Oscars recap 2019
- By Mia Sherry
There’s no party like a Hollywood party, and this year's 91st Academy Awards is no exception. Though the road to the Oscars was paved with controversy after controversy, and scuppered with snubs, we got there in the end. If you’re like me, you would have been facing this final summit with trepidation over excitement. To put it bluntly, the nominees this year were a hot mess. And the winners? They left something to be desired. Do yourself a favour, watch the ‘best bits’ reel on youtube and then go on about your day. You’re a good person. You don’t have to sit through three hours of white men patting themselves on the back for being fake-progressive or if you do, have a bottle of wine on hand. You’ll need it. Firstly, let's take a brief overview of the ceremony itself.
After the controversy surrounding Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweets, it was announced that there would be no ceremonial host. While this may have looked like a red flag at first, it actually did the ceremony a world of good. Though I myself was unsure of how the proceedings would unfold without someone to guide us through, it proved to be a lot more enjoyable and hardly noticeable. There were no cringy musical numbers (*cough* Hugh Jackman *cough*) or deadweight chemistry (I’m looking at you, James Franco) and it also meant that the ceremony as a whole flowed a lot smoother than with someone running on stage every five minutes to deliver a horrific one-liner that would have you washing your ears for days afterwards.
And now to the nitty-gritty; the nominees, the winners, and the losers. To kick off the ceremony, (with a frankly hilarious intro from Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) we had Best Supporting Actress. Going to Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk, it was a well deserved win for King, who has been a staple on our screens for years. Beating her contemporaries (Amy Adams for Vice, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone for The Favourite and Marina de Tavira for Roma), she gave a graceful, tear-jerking and heartwarming speech. A moment that particularly stood out was her tearful thank you to her mother in the front row, something that speaks to all of us, no matter the winner. (But Chris Evans chivalrously offering his arm to escort her up the dreaded steps is a close rival).
From there we moved quickly into the more technical side of things. With Makeup and Hairstyling going to Vice (in a category with notable snubs, such as The Favourite and Bohemian Rhapsody) and Costume Design going to Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther (the second African-American woman to ever receive an Academy Award outside of acting), nothing was shaking the boat. Yet.
Then Best Documentary Feature goes to Free Solo, over RBG and Of Fathers and Sons, which feels slightly undeserved when weighted against the latter two. Both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing go to Bohemian Rhapsody, and while I can understand (though begrudgingly) the mixing win, the justification of winning sound editing over the likes of A Quiet Place, First Man or Black Panther alludes me. From there we have Production Design, which deservedly goes to Hannah Beachler (with set decoration by Jay Hart). Both the third woman of colour to win that night, and the third to win overall for something other than acting, it was incredibly moving to watch Beachler thank Ryan Coogler and the whole cast and crew of the ground-breaking Black Panther.
Best Supporting Actor goes to Mahershala Ali for his performance in Green Book. This is where things begin to take a downturn. Firstly, Ali should have been nominated for a Leading Actor award, as he carries the emotional gravitas of the film, and secondly, Green Book really shouldn’t have been nominated at all, but more on that later. Foreign Language Film goes to Roma, which isn’t a surprise considering its incredible success, but there’s still a part of me that mourns the loss on behalf of Cold War and Capernaum. Animated Feature Film goes to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, probably the most uncontested win of the night. With innovative and striking design, as well as brilliant voice-acting and a genuinely well-crafted story, it was a heart-lifting moment for all, and will hopefully usher in more creative and groundbreaking animated features.
In the midst of all this we have entertainment in the form of musical numbers. Opening the ceremony was Adam Lambert and Queen, and it was worth for watching the best and brightest of Tinsel Town stand awkwardly for a two-minute rendition of ‘We Will Rock You’ and trying to clap to the beat with tens of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry on their hands. Then we had Bette Midler performing ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ from Mary Poppins Returns, not the most memorable of songs, but a pleasant enough gap-filler. There was Jennifer Hudson giving a rousing and passionate (if a little flat) rendition of ‘I’ll Fight’ from RBG. What takes the cake was Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s duet of ‘Shallow’ (which went on to claim best song). A fine song, made for the radio, but by God did they give it socks. Sitting uncomfortably close to each other on a piano stool, the vocals were certainly the best of the night, but the blatant and too-intense-for-comfort eye contact completely distracted from the song itself, and threw more fodder into the rumour mill.
Now on to the big ones. The quartet of awards that most people only care about, saved for last; Best Director, Best Picture and Best Leading Actor and Actress. To start with, Best Director. The best nominated-category in my opinion, any nominee would have been a worthy winner. But I want to spare a moment here to think of Spike Lee. A leading figure in the fight for equality and against ingrained racism, as well as a champion of thought-provoking and gut-punching cinema, he has been criminally robbed of an Academy Award many times over. With the powerhouse that is BlacKkKlansman, I, as did many others, thought that this year might have finally been his year for overdue recognition. But it wasn’t. Best Director went to Alfonso Cuarón, which is perfectly acceptable and deserved in its own right, but it’s still a let down to see Lee robbed, and instead handed ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’.
Best Actress goes to Olivia Colman, in probably the most wholesome moment of the night. Giddy and in a state of disbelief, her tears, smiles and jumbled thanks were so perfectly on the nose, and a nice remove from polished speeches or wooden acknowledgements. I laughed with Olivia, I cried with Olivia. I remember the best of our times together from Peep Show, and I also remember the worst of our times (that cliffhanger at the end of season one of Broadchurch, ouch). To see a woman who used to be a cleaner, who is so genuinely down to earth, win the most prestigious of awards was a gift I never knew I needed. And her call of inspiration to all the girls out their practicing their own acceptance speeches was the perfect end to a perfect win. On a lesser note, we had Best Actor go to Rami Malek for his performance as Freddie Mercury. I can’t begrudge Malek the win, it was a tough gig, and he did his best to hold everything up while the production nearly fell to a shambles. That being said, when compared to Christian Bale’s performance as Dick Cheney in Vice, there’s something about Malek’s portrayal that leaves something to be desired. There’s a certain finesse that it lacks, it comes across almost as cheap impression rather than a genuine impersonation. Of course, there’s a degree of overlap with those two that comes with the job of playing a real person, and while Malek’s physical mimicry of the singer was spot on, he lacked the same emotional and psychological understanding of his character that can’t just be excused by the (admittedly) bad writing. When compared to Bale, and his taciturn, morally repugnant Cheney, not only did he have clever and economical dialogue on his side, but he also slipped into mind-set and body of Cheney more easily. He took on the snake-like eyes, the slow, morbid pacing of his speech rather than just copying and pasting an accent, as Malek could be accused of doing. All in all, there was something much more full-bodied and well-rounded about Bale’s performance that Malek simply lacked.
Though I will point out that the nominations for Best Actor were horrendously chosen, blatantly snubbing John David Washington for his masterful performance in BlacKkKlansman, Ethan Hawke for First Reformed or Steve Carrell for Beautiful Boy.
Finally, to the big, big one. Best Picture. The eight films nominated for best picture were a small glance into the brilliant year of filmmaking it's been, notable exclusions including Can You Ever Forgive Me? And If Beale Street Could Talk. This was the one category that no one could pin-down, with a different winner in nearly every other high-profile award. Most bets were on The Favourite or Roma. There was a sense of dread it might go to Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead, it went to Green Book.
In the same year that we had BlacKkKlansman and Sorry To Bother You, the fact that Green Book was even considered is laughable. Nevermind the whirlwind of controversy that followed it every step of the way, as a film itself it doesn’t do much. Sure, it’s formulaically fine, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali act well together, and if this was the 1970s I could understand its nomination. But in the twenty-first century it doesn’t hold up. Its politics are regressive, and while it doesn’t perpetuate a total white-saviour complex, it doesn’t do much to counter that, either. The fact that it actually won is disheartening, if not downright insulting.
So it was a long, hard run to get here. There was the mental toil of the weeks leading up, and then the grueling all-nighter to watch the damn thing, which proved to be an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. And at the end of it, what was there to be gained from it? Mostly, an overwhelming feeling of being disappointed, but not surprised. A word to the Academy: if you want people to take your awards seriously, then don’t give them to a joke.