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)
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