91st Oscars Serve Up Record Firsts
Most individual wins by women and African Americans but ‘Green Book’ marks a step backwards
Monday, February 25, 2019
The 91st Academy Awards are over and the satisfying awards are overshadowed by some aggravating wins.
I am still angry from last night. I was so frustrated by the wins "Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" racked up. I was so angry I had to watch the violent action film "The Night Comes For Us" but that only got me more worked up because it reminded me that the Oscars still fail to have a category for the phenomenal artistry of the fight choreography or stunt coordinator.
The Good News
But let's focus on the good news first. A record number of individual awards went to women and African American artists this year. That is good news and progress.
The happiest surprise for me was Olivia Colman’s upset win as Best Actress for "The Favourite" provided the night’s most genuine onstage reaction and speech. She began with, "It’s genuinely quite stressful. This is hilarious. Got an Oscar. I have to thank lots of people. If by the way I forget anybody, I’m going to find you later and I’m going to give you all a massive snog." Glenn Close had won numerous awards for "The Wife" and going in she seemed a lock for Best Actress. But Colman, who I first remember in the comedy "Hot Fuzz," was brilliant in Yorgos Lanthimos' nasty gem "The Favourite."
My next favorite win was Spike Lee. After decades of ferociously good work he finally got his first Best Director nomination but racked up his first win for co-writing "BlacKkKlansman." Plus he got to receive the award from Samuel Jackson, who starred in a number of Lee's films and went off script at the awards show to tell Lee that his beloved Knicks had won. Lee was visibly happy and excited as he jumped onto the stage and into Jackson's arms. He also came prepared with a written speech because this award and its platform have been a long time coming. He made the best of it to deliver a message.
"The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there!" Lee said in his acceptance speech.
"Black Panther" won Marvel its first Oscar, and the wins for Best Costume and Best Production Design marked the first time black women have ever won in that category. "Black Panther" not only had many talented black craft people bringing it to the screen but a remarkable number of women also working on the film. Rachel Morrison, who was not nominated this year, served as cinematographer for the film.
Alfonso Cuaron took home three awards and is the first director to also win as his own cinematographer. His acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film for "Roma" cleverly pointed out that as Americans we need to remember what "foreign" can actually mean.
"I grew up watching foreign language films and learning so much from them and being inspired. Films like 'Citizen Kane,' 'Jaws,' 'Rashomon,' 'The Godfather,' and 'Breathless,'" Cuaron said on stage.
The other point about "Roma" is that it was produced by Netflix, a streaming service. Netflix has already won an Oscar for Best Documentary (for "Icarius"), now it has a win for Best Foreign Language Film. So when will that Best Picture win come? Hollywood has been scared of Netflix and streaming services making films because it challenges the tradition of films being made for theatrical release with a new distribution model. Theater owners feel like it might be the death knell for cinemas or maybe it points to streaming services rethinking their distribution model and looking to release more of their product in theaters. Netflix did finally join the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and are the first and only streaming service to join the studios in the organizations.
The Bad News
But now for the lowlights. Rami Malek winning Best Actor for "Bohemian Rhapsody" seemed like rewarding someone for wearing a bad wig, false teeth and essentially doing karaoke. Don't get me wrong, he gave a great impersonation of Freddie Mercury that worked well in the film but it was by no means great acting. Christian Bale on the other hand, completely disappeared in the role of Dick Cheney in "Vice." The acting miracle he pulled off was to find nuance and interest in a man whose demeanor was bland, low key and monotone.
But the most infuriating win was "Green Book" for Best Picture. This year marked the most individual wins for African Americans with seven but when it came to choosing Best Picture the Academy went with the film that dealt with race from a white perspective in terms of the lead actor, writer, and director. It has been referred to as "Driving Miss Daisy" in reverse. This in a year when you had Spike Lee’s "BlacKkKlansman," Ryan Coogler’s "Black Panther," and Barry Jenkins’ "If Beale Street Could Talk" as alternates to choose from. This win feels like a step backwards and it seems that the complicated preferential voting ballot that has voters pick a first, second and third place choice can make middle-of-the-road films win.
"Green Book" is designed as a feel-good film about race relations and it's well acted by appealing stars. But it glosses over horrific racism and presents a white savior for its black character. What's ironic is that Spike Lee made "Do the Right Thing" in 1989, the same year as "Driving Miss Daisy" (which also won Best Picture) and his film was ahead of its time then in presenting a black perspective and that 30-year-old film is still light years ahead of "Green Book" in tackling issues of race. Giving "Green Book" the Best Picture Oscar is bad but giving it in a year when Spike Lee has made a better film and a better story on the same issue of race is just infuriating.
The No-Host Show
The no-host show worked great and cut down on stupid banter. The show might not have been shorter but it felt like it moved better. But if you want hosts, go with Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler who opened the Awards.
Some fun moments: Melissa McCarthy in regal robes covered with rabbits in reference to "The Favourite" couldn’t open the envelope for Best Costume with her rabbit puppet hand. And Captain America Chris Evans escorted Regina King to the stage so she didn’t trip on her long train as she accepted her Best Supporting Actress award for "If Beale Street Could Talk." A number of female winners nearly tripped getting to the stage so maybe the lesson from this year's awards is that dresses should not have trains because not everyone can sit next to Captain America.
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