The Oscars have a legacy problem
It’s one of my favorite days of the year: Oscar nomination morning. I still can’t help but have a giddy sense of anticipation every year with that unnaturally early morning announcement. This year, it didn’t take long for that giddiness to fade away. These Oscar nominations are uncreative, unimaginative, and, worst of all, irresponsibly regressive, an ode to unnecessary legacy and a relic of a time that the movie industry can’t seem to put behind us. The movie industry should be at the forefront of diversity and change, with the Academy at the helm of this never-ending stream. Instead, the crusty old white people who still predominantly make up the Academy’s voting body continue to let nostalgia get the better of them, continue to highlight old white men who don’t deserve it, and continue to ignore the films that are leading this charge for societal change. Once again, the Academy had a chance to make a poignant statement, and once again, we were left disappointed.
The crux of this (depressingly yearly) disappointment is around the Best Director category. Once again, the Academy nominated 5 men, 4 of which are old and white, (represent, Bong Joon-ho) with 2 of them doing not much more than clocking in to receive their Oscar nod. Before you try and defend the nominations of Scorsese and Tarantino, (I love both of them, personally) ask yourself this: What does a nomination for Best Director mean? How does the old guard of Hollywood, Scorsese and Tarantino specifically in this case, (and to a lesser extent Sam Mendes, also nominated) benefit by receiving one of the 5 prestigious nods in this category? Receiving an Oscar nomination, particularly for Best Director, is something of a welcome party in Hollywood. A recognition from your peers that your work is distinctive enough to be celebrated one night in February. Yet, in the entire history of the Academy Awards, exactly 5 women have been nominated for Best Director. Scorsese and Tarantino have been nominated 10 times combined before this year. Why do they each need another Best Director nod?
That doesn’t even address the creative question of these films. What someone like Scorsese has to do to make The Irishman happen that’s more unique / exemplary than what Greta Gerwig had to do for Little Women? (She had to fight from the start just to be allowed to direct Little Women.) Or Arel Hal’el for Honey Boy? (She refused the helm the project if Shia didn't play his father.) We saw this credibility / creativity bump with Gerwig after the (sadly) unprecedented success of Lady Bird, which she openly admits gave her the creative leverage she needed with Sony to write / direct Little Women. Without the Oscar buzz generated around Lady Bird, Gerwig likely would not have even been given the opportunity to direct Little Women. Someone like Scorsese already enjoys a blank check on all his projects, free to (actually) spend millions of dollars to use CGI to change Robert De Niro’s eye color in The Irishman. He’s been celebrated for decades already, do we really need to celebrate him again simply because he made another mafia film? What did Tarantino do that is so exemplary? Wake up one morning and decide I should use the unlimited resources at my disposal to convince two members of the Hollywood elite to finally star in a film together? Wow, I need a minute to let the prestige wash over me.
While I do commend the inclusion of Bong Joon-ho, and the (also sadly) unprecedented awards success of Parasite, (first film from South Korea to ever be nominated for Best International Feature Film, let alone Best Picture) the rest of the category is such a dumpster fire it’s hard to get excited about that. Seriously, what’s Todd Phillips even doing in there? What did he do on Joker that’s exemplary over one of these more modern films with a 10 year+ production cycle? (Looking at you, Safdie Brothers and Uncut Gems.) If you don’t think this is a big deal for the industry, the prestige of winning Best Picture or being nominated for Best Director gives you a kind of clout that stays with you for years. Just ask Sam Mendes, who burst on to the scene 20 years ago with one of the most cringe films to ever win Best Picture, American Beauty, (yikes) and will, to this day, be given blank checks to make something like 1917. This isn’t meant to bash a film like 1917, but the only way the Academy will become more inclusive is by shining the spotlight on auteurs that are not in the “old guard.”
Also a trainwreck and a sign of the old guard still very much in control are the acting categories. The Academy narrowly avoided #OscarsSoWhite yet again, with exactly one black person receiving a nomination. (Sorry, Cynthia Erivio, for pulling the short straw and being this year’s token black person.) The Academy had a huge chance to make a statement on diversity and highlight some incredibly emotional / powerful / groundbreaking performances like Awkwafina’s in The Farewell, Jennifer Lopez’s in Hustlers, and Lupita Nyong’o in Us. Or the entire cast of Parasite. But, instead, we’re stuck starring at the perplexing / frustrating double nomination of ScarJo, (who is not someone we need to be celebrating in her own right) the dumbfounding inclusion of a Megyn Kelly impersonation, anything from Richard Jewell, (at least Kathy Bates is actually a supporting performance, but that is another conversation for another time) and, of course, Joaquim Phoenix in Joker.
Ugh, now we have to talk about Joker and its absurd 11 nominations. The inclusion of this film at all is as dangerous as it is frustrating. For a few weeks in late January / early February, the Oscars are at the forefront of our cultural conversation. They are some of my favorite weeks of the year because of the societal discussions we have relating to the films the Academy say are worth talking about. However this year, I will find myself answering entirely too many questions about Joker, a film that dangerously glorifies its main antagonist, a disgruntled white man who feels ignored by society and essentially responds by becoming a celebrated mass shooter. Joker’s vile lead has already directly inspired one mass shooting in our country, the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, and now to have a film glorifying this character go out and receive this much praise from the Academy? It’s nothing short of heinous and despicable. I just had the chance to see Arana, a Chilean film centered around that country’s 1973 coup, which has inspired a very similar conversation in Chile. Since the film’s release, the spider symbol of the Fatherland and Liberty party (the party at the center of that 1973 coup) has shown up all over the country ad seen an unfortunate uptick in popularity, a stark reminder that there’s a very fine line between glorification and rememberence of tragedy. A line which Joker flies past. Highlighted by its shameless hero imagery towards the end of the film, Joker arrogantly falls into the glorification category, and was a troubling entry into our cultural hivemind before it received eleven unnecessary Oscar nominations.
The Academy needs to understand that they have a rare, unique, and bright spotlight on our culture conversation every year for a few weeks in late January. However, at this point it's impossible to deny that this spotlight has decreased in recent years, highlighted by two years of #OscarsSoWhite and the constant, frustrating exclusion of female-led filmmaking. Every year, the Academy further ponders why its slowly and consistently losing its relevancy, while also continuing to nominate films that should never be relevant like Joker. The doomsday clock is approaching midnight on the importance of the Oscars, and as long as groundbreaking films like The Farewell, Little Women, Queen and Slim, Hustlers, Honey Boy, Just Mercy, and Us continue to be criminally overlooked, that clock will not stop. Sure, there are signs of change at the ground level, (2019 was a record-breaking year for female filmmaking, but also: low bar) however until the Academy decides that it's more important to highlight Lulu Wang's contributions to The Farewell over another Tarantino nomination, that change will come far slower than it should.
It's a cold December evening in Cincinnati. I'm heading to my favorite movie theater in the city, giddy with the anticipation of seeing one of the highly anticipated Best Picture hopefuls. It's Green Book's opening night in the area, a film with much hype surrounding it after it won the prestigious People's Choice Award at Toronto International Film Festival. This award has always been a strong precursor to the Oscars. (Only one film in the past 11 years has won the prize and not been ultimately nominated for Best Picture, with 4 of them, now including Green Book, going on win.) To that point, everyone had been buzzing about how cheerful and playful the film is, with wonderful chemistry between its leads. When it was over, I could see why. Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is a lovable, stereotypical 1950's Italian who, thanks to his brilliant, talented, and intellectually superior counterpart, Dr. Don Shirley, (Mahershala Ali) discovers the errors of his racist tropes. (Overtly seen at the beginning of the film when Lip throws away some glassware because they were touched by two POC.) Together they become best friends. It's an undeniably feel-good story, with a simple solution: the idea that all we have to do to solve systemic racism in our society is to talk, listen, and learn from each other. There are some issues in the filmmaking itself, (more on that later) but it is an objectively good film, at the very least.
Why did I open with saying something nice about Green Book? Because, despite the title of this article, it is important to remember that I am not saying that Green Book is a bad film. It's not Bohemian Rhapsody and its shameless attempts to revise history while simultaneously skirting around the hardest parts of Freddie Mercury's life, wrapped up in mediocre filmmaking with entirely too much influence from the real-life members of the band. (Didn't know you were gonna get a brief condemnation of that film, did you?) But, Best Picture is not for "good films." It's (supposed to be) for the "best" films of the year. That should be pretty self-explanatory, right? It is ludicrous to me to say Green Book is anywhere close to the "Best" Picture of the year, even if you remove the insidious takes on race, the disingenuous intentions of the filmmakers, the hideous point of view, AND the controversies surrounding Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Viggo Mortensen. We're gonna talk about ALL of those, (this is a deep dive, after all) but let's first look at this film from twenty thousand feet up.
If you TRULY believe Green Book is the Best Picture of the Year, tell me: what about the film sticks out to you? What separates it from all the other contenders? Yes, it makes you feel good. Yes, it's pleasant and quirky, and its leads have great chemistry. But what about this specific film makes it the "best" of the year? Outside of its HORRIBLE ending, which we'll get to, I don't remember anything, besides Tony eating all the time. (I did laugh when he folded an entire pizza in half and went to town on it.) In contrast, I could write an entire article on the underappreciated perfection of Roma's sound mixing. I could talk about Spike Lee's topical brilliance in BlacKkKlansman, highlighted by one of the best endings I've ever seen in film. I could talk about the power of Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, not to mention its titanic cultural impact over the past year. I could talk about the breathtaking cinematography of Barry Jenkins If Beale Street Could Talk. I could talk about the mastery of Can You Ever Forgive Me?'s screenplay, which has the unattractive job of making an unscrupulous human being likable. I could talk about the intimate wisdom of Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters, and write an entire think piece on the meaning of family and the message the master director is trying to convey in the film's gut-wrenching third act. I could talk about the dynamics between the queen and her subjects, and the wonderfully bizarre ties to modern society in Yorgos Lanthimos's unabashedly strange The Favourite. Heck, I could even talk about the dizzying presence of Lynne Cheney felt all throughout the admittedly mediocre Vice. But Green Book? I have nothing overtly positive to say about the film outside of: it's charming. If you have something else truly groundbreaking to say about the film that makes it worthy of Best Picture, I'm all ears.
That charm was immediately lost for me in the theater that cold December night as that film's final act came to a close. I had just witnessed one of the most uncomfortable, cringe-inducing, bow-tie endings to a film about race imaginable. The film's ending, where a lonely Dr. Shirley joins Tony Lip's family for Christmas dinner and everyone gets along like Shirley's been part of the family for decades, sent a dangerous message about the film's overarching theme. Not only does the movie provide an overly simplified solution to systemic racism, that we can all get along if we simply talk out our differences, but it also heavily implies that systemic racism is an issue that we put in our rear view mirror in the 20th century. (Similar to all those disingenuous think pieces that all claimed we had "solved racism" after the country elected Obama president in 2008.)
The overall message of this film is insidious for a variety of reasons. Notably, it leads to complacency among those in power in the real world. When one side of the aisle is still allowing people literally affiliated with the KKK (Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in case you don't know who I'm referring to) to stay in power, it's easy for the other side to simply say "we're doing our best" while simultaneously ignoring things like our overcrowded prison system, or the overzealous "war on drugs" which has allowed the police force to utilize racial profiling, or the over militarization of the police force itself, or even something as simple as accurate presentation of crime on local news. All of which are major factors that have led to the vicious cycle of poverty and the underlying segregation in our communities, known as redlining, which has allowed systemic racism to survive and thrive in our country today. (All of those issues have been highlighted and corroborated by dozens of peer-reviewed studies, so I'm not going to get into arguing their validity with anyone because it's a waste of time to get into a debate about the very foundation of systemic racism at this point.)
It's easy for us white Americans who think of ourselves as "woke," or "intellectual," to sit back and say we're trying, and simultaneously let our hearts fill with glee when every member of Tony Lip's family accepts Dr. Shirley for who he is. That's all we have to do to solve racism, right? Just accept everyone for who they are? If only it were as simple as that. (Also, this is despite the fact that most of Tony Lip's family, when last we saw them on screen, had done/said everything under the overtly racist spectrum short of don white hoods and parade around the streets of NYC, but that's more an issue with the film itself.)
White Americans, especially old and rich white Americans, think their intentions are pure and wholehearted because they do something like routinely vote Democrat. ("I would've voted for Obama for a third term" is such an overused defense mechanism among white America to deflect from any racist tropes we may have that it became a tent pole line in Jordan Peele's Get Out.) It's easy for white Americans who watch Green Book to have a safe, comfortable distance from the film's racist lead, because after all, we would never do something like "throw away glassware because a black man drank from it!" Therefore, we're not racist, right?
White America wants nothing more than to believe that an issue as massive and overbearing as systemic racism was solved at some point in our past in the big cities, relegating the unpleasant history to only the south and the country's heartland. Yet, for the most basic of counterarguments, you need not look past the highest office in the land to know it is a major issue that is very alive and very well today. The deceitful ending of Green Book (as well as its racist hero it keeps at arm's length) appeals directly to the old, liberal, affluent, white man that still embodies a large portion of the Academy's voting base, and to many of those vehemently defending the baffling choice.
And this is where we bring up Crash. Up until a week ago, Crash was regularly lamented as the worst Best Picture winner of the 21st century, with some going as labeling it the worst Best Picture winner ever. There are many, MANY issues with Crash, not least of which is its own outdated take on systemic racism, and the film itself is rather poorly put together. Director Paul Haggis has some incredibly early-2000s moments in this film that are somewhat laughable when revisited today. (Highlighted by the now hilariously cringy but still iconic "burning car" sequence.) If we were judging Crash and Green Book based solely on the films themselves, I'd say, unequivocally, that Crash is a worse film. Heck, I'd even say films like The King's Speech, (ugh) Chicago, and A Beautiful Mind are all worse, on the surface, than Green Book. Sure, Green Book has a dated take on racism, and is a rather uneventful film, but that's nothing new in show business, particularly with previous Best Picture winners. We all know now, 30 years later, that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing was the vastly superior film to 1989's Best Picture winner Driving Ms. Daisy. Or that Pulp Fiction is the significantly more influential film to Forrest Gump. Heck, there's no doubt that Brokeback Mountain is the far more important film to Crash. However, for me, Green Book takes the cake for the title of this article because of the disingenuous process that went into the making of this film. A process which, in hindsight, paints a harrowing and depressingly ironic allegory to the very definition of systemic racism itself.
There's no doubt that when director Peter Farrelly and writers Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie pitched the idea for Green Book back in 2016, they didn't have their eyes set on winning Best Picture. This film, like many others, started as something of a passion project, a low budget film from a director desperate to put his recent past (Dumb and Dumber To and a disastrous The Three Stooges remake in Farrelly's case) behind him. (This is not too different from Paul Haggis's story making Crash.) However, as Green Book's production began to take shape, the path of Peter Farrelly and the screenwriters quickly veered into the dangerous realm of misguided intentions and raw ambition. The filmmakers formulated a theme for the film then started putting the pieces together to fit said theme, instead of allowing a theme to organically form through the film on its own. (See Roma or Moonlight as stellar examples of the later.) In my opinion, the production of Crash did not stop to think about what statement they may be making on race. (for better or worse) Contrarily the production of Green Book thought long and hard about it and decided to unashamedly lean into their outdated sentiments it in an effort to appeal to seemingly the widest possible audience. (White America.)
This manipulation began with the treatment of the film's lone black character, Dr. Don Shirley. (Keep in mind Crash, at least, has two major black characters, an oversimplified justification for why Green Book is worse.) The film's writers did get approval from the Shirley estate to make the film, but that is as far as their collaboration with the Shirley family went. Dr. Shirley, one of the greatest jazz/classical pianists of the 20th century, is a poorly vetted and underdeveloped character. At times he is a mere plot device for the film's white lead. Imagine the uproar from white America if this was a film about a black man driving Elvis around on a huge tour, and the vast majority of the film was spent on the black person discovering himself or something. That premise wouldn't even make it past the pitch room. Dr. Shirley's character in the film is saved only by the performance of Mahershala Ali, who brings emphatically more nuance to a role that had virtually none of it on the page.
Ok, so that veered a bit more into the issues of Green Book's point of view, more on that later.
As the notoriety of Green Book grew, so did its resentment. The response from Dr. Shirley's family was...... not great, as they called the film "full of lies." The screenwriters basically did whatever they wanted to the Shirley character in order to fit Tony Lip's arc, facts be damned. When the real life family behind one of your two (supposedly) main characters decries the film as, well, bull shit, that controversy should've instantly sunk Green Book's Oscar hopes. Instead, the Shirley family was at best ignored and at worst beguiled and insulted by "supporters" of the film, who thought they had a right to attack the family of (supposedly) one half of this film's main characters. Meanwhile, the Lip family was HEAVILY involved in the film's production, as screenwriter Nick Vallelonga himself is Tony Lip's real life son. If I told you that the family of one half of a film's main duo co-wrote the screenplay and was involved every step of the way, while the family of the other half of the duo condemned the final product, do you think there's any possibility that the former would be the black character and the latter would be the white character? If so, give me a SINGLE example of when that's happened in the past in film. Ever. I'll wait.
Sadly, the controversies didn't stop there. The first one, Viggo Mortensen using the N-word at a Q&A in November, could be summed up as an innocent, though still problematic, mishap on a long and grueling awards trail. He immediately apologized and penned a seemingly heartfelt statement to go along with, and had the support of Mahershala Ali in the days that followed. If this is all of the issues this film had seen on the award's circuit, I STILL would not call it the worst Best Picture winner of the 21st century. In hindsight, it was the most inconsequential.
The next controversy, which should have (again) immediately sunk any hopes for any recognition whatsoever from the Academy, came when a 2015 tweet from screenwriter Nick Vallelonga (remember, Tony Lip's son) surfaced in which he endorsed the overtly racist and xenophobic Donald Trump conspiracy theory about Muslims cheering after 9/11. No apology is enough for a then 55 year old man to knowingly endorse something as vile as that. At that point, Nick Vallelonga should have taken his millions and the inevitable royalties from the film, and fallen into the sunken place, never to be heard from again. Instead, he now has two Oscars to his name. As if this wasn't enough, we also got a #MeToo moment for director Peter Farrelly, as a story surfaced that he thought it was somehow funny to whip his junk out on set back in the 90s, particularly traumatizing women on the set of There's Something About Mary. I know it was a different time in the 90s, but that's no legitimate excuse. It wasn't cool to do something like that then any more than it is today - women simply didn't feel like they had the power to speak up and not have their career's ruined while they watch the man continue on, unscathed, until now. (And even now this doesn't happen all the time......)
There has been a shocking amount of backlash to the backlash of this film. Many people have come roaring to the defense of Green Book because it made them "feel good." And I get that, I really do! But, how is Green Book's uplifting nature so unique? You mean to tell me you didn't see a single other film in 2018 that made you feel good? Black Panther is the embodiment of a feel good film, while also delivering a far more intelligent message about race in our society throughout. BlacKkKlansman is an uplifting film prior to Spike making it real in the final few minutes. (In the real ending about race relations we deserved in 2018.) You could even make the argument that Roma is an uplifting film. I mean, heck, an argument could be made that freaking Vice is an uplifting film, and certainly the mediocre Bohemian Rhapsody ends on a very high note. That it's "uplifting" as an argument can be applied to 6 films in the Best Picture category alone. This is not a unique trait to Green Book.
But that is just one of the "counterarguments" for the defense of Green Book. The one that most irks me is the, "Well, if Green Book had been made by a black filmmaker, would you have the same issues with it?" counter. Simple answer (yes) aside, if you honestly believe that someone like Spike Lee or Ava DuVernay or any other POC director would take the groundbreaking story of one of the 20th century's great pianists going on a trailblazing tour through the Deep South and tell it from the perspective of his white driver, then you really do not understand the underlying issues of systemic racism. Point of view is EVERYTHING, and it's one of the fundamental issues of the film. There is no doubt that if Barry Jenkins had been given the reins on this project, Mahershala Ali would've been the star and Viggo Mortensen would've been the supporting actor.
Another counter that I've been hearing says, "Spike Lee and other black filmmakers should be happy with where they are." While this argument is eerily similar to those against athletes kneeling during the national anthem, it also comes from a place of white privilege. For years, we've seen mediocre films made by white filmmakers receive far more accolades than they deserve. In contrast, when a POC filmmaker makes something short of greatness, at best they're ignored, (see: Barry Jenkin's Moonlight follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk, which was overlooked in the Best Picture category) and at worst they are victims to an abhorrent and racist backlash from white America. (See: the overblown response to Ava DuVernay's audacious A Wrinkle in Time.) Let's see a couple mediocre films made by POC filmmakers win Best Picture first, and THEN we can talk about "merit-based equality." Also, Spike Lee has more than earned his recognition. The dude is easily the most influential POC filmmaker in the history of show business, and it took him 30 years to win his first Oscar. The same year a white dude responsible for films like Dumb and Dumber To, The Three Stooges, The Heartbreak Kid, and Hall Pass wins Best Picture. Also, I adored Spike's genuine, human response to it all. People like him, Jordan Peele, and Chadwick Boseman all summed up the sentiment many of us had when we initially heard Green Book's name called. As Spike Lee said, "I was courtside at the Garden, and the ref made a bad call."
Another counterargument that is driving me insane is the "But, look! Octavia Spencer was involved, and Rep. John Lewis / Amandla Stenberg (ironically the lead from the superior The Hate You Give) introduced the film! That makes it ok, right?" argument. First off, no. Second off..... it's 2019, white America. How long until we realize that the "I'm not racist because I have a black friend" argument doesn't mean anything? I mean, you do realize that that same justification was used in the Michael Cohen hearing this past week to say Trump isn't racist, right? It's not ok. It's not a wand you can wave to exacerbate yourself or anyone else. Octavia Spencer, Rep. John Lewis, and Amandla Stenberg all were (presumably) defending the merits of Green Book on their own free will, but that does not give white Americans a blank check to excuse the film's problematic take on race. Also, look at Octavia Spencer all throughout Green Book's Best Picture acceptance speech. If that is not the face of someone who has NO DESIRE to be on that stage in that moment, then I don't know what is.
Merely two years ago, a film like La La Land was sunk for Best Picture because, in large part, people were justifiably upset over the lead character being white and trying to "save jazz." (That and Moonlight is arguably the most influential film of this decade. Minor detail, right?) There were no issues with the filmmakers on the award's circuit. It was the mere appearance of disingenuous intentions that did it in. Now, we're witnessing a vastly inferior film hoist Hollywood's most prestigious award in large part because the old white people in the Academy were fed up with being told what films they could and could not like. Like Crash beating out the superior Brokeback Mountain, Green Book beat out vastly superior films. Roma signaled the triumphant arrival of Netflix as a power player in the industry, with an intimidating award's budget (apparently over $25mil) for the black and white foreign language film that has some industry executives (i.e. Steven Spielberg) so flustered that they are actively trying to prevent Netflix from contending at the Oscars going forward. BlacKkKlansman is a master auteur's greatest work since his dramatic debut, with a far more topically relevant take on race relations for 2018. Black Panther is easily the most culturally groundbreaking film since Get Out, (maybe even more so) with the added bonus of being a huge studio production and Marvel's first entry in the Best Picture category. And all got passed over for a regressive, forgettable film because it's charming.
In this deep dive, I've talked about Green Book's issues in production, its dated message about racism, its stilted point of view, and the controversies that REALLY should have sunk its Best Picture chances. Sadly, none of those issues were able to stop this freight train of old, stereotypical, #OscarsSoWhite Hollywood from taking home Best Picture. The crew's acceptance speech for the award perfectly summarizes the fundamental issues behind this film. During the Best Picture acceptance speech, Peter Farrelly awkwardly gushed over Viggo Mortensen and his contributions to the film before briefly thanking Mahershala and Linda Cardellini, (also the only woman in the film, playing a stereotypical "the wife" role, as if the regressive issues with race weren't enough) then going back to continue to gush over Viggo's contributions. You know whose name was not mentioned by any of the white men in that speech? Dr. Don Shirley. One of the producers even felt the need to thank Carrie Fisher for some reason, but none of them thought to thank the Shirley family. And that unintentionally ironic metaphor could not more aptly sum up Green Book. How long before Hollywood stops making films like this, let alone giving them Best Picture?
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BNzI4NzIzNzgwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM2MjIxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_.jpg (Green Book banner)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjYyZDYzMzQtYzVlOS00OGE3LWEwM2ItMzMyYzAzOWUyM2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1554,1000_AL_.jpg (Green Book bar pic)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjYyZDYzMzQtYzVlOS00OGE3LWEwM2ItMzMyYzAzOWUyM2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1554,1000_AL_.jpg (Bradley Whitford)
https://cf-images.us-east-1.prod.boltdns.net/v1/static/769341148/c4dba9c6-ec52-4685-ba12-555935785fcb/2f90ba85-afd2-489f-a7d8-20c196d91878/1280x720/match/image.jpg (Green Book wins Best Original screenplay)
https://7lwy5tgst9-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/EJX-HdvDVPll.jpg (Dr. Don Shirley)
https://media.vanityfair.com/photos/5be59f74eb081e5b66a599ec/master/pass/GettyImages-1059016918.jpg (Mahershala + Viggo)
https://cdnph.upi.com/svc/sv/upi/2021551099963/2019/1/30226b26f2c4bb7344940e24c317b8fe/Spike-Lee-upset-over-Green-Book-Oscar-win-Im-snakebit.jpg (Spike + Mahershala)
https://img.apmcdn.org/d392ad0731c8e5c43901644357b08f76a22f796e/uncropped/df24a3-20190224-green-book.jpg (Green Book wins Best Picture)
Two steps forward, one giant leap back
This year's Academy Awards were shaping up to be one of, if not the, best awards ceremony until we reached the screenplay categories. There was diversity, genuinely lovely acceptance speeches, Black Panther's wins put a smile on everyone's face, (especially Chris Evans) and Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga tore the roof off with one of the single best musical performances I've ever seen at the ceremony. But then, like your angry old uncle who sits at the Thanksgiving table and says nothing for an hour before delivering an unnecessary and overtly racist offhand comment he thinks is somehow funny, Green Book happened. And, as much as the optimist in me wants to remember everything that happened before it, the wounds of witnessing the Academy hand out its highest accolade to a woefully mediocre, insidiously disingenuous film are too fresh for me to move past it. Sure, Spike Lee won his first ever Oscar and accepted it in the most Spike Lee way possible, but he had to walk on a stage that was disgraced by the overtly racist Nick Vallelonga just moments prior, who somehow won Best Original Screenplay for Green Book despite it being by FAR the weakest screenplay in the category, controversies aside. It is absolutely wild to me how a person with enough experience in the movie industry to earn a membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could look at this year's Best Original Screenplay and (especially) Best Picture nominees and say, with a straight face, "Green Book is my choice." The Academy had a chance to send shockwaves through our cultural pulse with bold, trailblazing choices like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, The Favourite, and, of course, Roma. But, instead, they looked at the face of evolution and flinched in one of the most cringeworthy ways imaginable.
Some of you may be confused or even angry at the people (myself included) saying Green Book is easily the worst Best Picture winner since Crash. (That is a phenomenal article about it, by the way.) A choice which will undoubtedly be jeered at for decades to come, and a giant step back on the trail of progress. I will do a deep dive myself on it in the coming days, after the dust has settled and I don't feel on the cusp of an emotional breakdown. For now, though, I want to focus on the rest of this year's Academy Awards. Because there were some truly heartwarming moments littered around a shockingly well-run hostless ceremony. Sure, all of it will be hindered by the dumbfounding, frustrating, regressive choice for 2018's standardbearer, but for now..... Positive vibes time.
Ok, so here's something cool: every film nominated for Best Picture won something, for better or for worse. (Looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody.) On the better front, you had some genuinely heartfelt moments, highlighted by Spike Lee jumping into Samuel L. Jackson's arms after winning his first EVER Oscar. One of the most influential directors of the past 30 years finally received (some) of the recognition he deserved, and his speech was one of the better moments of the night. It's also easy to forget that Regina King led off the night with a win for Best Supporting Actress, the lone award for If Beale Street Could Talk, and became the fifth black woman to win Best Supporting Actress in the last ten years after ONLY Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Hudson had won the category since Hattie McDaniel's trailblazing win (issues with the role aside) for Gone with the Wind in 1939. In the undercard categories, we now have three black women EVER to win any of them, including the two that happened this year. Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler - the first African American to ever win the award in addition to being the first black woman) and Best Costume Design, (Ruth E. Carter) both for Black Panther, which also took home Best Original Score. (Sorry, Nicholas Britell. You're number one in my heart.) Entering the night I was worried Black Panther, the most culturally significant film of the year, was going to walk away empty-handed, so I was exuberant to see it win some awards. And Hannah Beachler's speech warmed my cold heart, and still does now even after Green Book happened.
Also, there was a lot of genuine excitement in the room for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Feature! Co-Director Peter Ramsey became the first African American to ever win that accolade. And it was a great night for women overall! Women directors won in all three short categories, also a first, as well as Best Original Song, (Lady Gaga, A Star is Born) Documentary Feature, (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Free Solo) and Makeup and Hairstyling. (Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney, Vice) Eeeeeeeven if that last one had the worst speech of the night. But hey! Speaking of speeches, can we talk about Olivia Coleman's shocking win for Best Actress for The Favourite? Glenn Close's initial reaction before they cut exclusively to Coleman was priceless, (a sly shrug as if to say, "Hey, what are ya gonna do?") as was Olivia Coleman's genuinely shocked reaction to winning the award. (Every speech now needs to end with a spontaneous blurting out of "Lady Gaga!" with no context.) It was one of the most touching moments of the night and ensured The Favourite would walk away with at least one W, and it was even more shocking when you consider Olivia Coleman hardly campaigned for the Oscar at all because she was in Britain filming The Crown. That W goes to her strictly for the performance itself. Sadly, though, it turned out to be the last genuine moment of the night, as Alfonso Cuarón's speech, while great and SHOULD HAVE BEEN DUPLICATED 5 MINUTES LATER, (happy thoughts, happy thoughts) was obviously heavily rehearsed as he was the overwhelming favorite for the category. And Green Book's speech was every bit as awkward as that entire room realizing that their choice for the standardbearer of 2018 will now, forever be, Green Book. Ugh.
The show itself was surprisingly tightly run without a host. Also, because of the lack of a host, there were no silly and unnecessary bits where "stars go and be just like us," or "hey, let's bring a bunch of pizzas in for everyone because that's a good idea" to distract us from the awards themselves, which allowed for a surprisingly brisk runtime of under 3.5 hours. From my count there was only one "movies are great and you should go watch them in the theater" montage, down from the (seemingly) 36 we had to sludge through last year. And only once did someone get cut off in their acceptance speech. (Seriously. What was that, Vice makeup crew?) And, of course, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper slayed. That performance was straight fire and I'm still getting goosebumps. Also, kudos to this cameraman for killing the single uncut take. 10/10 moment.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut it doesn't feel like any of that matters. For all my attempts to find the positives of this year's awards ceremony, for as much as I want to look at the progress made by trailblazers like Ruth E. Carter, Hannah Beachler, Peter Ramsey, and the legendary Spike Lee, as much as I want to remember that Alfonso Cuarón continues the unprecedented dominance of the three amigos from Mexico, (Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu) with their FIFTH Best Director win in the last six years, it's impossible to overlook the epidemic failure at the top of the ballot. When Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land in 2017, it was the first moment since November the year prior where I felt like our culture took a real step forward on the never-ending trail of progress. In that moment, I felt like the Academy maybe, just maybe, had finally put #OscarsSoWhite behind them. That the diversification of the Academy's voting body had allowed a somewhat unorthodox, but certainly artistic AF indie film from then unknown A24 to win Hollywood's most prestigious award over a wonderful escapist studio film in La La Land that appealed directly to the old white male stereotype the Academy was trying to liberate themselves of. Well, this year, that old white male stereotype reared its ugly head in the worst possible way, backing a horrendously regressive film over potentially iconic choices. Not only that but, like in November of 2016, the old white men decided to make their statement against us progressives (I believe the term I'm looking for is "snowflakes") with a film that's...... just not that good. It's not that good, people! Why did you put all your chips on freaking Green Book? Why is that your "statement" against the winds of change?? At least La La Land was a beautifully made film with master cinematography, editing, acting, and score with iconic musical numbers all wrapped up in an overly feel-good escapism premise. Green Book is just....... bleh! What do you remember from Green Book? Seriously? Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are charming and have good chemistry. That's literally all I remember from it. That's it! And that's now the flagbearer for 2018. How???
In short, the Oscars were...... fine. They had the EASY potential to be so much more than that, but now we have to look to the undercard to find the genuinely wonderful choices. (Mostly..... how about the best acting job of the night going to the crew from Bohemian Rhapsody tiptoeing around the man who made the film? Hey, at least it didn't win Best Picture, right?) But, when it came time to hand out the night's most prestigious award, the old voting body tripped over itself and sent a painfully regressive message to all of us. And we'll have to struggle to overlook that.
Also, Awkwafina needs to host next year's Oscars or I'm boycotting. Just saying. HER PURSE HAD A FLASK IN IT, PEOPLE. IT WAS A FLASK.
My Number: Bleh/10
https://www.latimes.com/resizer/RbwSuCvS8BBrJLnyK7UaqoxzFqU=/1200x0/www.trbimg.com/img-5c737ca5/turbine/la-1551072417-08muj3mbas-snap-image (Spike Lee)
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2019/02/24/arts/25oscars-diversity1/noel-oscars-2019-1105-articleLarge.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp&disable=upscale (Hannah Beachler)
https://sharedmedia.grahamdigital.com/photo/2019/02/24/Green%20Book%20wins%20best%20picture%20at%202019%20Oscars.jpg_20363481_ver1.0_1280_720.jpg (Green Book)
https://cdn.mainichi.jp/vol1/2019/02/25/20190225p2g00m0et063000p/9.jpg (Alfonso Cuarón)
By: Joseph Kathmann
There's an east wind coming
2018 was a year of changes for Hollywood. Now over one year removed from Harvey Weinstein's (overdue) downfall and the rise of the #MeToo era, the industry has recognized (thanks, in part, to audience acclaim and commercial success of their more progressive films) that the time for change is now. For the first time ever, a film with a nearly all black cast will be the top grossing film of the year in Black Panther. The first American-made film to feature an all Asian cast in 20+ years dropped in Crazy Rich Asians and was another domestic box office hit, showing the industry that, yes, we want more diversity in our big budget films. One of the pioneers for change, Spike Lee, after years of being on the outside looking in with the industry, dropped BlacKkKlansman to huge critical acclaim, and was rewarded with his first EVER Best Director Oscar nomination. Films like A Star is Born, Incredibles 2, Ocean's 8, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, and the aforementioned Crazy Rich Asians all featured strong female protagonists, and all were within in the domestic top 25 for box office gross. And that doesn't even mention groundbreaking films with strong female leads like The Favourite and Roma, the later of which has the potential to cap off a year of progress in Hollywood by being the first foreign film to ever win Best Picture. And let's not forget Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with its proudly black protagonist! If that doesn't warm up your insides, then I really can't help you.
That said, we still have a long way to go. Films like Bohemian Rhapsody took a torrid stance on the struggles of gay men and women throughout the country, Green Book hashed out a tired old "white savior solves systemic racism" storyline, and is depressingly relevant on this year's award's circuit with old white men, (the same year BlacKkKlansman was released, no less) Clint Eastwood is still making movies grossing over $100 mil, (seriously, people, why did you go see The Mule?) and Sicario 2...... happened. But, change doesn't happen overnight. Remember when Halle Berry because the first black woman to ever win Best Actress in 2002 for Monster's Ball and everyone thought that would blow the door wide open for more diversity at the Oscars? To this day, she remains the only black woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars. Ever. And since her, only three other black women have even been nominated for the role. There have only been two Latinas nominated for the award in the 21st century, which makes the nomination of the third, Roma's Yalitza Aparicio, that much more significant. But, if there was ever a year where the winds of change started to be felt, it would be 2018. Here's to hoping 2019 is even more diverse! (Still need to hire WAY more female directors, Hollywood....) So, without further ado, let's talk about the best and worst 2018 had to offer!
WELP. So much for this mentality. Green Book is now 2018's standardbearer for the Academy's best film of the year. Don't you worry, more on that soon. But I think it's safe to say my optimism was also wrapped up in some naiveté. Looooooooooong sigh.
For individual reviews of the films mentioned, click on the pictures.
The Best Trailers of 2018
Any trailer that uses a Perfume Genius song gets an automatic entry into this list. But, also, this trailer does a great job balancing the line of making you want to see the movie while not over-explaining it.
Now, the Avengers theme is stuck in your head. Took Marvel like 10 years to realize they had a great theme for the Avengers, but better late than never, right? Also, dat beard dough.
A Star is Born
It's always a plus when a trailer utilizes the music from the movie itself, but this trailer also has something of a story arc with its female lead, Lady Gaga. She is introduced around 45 seconds in and finally takes over the trailer about a minute later. You don't often see that when a trailer is tripping over itself to over-explain things.
Main reason this trailer makes the list is because the song choice, "The Man" by The Killers, is basically the best song choice ever to sum up Dick Cheney. Also, this trailer f************cks. Even if the movie itself doesn't.
There's nothing quite like a trailer synced to Pink Floyd. Add to it the emotional weight of the scenes chosen, while simultaneously not telling you much of anything about the film itself, and you have the embodiment of what a great trailer should be.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
"Your mission. Should you choose to accept it. I wonder: did you ever choose not to?" Now let's have a badass mashup with the Mission: Impossible theme and Imagine Dragon's "Friction" in sync with the sound effects in the film. If that doesn't get your blood pumping, I don't know what will. Plus, Angela Bassett says "plutonium." To be honest, that alone is reason enough for it to be number 1.
My Favorite Movie Moments
BlacKkKlansman - Going Undercover
I love the moment later in this film where Stallworth reveals himself to David Duke, but this moment was on YouTube and is pretty great too. This makes for a harrowing side-by-side with any clip from Green Book's white savior narrative, as the grittiness of this scene, and the rawness of the crusade against hatred, is what so many white folks want to ignore in place of going on a car ride through the south and discovering you're not actually racist.
Shoplifters - What Makes You A Mother?
The emotional climax of Hirokazu Kore-eda's masterpiece, this intimate, touching, genuine interrogation sequence will devastate you, while simultaneously making you question the societal norms placed on family and what constitutes as much. Nobuyo's (Sakura Andô) tearful breakdown at the end of the clip still makes me ball.
Black Panther - Killmonger Takes the Thrown
If there was a single sequence that sums up the power of Ryan Coogler's directing influence over a film, it's the final 30 seconds of this clip. Featuring two of the best shots I saw all year back-to-back from the great cinematographer Rachel Morrison, combined with the hip hop beats of composer Ludwig Goransson, this brief showcase of Wakanda's world being turned upside down was one of the best of 2018.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout - HALO Jump
One of the most badass sequences I've ever seen, this shot is one of the most difficult shots ever made. Period. Director Christopher McQuarrie had to train a camerman for weeks just to film it, plus the insistence on shooting the sequence at dusk, and that it is an actual single take (at least through the first lightning strike) makes this the single best moment I've seen in an action movie since the opening of Saving Private Ryan.
Widows - Rapping Scene
Steve McQueen's filmmaking gets me every time watching this scene, then I'm flabbergasted when I go and remember that this film didn't receive a SINGLE Oscar nomination. The uncontrollable camera makes you nauseous as you nervously anticipate the fate of the two characters at the center of this scene. All of which is hammered home by Jatemme's (Daniel Kaluuya) DOMINATING presence. Love it.
Roma - The Corpus Christi Massacre
While everyone (justifiably) marvels at the brilliance of Roma's beach sequence, which also could be number 1, I wanted to instead highlight the climax of the film, a sequence which director Alfonso Cuarón himself has said was the most challenging sequence he's ever shot. The sheer number of extras in that pan to the street, (thousands) all doing seemingly random things in a controlled manner, is unfathomable. Combine that with the colossal emotional juncture of this sequence, and that's why it's my number 1 favorite movie moment of 2018.
The Best Films No One Saw
All films on this list grossed under $25 million domestically.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay's uniquely weird murder-mystery was one of the most underrated films of 2018. Definitely not for everyone, but showcases the beauty of what great visual storytelling can do.
Gustav Möller made a huge splash with his first film, a claustrophobic murder mystery that unfolds in a single room, leaving your imagination to run amok with the events occurring through Asger's (Asger Holm) earpiece.
Leave No Trace
Debra Granik's first feature film in 8 years, Leave No Trace is a wonderful tale about a father raising his daughter in the unknown of nature.
Nadine Labaki's Oscar-nominated film was arguably the most emotional piece of cinema I saw all year, propped up by a terrific performance from its lead and real-life Syrian refugee, Zain Al Rafeea. Be ready to ROCK the ugly cry here.
Sorry to Bother You
Easily the weirdest yet most topical film I saw all year, Boots Riley's directorial / writing debut was a gripping, poignant statement about our society. With horsemen sprinkled on top.
Bo Burnham's feature / writing debut has resonated with me more than almost any other film I saw in 2018, featuring a script that should have been nominated for an Oscar, (it won at the Writer's Guild Awards, mind you) and easily the year's best debut performance from its lead, Elsie Fisher. It's the only film that will overlap in my overall Best of 2018 list, but it is more than deserving of that accolade.
The Worst Films of 2018
Hey, remember when this movie was supposed to make Jennifer Lawrence edgy? That worked out really well.
Issues on the set aside, the latest installment in The Predator franchise just another forgettable action movie with no sense of purpose, wasting its great cast in the process. JACOB TREMBLAY WAS IN THIS, PEOPLE. HOW DO YOU SCREW UP HAVING JACOB TREMBLAY IN YOUR MOVIE.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
J.K. Rowling's follow-up to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wastes the best parts of the original (the core cast and their dynamics) as well as the introduction of Dumbledore (Jude Law) to regress back to the 90s and highlight the hilariously irrelevant villain, portrayed forgettably by the even more irrelevant Johnny Depp. This series bet it all on him, and has already lost in spectacular fashion.
Holmes & Watson
The lazy, mindless reunion of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly was so bad there was even some incoherent editing littered about. If you want a single film to sum up the state of many modern American comedies, look no further.
The 15:17 to Paris
Clint Eastwood's first terrible movie of 2018 had a nice premise behind it - a film about a real-life dramatic event starring the people that lived said event - executed in a hilariously bad way at the hands of a once great director that has failed to recognize that enough is enough.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
One of the worst movies I have EVER seen, this #MAGA wet dream, sorry excuse for a film did nothing but propel the racist narrative that "all Mexicans are rapists," wrapped up in a poorly made film starring people that clearly were #InItForThePaycheck. In a year where Hollywood took a lot of steps forward, this dumpster fire was a giant step back.
The Best Films of 2018
Ryan Coogler's powerful entry to the Marvel universe was the most culturally relevant film of 2018, smashing barriers while also giving us an incredible film.
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper's directorial debut featured the best music of the year in a wonderful rendition of a classic Hollywood story.
Crazy Rich Asians
Look at Awkwafina's outfit and tell me how this film was not one of the zaniest, over-the-top romcoms of the 21st century, all wrapped up in the first American-made film featuring an Asian cast in over 20 years. Also, Henry Golding's smile is littered throughout this, so that's a huge plus.
Steve McQueen's gut-wrenching heist film went criminally underappreciated. A wonderful bit of filmmaking wrapped up in a topical statement about politics and society with a great cast and unpredictable story.
Spike Lee's most popular film since his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman was the best statement on the state of our current society in 2018, spoken by the king himself.
The most charismatic film of the year, Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War is tells a classic, gut-wrenching love story starring two people who's suave is borderline insufferable.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
The best action movie I've ever seen, director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise's 6th installment to the Mission: Impossible franchise raises the bar for the genre with some of the most technically difficult sequences ever shot.
Bo Burnham's directing and writing debut had some of the most grounded moments of the year, featuring a lovable lead in a terrific and relatable coming-of-age story.
The best American film of the year, the latest (and greatest) from director Yorgos Lanthimos features a shamelessly flamboyant and wonderfully weird power dynamic story and the best trio of performances of the year.