It’s over. The 2019 awards circuit has been nothing but an exhausting event to follow. With hiccups, controversies, and unpredictability, this awards season has been nothing short of a bizarre process. Movie lovers and casual viewers alike have put on an alarm for the unusual pattern like this and if there is one thing that is clear, it’s that the Academy wants to change.
In an effort to keep the show under three hours, to keep every viewer satisfied. Signs started pointing south when the idea was born concerning a 25th new category last summer. No, not casting or stunts awards like many had been holding out hope for, but the best popular film, a category without much explanation or anticipation for, that was created just to make sure Black Panther received an Oscar nomination of some kind just in case there wasn’t room for the 18th MCU installment comes awards season in the best picture line up.
The almost immediate backlash forced the Academy to shelve the idea until further notice but this odd cycle of an announcement of an idea than taking back the idea would only show more strange choices to continue. A recent example includes when Kevin Hart was slated to host but due to homophobic tweets and stand up material dug up, the Academy found it best for him to step down from hosting and now the show will now go on hostless. Then there is the #presentall24 campaign, when most recently, the Academy threatened to move the shorts, editing and cinematography to commercial break thus not allowing the recipients to give an on-air speech and receive the coveted two-minute spotlight. It was a ruthless and hurtful decision that was (yet again) quickly backtracked once the online community made their voice heard.
While these announcements regarding the evolution of the 90 plus year show are being criticized for the effort of its new direction, the 2019 best picture hopefuls are beginning to take shape. Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star is Born and Vice are now the 2019 best picture nominees with little under half coming under scrutiny.
Bohemian Rhapsody had a notoriously troubled production with Bryan Singer having his unsettling past emerged before release and lifeless sanitation of one of the greatest musicians to ever live. Green Book does nothing for the subject it is trying to approach, only doing so with caution and fatigue, not to mention co-writer/ director Peter Farrelly and has been mocked by many for his on-set behavior and incorrect depiction of the real-life events of Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and how honestly accurate his relationship was to Tony Lip. Vice (although probably the most divisive BP nominee) felt unbalanced and misguided, overstuffed and unpleasant. McKay continues his fascination with recent American tragedies and Vice doubles down on his cocktail of satire and factual recounting, established in 2015’s The Big Short, only now handled with less affection and more incoherence.
However, there still is recognition to be happy about. With Cuaron’s Roma and Lanthimos’ The Favourite scoring ten apiece, Spike Lee (finally) having his name in the best director line up and Paul Schrader (again, at last) having his utterly transfixing screenplay for First Reformed in the conversation. Taking this all into consideration, it would be easy to imagine Sunday would be anything but a normal, easygoing ceremony. Even though there is much to complain about and snubs to scratch your head at for the years to come, what is important to remember is that peoples dreams came true. Let’s take a look at some of the evenings best moments.
The 91st Academy Awards was certainly a bizarre ceremony, with expectations met and upsets welcomed. With the show moving at a surprisingly brisk and nimble pace with no emcee to guide us through the show. In fact, it felt almost a host was no longer missed and the spotlight shined on the beloved personalities made the show even more special compared to one individual having the weight of carrying the shows abundance of spectacle. Without a host, the show juggles from person to person and carries on like the regularly scheduled program so it begs the question how much of difference someone to regulate the flow really matters. Jarring, for sure, but much less of a problem than anticipated.
Despite many obstacles, history was made on multiple occasions. Black Panther won big technically with Ruth Carter’s lush costumes and Hannah Bleacher’s elegant production design marked wins for women of color outside acting categories. Spike Lee winning his first Oscar for co-writing BlackkKlansman, a win that has been a long time coming considering legendary filmmakers eclectic body of work. Alfonso Cuaron (while also receiving his second best director Oscar and becomes the fifth Mexican director in six years to do so) also wins for acting as cinematographer while also directing Roma, while also securing Mexico’s first foreign language win.
With as much love Roma got, best picture was ultimately crowned to Green Book, Peter Farley’s leisure crowd pleaser. An upset considered by many but starts to reveal itself as making more sense once realized that the Academy often favors safety over creativity. The film also walked alway with original screenplay and supporting actor for Mahershala Ali (the second actor of color to receive two Oscars next to Denzel Washington).
Olivia Colman upset much expected recipient Glenn Close, proving that anything is possible and it really is anyone’s chance. Colman ended up becoming the sole representative of The Favourite’s ten nominations, canceling the narrative that this is Close’s year and the Academy will finally honoring her decades long career. Colman’s work in The Favourite proves to be something that Close failed to achieve: memorability. With her black humor and sympathy, she infuses into Queen Anne.
Speaking of sole representatives, Regina King walked away with best supporting actress for Barry Jenkins’ sensual If Beale Street Could Talk, in a performance she lovingly poured her heart into. An emotional speech followed, as she thanked her fellow nominees, her mom and James Baldwin (the author of the novel on which the film in based on).
Bohemian Rhapsody scores big as well with wins in both sound categories, editing and first time nominee Rami Malek. He goes on to thank Queen, championing stories about those less celebrated, and his family. This win proves that The Academy still loves portrayals of real people, especially actors who undergo a physical transformation to accurately capture these real people. History repeats itself here, showing once again how unclear The Academy really is about their stance on change and how they want to fix the show itself but not the decisions they will be remembered by.
We see this pattern continued when Green Book won best picture, an upset to Roma and Netflix but also Spike Lee, who lost to Driving Miss Daisy just 26 years ago. The eerily similar film to Green Book‘s character dynamics and taboo subject. This marks an interesting turn in the Academy’s recent choices for best picture, considering the emotionally gripping Moonlight and magical fairy tale The Shape of Water showing an interesting trajectory in what qualifies as a modern best picture.
Resorting to old fashioned interests that will assume to make all pleased when in fact it does just the opposite. Appreciating comfort over craft just doesn’t date well. The film never leans into becoming offensive, just dull and easily digestible. It begs the question: what really qualifies a best picture? It’s one question that will spawn multiple answers but one that I am unsure that Green Book achieves.