Reacting to the Oscars or: HOW ON EARTH CAN A MOVIE LIKE GREEN BOOK WIN?

In 1990, the Academy Awards gave the Best Picture Oscar to a movie by the name of DRIVING MISS DAISY in what was considered a mild upset over the frontrunner, Oliver Stone’s BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. One of the reasons that many doubted the potential of DRIVING MISS DAISY winning was that its director, Bruce Beresford, was not nominated and at the time, no film had won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination since 1933. The statistics were not in its favor. However, it pulled off the win along with a Best Actress win for Jessica Tandy, an Adapted Screenplay win (where it also beat JULY), and Best Makeup. One of the biggest controversies that year was the snubbing of DO THE RIGHT THING in Best Picture and Best Director for Spike Lee, who did manage an Original Screenplay nomination (that he lost to DEAD POETS SOCIETY, which I mean, I liked that film, but still….)

A lot of critics raged at the time at how the Oscars seemed to ignore what was such a bold and brash movie that was mostly about an African-American community by an African-American filmmaker. With that outrage in mind, could it be that perhaps some voters were swayed to vote for DAISY, a movie about the friendship between a black driver and the white lady he drives around during segregated times in the South, to save face?

I suppose anything is possible. I actually liked DAISY even if I wouldn’t have voted for it, but it was certainly a fairly divided selection amongst film fans. The truth is, the Academy is mostly white and male and older…there is SOME diversity that has recently been added but there still seems to be enough of an old guard that brings down some of the potential for more vibrant selections.

GREEN BOOK winning last night was an eerie symmetry to the DAISY scenario, even down to plot points and missing out on a Director nomination. It is also proof of how negative bias can affect films that are better (which, I get, is still subjective) and that the preferential ballot can allow for winners that would possibly never happen if they just stuck to a simple “the popular vote wins”. Think of the Preferential Ballot as the Electoral College if you will.

Now, I may knock this form of voting a little bit but it did allow for a movie like MOONLIGHT to win while major frontrunner LA LA LAND received a significant amount of backlash that seemed to show a lot of voters must’ve ranked it lower on their lists just to spite it. MOONLIGHT was the first movie to win Best Picture that featured an all-black ensemble and to have a LGBT-theme as a major plot point. However, with this type of ballot voting, it is possible LA LA LAND might have still pulled it off.

GREEN BOOK, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum. It has an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes which, while not a horrible rating, is pretty low by Best Picture standards, especially when most recent winners have been consistently above 90%. You’d have to go back to some of the winners of the early years of Oscars to find films with much lower ratings, but in recent years, movies like FORREST GUMP (77%) and CRASH (74%) prove that sometimes having the right amount of support from the right people is all you need…and those two films managed to win on a popular vote system! I do have to wonder if we might have been spared wins by films like this had this type of voting existed back then. It is very possible.

GREEN BOOK has that status of seeming important, and I certainly don’t want to degrade a film that is making a point about race. The problem is that it is another prime example of a “white savior” movie where white people can go the movies, sit down, and be like “Wow…look how great we are!”

It also doesn’t help that the family and estate of Dr. Shirley has come out against the film as not really portraying him in the light he deserved and that the film has taken liberties with the plot. At my job today, I overheard a couple of people (middle aged white guys I might add) who stated “But that’s Hollywood!” Yes, it IS Hollywood…and sometimes, it can be something to let slide. I mean, BLACKKKLANSMAN took a lot of liberties with its plot but it was still a much better film as it dealt with the topics at hand with drama and humor much more successfully than GREEN BOOK ever achieved…and of course it helped that it was crafted by Spike Lee and not the gruff white man who gave us DUMB & DUMBER and SHALLOW HAL.

I didn’t predict GREEN BOOK to win, even though I knew there was a path in which it easily could. 

-It won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical over THE FAVOURITE. This doesn’t always guarantee Oscar success but the path truly started here.

-What really set off the trajectory was its win at the PGA, which in the past has started the train that led to films like THE KING’S SPEECH overtaking THE SOCIAL NETWORK or last year when THE SHAPE OF WATER managed to win after the race seemed to be forming between THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI and LADYBIRD.

-There was a hurdle in the fact that Peter Farrelly was snubbed for Best Director at the Oscars, which even though this has been a statistic that was overcome by DRIVING MISS DAISY and more recently by ARGO, it seemed like a major hurdle. The big thing is that most of the films that people felt had a pretty good shot at the award had a hurdle:

-ROMA is a Foreign Language film, which has never won a Best Picture Oscar, and it was the first movie to be nominated that is streaming on NETFLIX. It was uncharted territory in some ways, but the immense support for director Alfonso Cuaron and the critical pedigree made it seem like it had the best potential in some ways. It also wasn’t nominated for Best Editing, which has been a surprisingly strong indicator for Best Picture contenders as only two films have won Best Picture without at least getting nominated Editing. Truthfully, the film didn’t exactly require flashy editing so its snub wasn’t that surprising and frankly, I didn’t think that was the biggest hurdle for it to overcome.

-THE FAVOURITE is an interesting case because it tied ROMA for getting the most nominations and managed key nominations in all of the categories where a lot of the other major contenders missed. The biggest problem it had was that it simply wasn’t winning in Picture or Director awards to give it any kind of momentum. The other thing that hurt THE FAVOURITE was perhaps the fact that it was a film led by three women and perhaps the quirkier storytelling motifs and the lesbian angle made some of the more conservative members uncomfortable.

-The same sentiment can be said for BLACKKKLANSMAN as well as it got in everywhere it needed to for key nominations but it simply just wasn’t winning. 

GREEN BOOK benefitted from being a fairly typical paint-by-numbers buddy film while also having an important “message”. It is also seemed like the kind of film that would get a lot of #2 or #3 votes of a Preferential Ballot, which is what I would bet, tipped it over the edge. 

In 2016, the Best Picture was all over the place. Early in the season, SPOTLIGHT was getting a lot of buzz but you also had the commercial and critical success of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (not that it ended up getting any real major wins near the end) and the sudden build of movies like THE REVENANT and THE BIG SHORT. The problem with those latter two movies was that they were incredibly polarizing whereas SPOTLIGHT was a more traditional kind of movie that dealt with a serious issue and was well made on top of it. THE BIG SHORT won the PGA while THE REVENANT won the DGA…there didn’t seem to be an overwhelming amount of passion for either of them. SPOTLIGHT had the advantage of being the perfect top 3 vote getter.

On one hand, the award season has become incredibly predictable to the point where it isn’t fun anymore. However, we always seem to get an acting race or two where there may be some suspense (this year’s Supporting Actress race is the best example), but it does seem like Best Picture is a little more of a dicey endeavor to predict.

One has to wonder what type of response this will cause within the Academy. I am not expecting any crazy kind of procedure changes, but they have responded to controversies in the past with altering their protocols.

In 2009, after there was much uproar that THE DARK KNIGHT, and to a lesser extent, WALL-E, were snubbed for Best Picture in favor of a movie like THE READER, then Academy President Sid Ganis held a press conference that summer in which he announced that they intended to increase the Best Picture race nomination limit from 5 to 10…although now it is a sliding scale in which the nominees get in based on how many number 1 votes they receive, so we could get 7 nominees, 8, 9, or 10….the past couple of years we’ve gotten 9 but this year it was 8. This HAS led to some great films to get in that may not have otherwise (animated efforts like UP or TOY STORY 3) but it still managed to allow weird selections like THE BLIND SIDE or EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE sneak in.I don’t know if they would ever stop doing the Preferential Ballot. It has allowed some good films (SPOTLIGHT), great films (THE SHAPE OF WATER), and masterpieces (MOONLIGHT) to win but the GREEN BOOK win shows how horrific it can be.

As for the rest of the night, the wins for Malek and Ali were pretty much expected (although I was part of the group that was predicting Richard E. Grant over Ali in hopes that maybe the Academy would vote for the best performance and because Ali won two years ago…and the anonymous ballots showed surprising amounts of support for him), but the original favorite in Supporting Actress, Regina King, pulled it off and has become only the second woman to win an acting Oscar without a SAG or BAFTA nod.

Best Actress had some people debating if perhaps the power of Olivia Colman’s tragicomic performance in THE FAVOURITE would pull it off, especially if those weren’t overly invested in the overdue narrative for Glenn Close…not to mention, MANY of the anonymous voter polls showed massive support for Colman…but that can be misleading. Richard E. Grant had the poll tallies but lost to Ali and in previous races, mild favorites like Sylvester Stallone back in 2015 were heavy in the polls but he lost in an upset to Mark Rylance. 

The truth is, I think Glenn Close winning would’ve been deserved not just as a career award but the performance itself was also very good. However, I cannot begrudge Olivia Colman winning. Her performance was truly unique and feels unlike many other Best Actress wins in recent memory. Some do argue that perhaps she is a Supporting character, but I do think that it is more borderline-to-lead. I think it is more ridiculous that Emma Stone was in Supporting when she probably had the most screen time out of the three ladies (Weisz had the least but even she was borderline lead in my eyes). Colman’s presence in this movie was absolutely remarkable; she had a certain command being royalty but there was also this unwieldy and oaf-like quality to it that she seemed to tweak in certain moments that could work for laughs, for tragedy, and for strength. Colman has been quite the popular star in England for years but hasn’t really been known highly to American audiences unless they caught her name in projects like THE NIGHT MANAGER or FLEABAG or already know that she is Claire Foy’s replacement on THE CROWN…which certainly gives her profile an even bigger boost. It is a great year ahead for her and I couldn’t be happier.

I am little bit bewildered by the massive love BLACK PANTHER and BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY received in the tech categories. I feel like both won primarily for the fact that they were popular movies and many voters just checked them off. I can see the merit behind a lot of BLACK PANTHER’s wins but I feel rather pissed about BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY as its Editing and Sound had no business winning, especially the former as it felt quite sloppy and not particularly well done.

The ceremony itself certainly moved by at a fairly swift pace without a host and the slightly truncated song performances. It did seem a little bit harsh though how the cut off some people during speeches and also shut the spotlight off on them…that isn’t as common. They did seem to let Rami Malek speak for what felt like an incredibly long amount of time by comparison. As a whole, I thought the ceremony was also a little boring too…which, I mean, most people always find it boring but I certainly was finding myself more distracted away from watching than normal.

So, that’s that. Pretty soon, certain film websites (some sort of even have the forum posts already) will be posting very early predictions for NEXT YEAR’s Oscars based on early buzz and speculation. Sometimes it can be surprising how early on the trends can be picked up but most of the time, certain films and performances just don’t live up to the hype.

SEE YOU IN 2020!! (well…for the Oscars I mean…I will still be posting obviously…)

 

 

 

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