives or negatives but they were just interesting things I noticed and the possible long-term consequences of them. Enjoy.
- The success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” last night sets the stage for a contender next year. “Rocketman” will be the fantastic biopic of the life of musician Elton John and might be poised to follow in the footsteps of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Now, I obviously have not seen the film yet and there are many variables that have yet to be determined before I coronate anybody the winner of an event that is a year away, but the similarities of the two films can be seen already. Both are biopics about flamboyant, British rock stars who are gay and who have larger-than-life personalities. Both will feature popular music along with the peaks and valleys of their individual personal lives. It is still yet to be determined how well “Rocketman” executes but if you are part of that team of filmmakers, you now see a viable path to Oscar gold next year, and your film wont event need to be perfect. It is definitely something to look out for.
- It used to be almost a rule that actors and actresses who have had a long career but have never won an Oscar were due for a win and would achieve recognition based on that alone. I can remember this as recently as Juliane Moore in “Still Alice” in 2014. But there seems to be a trend away from that notion in recent years and 2019 might have been the ultimate tell that the Academy no longer votes along those lines. Glenn Close was heavily favored to win Best Actress, in no small part to the fact that this was her seventh nomination and hadn’t won yet. Any actress who has seven nominations clearly has had a very distinguished career and it feels wrong that she never has won before. But when Olivia Coleman won, Glenn Close went home empty. I personally think that every one of the Best Actress nominees had deserving performances and I see no error in rewarding Coleman over Close, but it does signal the greater change. To a slightly lesser extent, Amy Adams now has six nominations without a win after coming up short to first time nominee Regina King. Both actresses again did phenomenal jobs, but what used to be the unofficial tiebreaker no longer seems to be in place. Now, looking back on it, the past few years have signified that this trend was coming to an end soon. Actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Michael Keaton were favored in recent years and went home empty-handed. We may need to adjust the way we analyze these awards in the future.
- I already mentioned the impact “Black Panther” had last night but for the future, “Black Panther” may have opened that path for major blockbusters to possibly win Best Picture. This is still a relative longshot, but if the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” is a satisfying film, the sheer grandeur of the film should merit a Best Picture nomination in my opinion. And since “Black Panther” was adequately recognized last night, it seems possible that other films could stand on its shoulders.
- This year in particular seemed to signal a more surface level voting standard in the Academy. Shallow depth in writing made a comeback and that is not a good thing. Now, that is not a uniform observation but it is startling that films that either conform to the mold or do not have cohesive elements of a story seem to be garnering positive reception. I hope this is not a trend and maybe it was a one-off incident but it could be telling of the types of nominees we could be seeing next year.