Some Comments on the 2019 Academy Award Winners

So the winners of the 2019 Academy Awards were announced last night with the usual pomp and circumstance and gorgeous gowns, but without the usual host, since the guy they picked disqualified himself due to homophobic remarks and bad behaviour. Not that the host was missed, at least not by me, we simply had the presenters making the more or less funny jokes. And without the lengthy opening monologue and jokey interludes, the ceremony went a lot quicker than usual. But then, I’m probably the odd Oscar viewer who would be perfectly happy if the ceremony was just the announcement of the winners, the thank you speeches and the “In Memoriam” segment with none of the other stuff. In talking of the “In Memoriam” segment, there were again some very notable omissions, though at least they included Stan Lee and Bruno Ganz.

I already weighed in on the very lacklustre finalists here. Compared to what might have been, the 2019 Oscars were actually pretty good. With one exception: The 2019 Oscar for Best Picture went to Green Book, a movie absolutely no one except for the Academy in its infinite wisdom seemed to like. Thus, Green Book joins the ranks of the “What the hell were they thinking?” Oscar winners along with the likes of Crash, Argo, Spotlight, The King’s Speech, Driving Miss Daisy (Hell, Green Book is basically “Driving Dr. Donald Shirley”), Oliver, The Hurt Locker, Chicago, The Greatest Show on Earth, etc…Some people would also include The Artist in this list, but I quite liked the film and IMO it’s one of the better Best Picture winners of the past ten years.

The critics agree as well. At The Guardian, Catherine Shoard declares that the Best Picture win for Green Book undermined an otherwise fine and diverse Oscar night. Also at The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw claims that even the highly deserved wins for Olivia Colman, Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuarón cannot erase the sting of mediocre films like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody winning big. And at Der Spiegel, Andreas Borcholte agrees that Green Book was the wrong winner and that pretty much every other movie would have been better, even Bohemian Rhapsody.

When I talked about the backlash against Green Book with a friend today, they said, “But why? It sounds like a pretty interesting film and it’s even based on a true story. Besides, racism in the US is an important subject and everybody wanted more diversity at the Oscars, so why does no one like that movie?”

And that exactly is the problem. Because there is a good story hidden inside Green Book, it’s just not the story the movie chose to tell. Dr. Donald Shirley seems to have been a fascinating man, who was completely misrepresented in the film to the point that his family was furious. The history of the real Green Book is fascinating as well and will soon become the subject of a documentary film. And if you want to see what a Green Book looks like, the digital collection of the New York Public Library has the 1950 edition online.

But what Green Book did is take all this fascinating and little known (at least to me – it may be different for Americans) history and turns it into a mediocre and old-fashioned movie that is elevated by the performance of its stars. And note that absolutely no one has a problem with Mahershala Ali winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Donald Shirley (though many, including me, feel that Mahershala Ali should have been nominated for Best Actor rather than Best Supporting Actor). What has so many people upset is the movie itself as well as the behaviour of everybody else involved except for Mahershala Ali and Linda Candellini. Basically, the screenwriter – the son of the real life driver of Dr. Donald Shirley – has been accused of misrepresenting his subject and of making islamophobic remarks (which is particularly dicey because Mahershala Ali is Muslim), the director has been accused of sexual misconduct and co-star Viggo Mortensen uttered the N-word in an interview. Yasmin Jeffery sums up the controversy about Green Book at ABC News.

The problems were also made apparent in the thank you speeches of the production team, after Green Book won Best Picture. There was no mention of Dr. Donald Shirley or of Victor Hugo Green, who created the real life Green Book. Instead, someone – director, screenwriter, producer, I’m not sure, a white guy at any rate – said that the film started ith Viggo (Mortensen) and that without him there wouldn’t have been a film. The guy finally remembered that there were other actors in the film and briefly thanked Mahershala Ali and Linda Candellini, before starting to gush about Viggo Mortensen again. Which explains not just where the makers of Green Book are coming from, but also why so many people are upset.

Especially since there were two excellent movies with black stars – my personal favourites Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman – nominated this year as well as another excellent movie with a black cast – If Beale Street Could Talk – that wasn’t even nominated. Though all three got to take home Oscars as well. Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk, Spike Lee finally won a long overdue Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, though he lost Best Director to Alfonso Cuarón.

And Black Panther walked home with three highly deserved Oscars for Best Production Design for Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Best Costume Design for Ruth E. Carter and Best Original Score for Ludwig Goransson, the first Oscars for a Marvel movie ever. Even better is that costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler were the first black women ever to win in their respective categories and two of only three black women to ever win Oscars for anything other than acting. So let’s give them a hearty “Wakanda Forever!” Superhero movies also scored another highly deserved Oscar, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won Best Animated Feature, beating out the latest offering from Pixar who have been dominating this category since its inception.

Now there have long been plenty of superheroes (or rather the actors who play them) present at the Oscars – this year, I spotted Nick Fury, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Ant-Man, Aquaman, Black Panther, Shuri, Okoye, Queen Ramonda, Eric Killmonger, Valkyrie, Aleta Ogord, Rocket Raccoon or rather his voice, a very pregnant Jessica Jones, Nova Prime, Batman and Lois Lane (who disturbingly seem to have morphed into Dick and Lynn Cheney) and Laura Barton (who, we’re happy to see, seems to have survived the Thanos snap, though she had the bad judgement to take a role in Green Book) and probably others I have forgotten. But even though superheroes are welcome as presenters (and in the case of Hugh Jackman a.k.a. Wolverine as host), so far they haven’t been welcome as Oscar nominees and winners. That is finally changing, even though the wins for Black Panther were only in technical categories (but in technical categories that are not special effects – which bafflingly went to First Man – and make-up, which equally bafflingly went to Vice).

But in spite of the disappointing Best Picture winner, there are several encouraging signs that the Oscars are changing for the better. For starters, both presenters and winners were a lot more diverse this year. Three of the four acting awards went to people of colour with two Muslim men, Mahershala Ali and Rami Malek respectively, winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Mahershala Ali is also only the second actor of colour ever to win two Oscars – the other is Denzel Washington. What even more encouraging is that the various “behind the camera” categories, which used to be dominated by white guys in tuxedos, have also become a lot more diverse. The team which won for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse included two men of colour and a woman, Best Animated Short and Best Documentary Short both went to women director teams, including at least one woman of colour (and Best Documentary Short was won by a film about menstruation), while Best Documentary Feature was won by a man and woman of colour. Okay, so it was a mountaineering film, but then my complete and utter lack of interest in the mountaineering film genre doesn’t mean that everybody shares it. And since short films are a training ground for future feature film directors, wins for women and people of colour in those categories mean that things are gradually changing, even if we still have to roll our eyes at the likes of Green Book and Bohemian Rhaspody. Never mind that 2019 marks the second Best Director win in a row for a Mexican director, after Guillermo del Toro winning last year. Finally, we also got several people, both presenters and winners, speaking Spanish on stage

Talking of Bohemian Rhapsody, in the end it took home four Oscars, one more than Black Panther and Green Book (which also took Best Original Screenplay in addition to Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor). In addition to Rami Malek winning Best Actor, a choice no one quibbles with, even if they don’t much care for the movie itself, Bohemian Rhapsody also won Oscars for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing (which it probably deserved) and Film Editing, where I’m not so sure. And having Mike Myers and Dana Carvey a.k.a. Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World introduce the film was a nice touch.

The highly touted fourth reiteration of A Star Is Born only got to take home one Oscar in the end, the award for Best Original Song. And though I still believe that the film is completely superfluous, because the story has already been told four fucking times (honestly, the whole “based on the 1976 motion picture, based on the 1954 motion picture, based on the 1937 motion picture” citation, when the screenplay nominees were called out, was ridiculous) and the sole surviving previous born star, Barbara Streisand, was even on stage as a presenter, I do feel that Lady Gaga’s win for Best Original Song was deserved, because it is a nice song and the live performance she and Bradley Cooper gave was great. Though personally, I would have preferred the sweet little country song from The Ballad of Buster Scraggs to win.

The equally highly touted and equally superfluous Vice a.k.a. “Let us contemplate the American navel – again” only went home with a single Oscar for Best Make-up. Considering that the various acting nominations for Vice seemed to be of the “confusing make-up and rubber suits (unless worn by Doug Jones, that is) with acting” sort, I guess it probably deserved that award. Though I for one found this year’s Best Make-up finalists very lacklustre anyway.

The also very highly touted The Favourite got to go home with one Oscar as well, the Best Actress Award for Olivia Colman. Now I like Olivia Colman a lot and she was actually my favourite in this category, though like everybody else, I expected Glenn Close to win. Olivia Colman also delivered a charming thank you speech, probably the best of the evening along with Spike Lee’s very political speech.

And then there was the last highly touted film, namely Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which took home three Oscars for Best Foreign Language Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Director. Now Roma is one film where I deviate from what appears to be the majority opinion, because I find it massively overrated. In fact, I find the outpouring of love for Roma utterly baffling. I guess Hollywood occasionally needs the reminder that their domestic servants are indeed human beings. I also have issues with the whole concept of domestic service (long story, but I had a brief brush with the previously to me totally unknown concept at the age of 10, which has clouded my views ever since), which influences my view of Roma. As for its three Oscars, it probably deserved Best Cinematography, because the movie is beautifully shot. For Best Director, I would have preferred Spike Lee and Yorgos Lanthimos, but I can live with Alfonso Cuarón.

As for Best Foreign Language Picture, both Capernaum and Shoplifters are vastly better, but Hollywood isn’t interested in stories about street kids and refugees. And the win for Roma at least means that the dreadful German nominee Werk ohne Autor, which is inexplicably known as Never Look Away in the US, got to go home empty-handed. Because we already had a bio pic denounced by its subject winning Best Picture, so we don’t need another bio pic vehemently denounced by its subject winning Best Foreign Language Picture. The real story of Gerhard Richter and his aunt Marianne Schönfelder may be found here BTW (trigger warning for discussion of Nazis murdering disabled people). And besides, Alfonso Cuarón snagging two Oscars (Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography) from under the nose of Werk ohne Autor is payback of sorts for director Floriam Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others robbing Guillermo del Toro’s vastly superior Pan’s Labyrinth of its deserved Oscar.

Initially, I thought that I wouldn’t have had an issue with Werk ohne Autor winning Best Cinematography. But the cinematographer is at least party responsible for the creepy sexualised scene of attractive young women in silky underwear getting gassed to death by evil Nazi doctors, so I’m glad he didn’t win.

And as was only to be expected, the German cultural press completely failed to notice that one of the Best Picture nominees, Black Panther, has a German castmember, Ugandan German actress Florence Kasumba, who plays Ayo, second in command of the Dora Milaje. Florence Kasumba has just been cast as a regular in the long-running German crime drama Tatort opposite Maria Furtwängler Burda, which makes me want a crossover now.

So let’s talk fashion. There were a lot of gorgeous gowns and tuxedos seen on the red carpet and on stage. A selection may be found here, though they have forgotten Michelle Yeoh’s gorgeous gown, which is truly worthy of an Empress of the Universe (though Philippa the Merciless seems to prefer black leather). Pink seems to be making a comeback and several women were wearing what appeared to be variations of Jodie Comer’s pink fluffy gown from Killing Eve. Sometimes it works (Kacey Musgraves, Gemma Chan), sometimes it doesn’t (Maya Rudolph, whose dress looked as if it had been made from her grandma’s curtains). Nowadays, movies and TV shows rarely start fashion trends like the Letty Lynton gown, worn by Joan Crawford in an otherwise forgettable movie, did in the 1930s or the wardrobe worn by the stars of Dynasty did in the 1980s, so it’s interesting when one does. And do I detect the lingering influence of the Letty Lynton gown in the Killing Eve gown?

There were a few examples of “what the hell were they thinking?” fashion. I’ve already mentioned the curtain gown. The red latex gown worn by Rachel Weisz is another example. It’s not a bad gown at all, but what’s with the red latex bib? Okay, so if she accidentally pours a drink on herself at the after-party, she can just wash it off, but it’s still a very strange look. And while I applaud several male actors and presenters going for something different than the standard black tuxedo (as Helen Mirren said about her and Jason Momoa’s attire, “This proves that a middle aged English woman and a Hawaiian god can both wear pink), the camouflage shorts worn by Pharrell Williams made me wish for the boring tuxedos.

But the best outfit of the Oscar night was the tuxedo gown worn by a gentleman named Billy Porter, whom I admit I have never heard of before I saw him on the red carpet. It starts as a normal black tuxedo and then flares out into a ball gown at the waist. Absolutely gorgeous and yet another sign that the Oscars are changing.

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6 Responses to Some Comments on the 2019 Academy Award Winners

  1. JJ says:

    Adam-Troy Castro, who is a huge cineaste and quite accomplished at critique of movies, made a great sardonic comment about the Oscar win for Green Book:

    https://twitter.com/adamtroycastro/status/1100035000152588288

  2. Wikipedia has a long list of historical inaccuracies for Bohemian Rhapsody. One wonders, if Mercury were alive, would he denounce it?

    • Cora says:

      It’s very possible that he would, considering how inaccurate much of Bohemian Rhapsody is. Though the surviving members of Queen seem to be okay with the movie.

      I also imagine that Dick Cheney is not a fan of Vice, though he is fairer game than Dr. Donald Shirley or Gerhard Richter. And who knows how Queen Anne would feel about The Favourite?

  3. I love your Oscar comments each year, just like your impressions on genre awards and nominations. If you haven’t see them yet, author Genevieve Valentine always has amazing reviews of the fashion side of these glamour shows. Link to this year’s impression: https://www.genevievevalentine.com/2019/02/red-carpet-rundown-the-2019-oscars/

    • Cora says:

      Glad you like the Oscar and other awards posts. Also thanks for the link to Genevieve Valentine’s post, which I indeed hadn’t seen yet. I like her comparison of Maya Rudolph’s gown to a bedspread even better than mine to curtains, especially since I had a bedspread very much like that as a kid.

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