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 with a contribution in the animation section from Peter Kosanovich
The potential for two VERY different timelines
Never, in all my years writing this blog and covering film, has there been such a contentious Oscar season.
The Academy has presented one ludicrous idea after another and walked them all back, from Kevin Hart hosting the ceremony, (and subsequent non-apology "apology" over his homophobic remarks on Instagram) to the popular film category idea, to replacing last year's Best Actor / Actress presenters with more "recognizable" stars, to the ceremony itself not showing all 24 awards and acceptance speeches live on air, or all five original songs, in a shameless attempt to whittle down the ceremony's lengthy runtime. All of these shortsighted decisions, all walked back, were made by an Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences that seems to be in a shortsighted flux over a seemingly non-existent problem: the Academy Awards just are not as popular as they once were. Every year's ceremony continues to see a dwindling viewership, largely the result of chord-cutters and young people simply not tuning into the awards. Yet, for some head-scratching reason, rather than embrace the loyal following that continues to follow Awards Season with a religious zeal (hello!) and fully lean into the climatic celebration like the Tony Awards have, the Academy is desperately grasping at straws to maintain the relevance it once had 20+ years ago. Hopefully, they'll take a long, hard look at themselves and realize my demographic is not going to suddenly tune in because Avengers: Infinity War is nominated for a Best Popular Oscar, or because Harrison Ford is presenting the Best Supporting Actress category over Sam freaking Rockwell, and start to appeal directly to us movie nerds. But, what it gave us this circuit was a wild and tumultuous season of stupid ideas, walk backs, and apologies from an Academy that for some foreign reason had no earthly idea that us movie nerds and actual industry players would be upset when you announce Best Cinematography will not air live during the telecast because ABC wants to air some new show after the ceremony. (I don't know if that's still the plan, as it is now increasingly likely we're heading to another 4+ hour show.)
Anywho, ridiculous Academy decisions aside, this year's possible award winners have the potential to be the best set of winners I've ever seen. They also have the potential to be the worst, which means this year's Oscars will be the most emotionally unpredictable ceremony in my memory. And it all comes down to Best Picture. On the one hand, you have Alfonso Cuarón's Roma. My number 1 film of 2018, (spoiler for my upcoming year-in-review post) Roma is the current favorite (according to Vegas) to win Best Picture. The film is a cinematic triumph, and would mark the first foreign film to win Hollywood's most prestigious award. Ever. It would be a moving statement, both culturally and politically, from an Academy which is STILL in the recovering phases of #OscarsSoWhite, (let's not forget when that happened twice) and a sign of the changing demographics within this breadbasket of a nation and of the Academy itself. But, on the other hand, lurking menacingly in the shadows, is Green Book. A film which appeals directly to the old, white men of the Academy, a film which unabashedly draws parallels to Driving Miss Daisy, (which infamously won Best Picture the year Spike Lee's groundbreaking Do the Right Thing was released) and trudges out the same old, tired "white savior solves systemic racism" trope that has been told so many times before in old-school Hollywood. The film's director, Peter Farrelly (fresh off the "triumph" that was Dumb and Dumber To) has unashamedly leaned into these tropes, almost going as far as to slog out the stereotypical "I don't see color" line so many old, white men say when claiming they're not racist. And that doesn't even mention the issues the film has had on the awards trail - from stories of Peter Farrelly thinking its funny to whip his junk out on set in the past, to screenwriter Nick Vallelonga (also main character Tony Lip's son) endorsing Trump's racist, debunked, "Muslims cheering after 9/11" conspiracy theory. Oh, and the Shirley family condemning the film for not consulting with them at all during production. That's kind of important.
But, apart from Best Picture, there are 23 other categories to talk about. So, let's go through each of them, shall we? I've seen nearly everything nominated this year short of the live action / animated shorts, so I will give my pick for each category minus those two. As usual, the "who's the favorite" is the favorite according to Vegas betting odds. Those odds can be found here. Let's do this!
Writing: Original Screenplay
Writing: Adapted Screenplay
Short Film, Live Action
Short Film, Animated
Makeup and Hairstyling
Foreign Language Film
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Alright, folks! Hope this preps you for your Oscar watch parties next Sunday. I'll be back with more year-in-review coverage this week, so stay tuned and thanks for reading!!
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTg1NzQwMDQxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg2NDYyNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,670,1000_AL_.jpg (The Favourite)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMDBhOTMxN2UtYjllYS00NWNiLWE1MzAtZjg3NmExODliMDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjMxOTE0ODA@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,631,1000_AL_.jpg (First Man)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_.jpg (Black Panther)
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https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BNzZhNDlkYjUtNzRlMy00ZmYxLWE0ZWYtODVkYTFkZDU3NmUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzY0MTMwMDk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,658,1000_AL_.jpg (Period. End of Sentence)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTA0MDk4MzMwOTBeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDE3MzYxOTUz._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_.jpg (Minding the Gap)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjMwNDkxMTgzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkwNTQ3NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_.jpg (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BYzZjMDhmZTUtMmZjYi00YmI1LTk2NDItMTY3MTA4OTc4ZDJkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_.jpg (Amy Adams)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTc2YTU3NjEtYjJjNC00YzA1LTk2MzEtMDZkODAyY2U2ZmU2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_.jpg (Sam Elliot)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTA2MjcyNjE0NzdeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDA1MjU0NzYz._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,955_AL_.jpg (Yalitza Aparicio)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BNzAyOGQxMjktNGIzYS00MmRhLWIzMDctOWFlYTQ4OTMyNjlmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,733_AL_.jpg (Bradley Cooper)
https://m.media-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BODY0NTg2NzE4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDUyNTQ3NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_.jpg (Alfonso Cuarón)
Why do we have to talk about Green Book now?
Hello again, friends! Welcome back to another wonderful and wild awards season. Did you miss it? I know I sure did! This year's Oscar nominations dropped today, and I have some feelings about them. There's gonna be a rant forthcoming about a certain film that I was hoping to never have to think about again receiving FIVE Oscar nominations, but beyond the absurdity of Green Book still being somehow relevant this awards season and some unfortunate snubs, the list is fairly decent!
Leading the way this year are The Favourite and Roma. Couldn't be happier seeing those two films at the forefront of the nominations this year. As much as I loved The Favourite, (with just a few films left to catch up on it will very likely be my number one American-made film of the year) I don't foresee it winning much outside of something like Film Editing. Roma, on the other hand, is already shaping up to be the film to watch this award's season. While it didn't win at the Producer's Guild Awards over the weekend (their best film prize SOMEHOW went to Green Book....brace yourselves, folks, the rant's coming) I think Best Picture comes down to either it or A Star is Born. You can also expect to hear Alfonso Cuarón's name called for Best Director, marking the fourth time in five years that a Mexican director wins the category. (Coincidentally, this unprecedented streak began with Alfonso Cuarón himself when he won Best Director for his amazing work on 2013's Gravity.) I also love that, in a year full of terrific performances from actresses, first time actress Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) still receives an Oscar nomination. It does mean someone like Emily Blunt for Mary Poppins Returns is left off the list as a result, but Aparicio is only the second Mexican actress to ever be nominated for the category. So I'll take it. Anyway, let's talk about some of the big winners, losers, and the perplexing decisions of this year's Oscar nominees!
Big Winners: Netflix, Disney, Amy Adams and Glenn Close, Spike Lee
Move over, old geezers. The Netflix revolution is officially here. The streaming behemoth made its presence felt in a HUGE way this year with a staggering 15 nominations, officially putting to bed the notion that the streaming platform can't compete with the big, traditional Hollywood studios. Outside of Roma's 10, the platform also had a solid showing for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a somewhat surprising entry given how little hype there was surrounding the film going into today. All of Netflix's attention has (justifiably) been on Roma, but to see the latest work from Joel and Ethan Cohen receive some love is pretty great.
Speaking of big winners, the titan of the industry, Disney, also won big. The studio leads all contenders with 17 total nominations, and, if you include Fox Searchlight's nominations (as Disney would like us to with the still-impending merger) that number increases to 32. That's right: 32! The BIG feat for Disney this year is Marvel's first ever Best Picture nominee, Black Panther. The film has displayed extraordinary staying power and is undoubtedly the most culturally relevant film of 2018, so it is well deserving of its 7 nominations. Even if (and probably when) it doesn't receive any gold outside of a technical category or two.
I was rather surprised to see Vice receive as much love as it did, particularly in the Best Director and Best Film Editing categories. I thought the film kind of fell apart at the hands of its director as well as the editing, but I guess I'm in the minority. Hopefully, though, the waves are parting for Amy Adams to finally take home her first Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category. Her portrayal of Lynne Chenney is probably the best thing about the entire film. Also, on an unrelated note, can we give some gold to Glenn Close, please? Her moving speech at the Globes was easily the best moment of the night, and it seems kind of ridiculous to give Best Actress to Lady Gaga before giving one to Glenn Close. (Now the most nominated person alive to not receive an Oscar. Would be amazing to see both her and Amy Adams break their win-less streaks on the same night!)
Finally, speaking of feats, congratulations to Spike Lee on his first ever nomination for Best Director and Best Picture. The legendary trailblazer has made a lot of films over his historic career, but has never been recognized until now. Very excited to see that, even if it is about 30 years past due!
Big Losers: If Beale Street Could Talk, Crazy Rich Asians, The "Boy" movies, Foreign films
Undoubtedly the most unfortunate loser of this year's Oscars is If Beale Street Could Talk. The emotional follow-up to Barry Jenkins Best Picture winner Moonlight, arguably the biggest upset of recent Oscar memory, If Beale Street Could Talk only snagged a meager three nominations. The film had something of a questionable distribution strategy, unceremoniously going wide the first week in January after the film was quietly held back a few weeks. I believe the sheer unknown of this film was one of the big factors in its unfortunate downfall, though I do expect Regina King to be the biggest obstacle to Amy Adams winning Best Supporting Actress. If this film has taught us anything, it's that the old "limited engagements December 31, going wide halfway through January" strategy for awards-y films seems to becoming a less viable one.
Speaking of snubs, how about the second most culturally impactful film of the year, Crazy Rich Asians, being completely shut out? The film, despite its extraordinary cultural significance being the first American-made film to feature an all Asian cast in over 20 years, was totally passed over by the Academy. I didn't expect this film to receive more than one or two nominations, but I thought a nomination for Production Design was a near certainty. After all, the sets of that film were even more rambunctious and luxurious than I could've possibly imagined, and fit the film's flamboyant theme perfectly.
Another surprising set of snubs goes to the "Boy" movies. Both Beautiful Boy and Boy Erased were shut out, which is only surprising when you think about the star power behind both of them. I thought Timothée Chalamet had a Best Supporting Actor nomination all but locked up. After all, this was the role he was hyped about when he was promoting Call Me By Your Name last year. Same for Steve Carell. Same goes for Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased. I'd say maybe this is a sign that obvious "Oscar bait" films don't work, but you know studios are going to make more "Oscar bait" films...
Finally, I gotta get on a kinda weird soapbox and briefly talk about the Best Foreign Film category. I'm not surprised Roma received a Best Foreign Film nomination. After all, it is a..... film who's dialogue is in a foreign language. But I'm a little sad that it did nonetheless, because, given the widely celebrated American filmmaker attached to it, Alfonso Cuarón, it had that category completely locked up from the moment its name was called. This ensures that an incredible slate of foreign films nominated - Shoplifters, Cold War, Capernaum, and Never Look Away - all have a zero percent chance at those 30 seconds of American cinema spotlight. Not to mention the snubs of Dogman, The Guilty, and Burning in the process. I wish there was a world where Roma wasn't nominated for Best Foreign Film and instead "simply" wins Best Picture, (of the list of nominees it is undoubtedly my pick for the category) but, lo and behold, that weird fantasy will not come to fruition.
Perplexing Moments: Green Book, Green Book, Green Book, Green Book, Best Director, Best Picture (still)
Alright, folks: we've come to it at last. Green Book. 2018's official "white man saves black man and solves the problem of systemic racism on a car ride" entry. For those that don't know, Green Book is a film from director/writer Peter Farrelly (of Dumb and Dumber acclaim) and stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The film won the famed audience choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September, which has always been a strong precursor to the Oscars, but almost immediately the film started running into problems. Personally, I kiiiind of enjoyed the film. There's wonderful chemistry between Tony Lip (Mortensen) and Dr. Don Shirley, (Ali) and there's some good humor. But the film's ending is waaaaaaaay too feel-good given the subject matter, as the film basically ends with a "and that's how we solved racism, kids!" vibe that was as uncomfortable as it is untrue. But that's not where its issues end. Ohhhhhh no. For a film that claims to be about solving issues around inequality and social injustice, its production was remarkably insincere. After its wide release, the real-life Shirley family (the film is based off of a true story) immediately condemned the film and its approach to Dr. Shirley's character, even going as far as to say they were not consulted AT ALL in the making of the film and calling it "full of lies." Which is frustrating enough as is, but even more so when, on the flipside, Tony Lip's own real-life son, Nick Vallelonga, co-wrote the screenplay. I haven't explicitly specified it yet, but you can probably guess which character is black and which one is white in this story. NOT ONLY THAT, but both writer Nick Vallelonga and director Peter Farrelly have found themselves in hot water the past few weeks: Vallelonga for endorsing a racist and thoroughly debunked Trump conspiracy theory on Twitter back in 2015 about Muslims cheering after 9/11, (ironically, the highest profile Muslim in Hollywood is in this film in Mahershala Ali. Awkward.....) and Farrelly for apparently thinking it was cool to whip his junk out on set back in the 90s.
SO. Now that you're caught up, there's no possible way this film could receive any nominations outside of like one for Mahershala Ali, right? WRONG. The film received a whooping, shocking, and embarrassing FIVE nominations, including nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, (Viggo Mortensen, who had his own controversy on the press tour of this film. Because seemingly every white guy had to have a racist moment promoting a film about "solving" racism!) Best Supporting Actor, (Mahershala Ali) Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay. WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Ya, obviously I'm going to focus on that last one. It is simply DISGRACEFUL that this film received a Best Original Screenplay nomination. I really haven't been this disgusted with the Academy since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. THE JOB of a screenwriter is to consult every source of a story based on real-life people. IT IS LITERALLY THEIR JOB, AND THEY DIDN'T DO IT HERE. And that doesn't even mention the fact that Nick Vallelonga, fresh off deleting his Twitter account after being caught endorsing racist conspiracy theories LESS THAN 4 YEARS AGO, can now call himself "Oscar nominated" Nick Vallelonga. Even if you put all of that aside. Even if you ignore the overt racism surrounding the writers of this film and how they went about writing this screenplay the story is not very good. Just on a strictly surface level, it is dumbfounding that Green Book made it into the original screenplay category over Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham's wonderfully pragmatic debut was inexplicably shunned by the Academy, and by FAR its easiest path to at least a single nomination was through Best Original Screenplay. In my opinion, Eighth Grade is the best overall screenplay of 2018, but, hey! Let's be sure to value freaking Green Book over it, am I right?
I'm becoming increasingly worried that Green Book is actually going to win Best Picture. It won the Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures at the Producers Guild Awards over the weekend, which strongly correlates with the Academy's own Best Picture. But it would be an incredibly regressive pick for a newly diversified Academy two years removed from handing Moonlight the very same award. I'm keeping an eye on you, Academy. Don't you even think about it.
Green Book clusterbomb aside, the only other perplexing categories are Best Director and Best Picture. With the later, it's more just my standard soapbox spiel I've been delivering for years now: you can have up to 10 films on the list, so why not have 10 films nominated for Best Picture every year? The rule preventing that is stupid, and for an Academy that was contemplating a "Black Pan-I mean Best Popular Oscar" category just earlier this year, ensuring 10 films receive Best Picture nominations every year would be a simple, easy way to alleviate some of their concerns. But, I guess we gotta have another Dark Knight disaster for the Academy to actually change this. Oh, and Bohemian Rhapsody being one of the coveted eight nominated films for Best Picture is almost as dumb as Green Book being there, but that's just to be assumed. At least Bryan Singer wasn't sexually harassing anyone. Oh? He was too? Well that's just groovy. Way to go, guys.
Best Director is something of a head-scratcher too. The category is Alfonso Cuarón's to lose, which I have no problem with, and Spike Lee received his first nomination, which is great, but the inclusion of Adam McKay (Vice) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) is a bit confusing. Especially since it ensured that no women received a nomination in this category (again) and people like Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) were shunned as well. None of them were ever going to topple Alfonso Cuarón this year, but it would've been nice to see them get some love.
So those are my immediate reactions to the 2019 Oscar nominations! As well as my lovely rant on FREAKING Green Book. As always, thank you for reading, friends! I appreciate all of you. I will be back with my usual Oscar coverage, as well as my 2018 recap, in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
https://www.goldderby.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Oscars-Logo-Statue.jpg (title banner)
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