Last night, we were treated to one of the most memorable ceremonies in recent years. Rebounding from a string of controversies and setbacks, the show did indeed go on – and turned out to be surprisingly good. Without a host, the show flowed much more smoothly and we were spared a good deal of annoying jokes. The spotlight was instead turned on the movies themselves: all eight Best Picture nominees seemed relatively tied, but in the end it was Green Book that surprisingly edged past the competition – not without controversy of its own. There were some shocking snubs – both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close were defeated by Olivia Colman of The Favourite (Colman had, in my opinion, one of the best and most genuine acceptance speeches of the night). There were well-deserved wins: Spike Lee, writer of BlacKkKlansman, was honored with the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; Alfonso Cuaron took home the Oscars for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography, all for his semi-autobiographical film Roma; Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was honored with the Best Animated Feature award; Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody earned him the award for Best Actor.
The presenters did a fantastic job keeping the show moving along, but each still got ample time to shine: whether that was Jason Momoa in a pink velvet suit, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson representing the upcoming Marvel movie Captain Marvel, or a whimsically attired Melissa McCarthy. There were some missteps – Awkwafina and John Mulaney’s presentation of Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short was particularly cringe-worthy, and there was a bit of difficult with the Makeup and Hairstyling team from Vice, who didn’t seem at all prepared for their victory (which, considering they were only up against two other nominees, neither of whom had any chance of winning, is a little peculiar). And the performances were not all the best: I’m not particularly fond of either Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper, so having to watch them cuddle up together while singing “Shallow” was rather boring – similarly, the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack is not even remotely comparable to that of the original, so “The Place Where Lost Things Go” could not be helped by the impressive vocals of Bette Midler. And as for “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”, well…the less said about that, the better.
In the end, it was Julia Roberts who presented the final award, for Best Picture, and it was the cast and crew of Green Book who took the stage to accept that award, much to the surprise of critics who had predicted a clean sweep for Roma. Personally, I was expecting The Favourite to win, and was shocked by the result: Green Book has been clouded in controversy these past few months. Spike Lee even got up and tried to leave the theater after the movie was announced Best Picture, and his anger is in some ways understandable: the Academy does seem to still be stuck in a thirty-year old worldview, especially when it comes to race relations and diversity. It’s a shame, because up to that point we had seen an astonishing number of people of color take the stage to accept various awards, including Ruth E. Carter, the first African-American woman to win the Best Costume Design Oscar; and Regina King, who was Best Supporting Actress for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Presenters had included civil rights activist John Lewis, sports legend Serena Williams, and comedian Trevor Noah. After so much progress was achieved last night, to suddenly find ourselves talking about this setback is pretty disheartening. And I say this with all possible respect for Green Book, which is a very good movie, and whose stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, are both terrific actors (Ali even won the Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar last night, also for Green Book). It seems inevitable now that every time Best Picture is called, the entertainment industry collectively rolls its eyes: that’s no surprise. What is somewhat surprising is how willfully blind the Academy must have been, deciding that this was the right choice. Over A Star Is Born, yeah, of course. But over films like BlacKkKlansman, or Roma? No, Green Book probably didn’t earn that win. I would much rather have had Black Panther take the award, to be honest. The progressive superhero movie won just three Oscars, and could have made much more of a positive impact than Green Book.