25 Feb The good, the bad, and the ugly of the 91st Academy Awards
Well, it’s all over for another year, and one of the most topsy turvy awards seasons is finally behind us. In the end, the hostless ceremony itself was far from the cataclysmic disaster many had predicted. If only the same could be said for several of the winners. There were shocks and surprises aplenty, with many us finding our final predictions tallies languishing somewhere in the teens. After the season we’ve had, it’s the ceremony we should have been expecting. But there’s still much to celebrate, so before we get to the rage, let’s start with some positives.
No host proved to be a blessing. When the Academy couldn’t find a replacement for Kevin Hart and decided to battle on without a host for the first time in 30 years, many expected the absolute worst. After all, the last ceremony without a host has often been called one of the worst of all time. Take a look back at my The Best Picture Project piece for a garish trip down memory lane. However, without a host to grind the show to a halt with pointless skits and bloated monologues, the pacing of this year’s ceremony was rather spectacular. Time was instead given to honouring each Best Picture nominee (please make this permanent) with special guests introducing each film before a clip package played. Even as the ceremony pushed past its intended three-hour runtime, it genuinely felt as if no time had passed at all. Maybe we’ve seen the end of Oscar hosts for good?
The non-opening monologue. I’ve long begged the Academy to hire former Golden Globes hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as Oscar hosts. Tonight, it came true. Well, sort of. Joined by fellow SNL alumna Maya Rudolph, three of the funniest women in Hollywood kicked off the ceremony with a brief but hilarious monologue before the first award was presented. It opened the show on a high (shame it was mostly downhill from there) and jumped right into the awards. No muss. No fuss. Can’t complain about that.
Chris Evans, ladies and gentlemen. After Regina King was announced the winner of Best Supporting Actress, she found herself in a tangle between her dress and shoes. Ever the gentleman, Evans lept from his seat to provide a supporting arm, while King corrected her minor wardrobe malfunction. Not only that, he then escorted her up the steps and onto the stage, proving to be every bit the Captain America we see on-screen. Bless you, Chris.
The most female winners in history. With a total of 15 victories, women dominated the Academy Awards like never before. The previous record of 12 (2015 and 2007) was shattered. By comparison, only six women won an Oscar last year, so kudos to the Academy for recognising the impeccable work of female filmmakers. For the record (and besides the two obvious acting wins), a female won for Best Original Song, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Documentary, Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Sound Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, with multiple females winning in four of those categories.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wins Best Animated Feature. We all predicted its victory, but, after years of Disney/Pixar’s stranglehold on this category, we all feared the worst. Nothing against the House of Mouse, but they had no business winning this year. And, thankfully, the Academy agreed. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was one of the most daringly original animated films in recent history. It was in a league of its own in this category. And its win was one of the most inspired choices of the ceremony.
Black Panther makes history. With its three wins for Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design, Black Panther became the first Marvel Studios film to claim an Academy Award. But, more importantly, Ruth E. Carter’s win for Costume Design made her the first black person to win this category, which seemed only fitting, given Carter was the first black person to be nominated in this category back in 1992 for Malcolm X. And, with her victory for Production Design, Hannah Beachler became the first black person to win this category, which is also entirely fitting, given she’s the first black person to be nominated in this category as well. Wakanda forever, indeed.
The performance of “Shallow.” It was the Original Song nominee everyone was waiting to see performed. And what Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga served up was nothing short of spectacular. Cooper proved he had the singing chops. Gaga was her typical belting best. And when he joined her on the piano seat and the pair intimately shared one microphone, the result was completely electric. Just a side note. A lot of tweets were flying around about the pair’s chemistry being proof of their alleged affair. Hogwash. It’s called acting, people. You know, the thing they were both nominated for?
Olivia Colman wins Best Actress. As devastating as it was to see Glenn Close lose for a seventh (!) time (more on that shortly), Colman gave a spectacular and breathtaking performance in The Favourite and absolutely deserves that Oscar. In a year of revelatory female performances, Colman was on another level. Against the odds, she took it home, and, unsurprisingly, gave one of the best speeches of the night. She showed bittersweet humility in acknowledging Close’s defeat (“This is not how I wanted this to be!”). She displayed genuine joy and shock at her victory. And she was natural and relatable. This is a performance future generations will look back on and take joy in the fact it won an Academy Award. Could we really have said the same of Close?
Spike Lee has an Academy Award, at last. Enough said.
Regina King has one too. Praise be.
Richard E. Grant’s loss. Not a surprise. Not a shock. But gutwrenchingly painful, none the less. Grant has been the brightest light this awards season. And he happened to give one of the best performances of the year, lead or supporting. Nothing against Mahershala Ali, but he had no place winning Best Supporting Actor. It wasn’t a supporting performance, so he had no business being in this category. And he’s already won before for a much more powerful and impressive turn. The love for Green Book was clearly too strong, and Ali just got swept along to victory.
Rami Malek’s victory for Best Actor. As always, each acting nominee had a clip shown from their performance during the announcement of the nominees. In a rather telling moment, the chosen clip for Malek was a segment where he was doing nothing but lip-synching to Freddie Mercury’s vocals. That says it all really. By comparison to the four other performances in his category, Malek’s performance doesn’t hold a candle to what those four men delivered. Look, I enjoyed his lively and entertaining performance like everyone else. But calling it the best of the year is absurd. Mark my words, it will be an Oscar victory that future generations scratch their heads over.
Avengers: Infinity War loses Best Visual Effects. Can someone please explain the Academy’s bizarre aversion to the visual effects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Avengers: Infinity War becomes the eighth MCU film to lose this category, despite offering up some of their greatest visual effects achievements of the last ten years. The creation of Thanos alone should have been enough to snatch this award. It’s a bittersweet feeling to bemoan the (sole) victory of First Man, but something feels wrong here.
Green Book wins Best Original Screenplay. If this is what you consider to be the best example of screenwriting this year, you need to read more screenplays. In the year of The Favourite, Roma, First Reformed, and even Vice, it’s sheer lunacy to pick Green Book. Then again, the best original screenplay of the year (Eighth Grade) wasn’t even nominated, so the category was flawed from the beginning.
The stage. The giant border (which looked suspiciously like Donald Trump’s hair) that dominated the entire stage was garish and unsightly. It also made the entire stage look incredibly small, as everyone and everything gracing the stage looked as if they were about to be swallowed by a huge golden-mouthed whale. Last year’s dazzling stage was an absolute triumph. This year’s was actually rather unsettling.
Glenn Close loses for the seventh time. In the most conflicting and bittersweet moment of the evening, we were all subjected to watching Close go home empty-handed, yet again. As happy as most of us were for Olivia Colman’s unexpected but entirely deserved victory, it meant poor Close now takes the record for the actor with the most nominations without a win. After winning awards at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, and SAG Awards, you’d have to think Close likely thought she’d finally be getting her overdue Oscar. We were all predicting it. It seemed like one of the few locks of the evening. But, alas, she was devastatingly handed her seventh loss. If she can get there for the eighth time, one would have to think she has it in the bag. Can someone please start production on a film adaptation of the Sunset Boulevard musical immediately?
Bohemian Rhapsody wins the most awards of the night. The fact this film will stand as the most awarded of the 91st Academy Awards is frustrating and baffling. Malek’s victory in Best Actor was to be expected, especially after the precursor success he experienced. It took both Sound categories, which wasn’t a huge surprise but goes to show most Academy voters have no idea what constitutes excellence in either sound editing or mixing. A huge portion of the sound work on Bohemian Rhapsody was merely re-working the music of Queen into a piece of cinema. How you call that the best work of the year is beyond me. But its win for Best Film Editing is really quite disgraceful and embarrassing. Maybe it was just the fact the film had the most editing that clinched its victory. With frenetic and messy cuts in practically every scene, the film is garishly edited and this victory is one of the worst of the evening. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact a film directed by an accused pedophile now has four Academy Awards to its name. Charming.
Green Book wins Best Picture. In a year of several spectacular cinematic achievements, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the generic, feel-good crowd-pleaser that made white people feel good about racism, just like it did back in 1989. The Academy proved they could fall back on their old ways and award their top prize to the film that tackled the serious issue of race but handled it without the subtlety, authenticity, and sheer power of so many other films in its ranks. Films like BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Hate U Give, Sorry to Bother You, and Widows. At a time when racial tensions in the U.S. are on a knife’s edge, the Academy were spoilt for choice with films that perfectly captured the black experience, both past and present.
But no. They went with the film that presented blackness by virtue of fried chicken and Little Richard. Just the sight of the predominantly white Green Book contingent on-stage tells you everything you need to know about this film and why its victory is really quite pathetic. A white director. White screenwriters. White producers. And a white male saviour at the forefront of the narrative. These are the guys responsible for a film about an African-American’s experience in the segregated Deep South during the 1950s. Only in Hollywood, right?
Maybe it was expecting too much of the Academy to pick one of the nominees that were far more challenging for their audiences. After several years of awarding such films, maybe voters were just exhausted at choosing the film people were telling them they “had” to vote for. They went with something that entertained them, maybe even educated them, and ultimately made for an entirely breezy watch. The movie is entirely palatable and that’s the easiest path to winning a preferential ballot. We’ll never know if Green Book scored enough #1 votes to win outright. Part of me suspects it likely did. But even if it didn’t, clearly it had enough love from voters who didn’t decree it their top pick.
The notion of declaring something the “best” example from the subjective art form that is cinema has always been fraught with problems. But the title of Best Picture should stand for something more than just the film that people enjoyed the most. I’ve said time and time again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking and enjoying a film like Green Book. That’s its intended purpose. But calling a piece of fluff like this the greatest cinematic achievement of the year is nonsense and downright infuriating. I can’t fathom future generations watching this film and agreeing with the Academy’s decision. In retrospect, this year is going to look all sorts of wrong.
The Best Picture victory of Green Book makes history for all the wrong reasons. It’s only the fifth film in history to win Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director (remember when that snub was a curse for a film’s campaign?). Ironically enough, one of those other four films is Driving Miss Daisy, a film which shares many attributes with this year’s winner. It’s only the third film in history to win Best Picture without a nomination at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards for Best Ensemble. And it stands as the first film in history to win Best Picture without either of these nominations. It’s clear we can no longer rely on stats and rules to predict the Academy Awards. We’re in a new age now where literally anything goes.
Look, I’m well aware this is just an awards show and it means very little in the grand scheme of life. The great films that lost to Green Book will continue to be great, and some will likely be even further elevated after being overlooked by the Academy. History often shines brightest on the films that lost at the Oscars, as opposed to those that were victorious. But after several years of truly stellar choices for Best Picture, it’s hugely disappointing to see the Academy downgrade itself with such a shallow and uninspired choice. And, after predicting the wrong film for Best Picture five years in-a-row, maybe it’s time I give up trying to foresee this category.
As I said last year, always remember this fact; if your favourite film or performance or technical work didn’t win this year, that doesn’t mean a damn thing. If it’s the best in your eyes, failing to win a prize like an Academy Award can never change that. This is all just a big game, and these were the lucky ones who played that game the best and ultimately came out on top.
Until we meet again next year…