There may have been enough good news stories to appease the majority at this year’s Academy Awards, but for many the denial and overall ignorance of many of the year’s truly triumphant films will leave a sour taste on the tongue.
However, the Academy progressed in one sense this year, and fantastically so. In the acting categories, three of the four winners were from minority backgrounds, with lead actor Rami Malek becoming the first actor of Egyptian heritage to take home the award. And in a tight lead actress race, Olivia Colman’s turn as a hysterical Queen Anne was an upset, if not a deserving one. Unfortunately, Glenn Close will have to wait for her Oscar – that’s an unmatched seven nominations with zero wins now for the veteran actress.
The two supporting actor winners, Mahershala Ali and Regina King, were worthy winners too. King’s understated performance is made all the more impressive considering that she fought off the likes of Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, as well as six-time nominee Amy Adams. As for Ali, who starred in the controversial Green Book, it’s his second Oscar in three years, having quietly cemented himself as one of the finest actors of his generation.
The big individual winner on the night however was Alfonso Cuaron, who picked up best cinematography, best foreign language film, and best director for Roma. And in what was probably the biggest cheer of the night, led by a jubilant Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee finally got his first Oscar alongside his co-writers David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott for best adapted screenplay for the intense satire BlacKkKlansman. Moments like these, celebrations of the vast colour of the film industry, were the most enjoyable parts of the Oscars.
But it was the best picture, and best original screenplay, wins for Green Book that will overshadow these fleeting moments of tearjerking wonder. As is often the case, the conclusion of the Oscars undoes the sporadic moments of sparkling clarity scattered throughout the evening. Looking at some of the nominees in the fight this year, Green Book surely must’ve been a winner by default, the third or fourth choice of many voters who couldn’t agree on an overriding winner. It’s not that Green Book is awful (in fact, I enjoyed it very much), but there’s a difference between being a good film and being supposedly the film of the year. The film’s leads, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen give accomplished performances, with the contrast of their characters providing a wonderful point of convergence. But the film’s clumsy handling of race, too strong in its broad strokes, not to mention the litany of controversies that have haunted its awards season campaign, make it a problematic winner of cinema’s highest honour.
The other oddity was the night’s overall winner Bohemian Rhapsody, which took home four Oscars. Alongside Malek’s best actor win, the Queen biopic picked up best sound mixing, best sound editing, and by some huge blunder, best editing. These wins become even sillier, considering how badly The Favourite and A Star Is Born were overlooked. Between them they picked up just two awards – Colman’s best actress and best original song for ‘Shallow’, the latter of which was deservedly always going to win. These two films in particular are the big disgraces on the night in terms of snubs; had either of these picked up best picture I would have been very satisfied.
It was great to see Black Panther pick up three awards, with two of them coming for best costume design and best production design for Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler respectively. One of the startling facts to come out of the evening was that only three black women have ever won Oscars outside of the acting and music categories – more alarming was that Carter and Beachler were two of them. The third Oscar for Black Panther was for best original score, with Ludwig Goransson taking home the award. Goransson is known for his work with another avatar of black culture, having produced all three of Childish Gambino’s albums as well as his seminal track ‘This Is America’.
And of course, despite strong competition from Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Incredibles 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took home best animated feature. This brilliant animation from Sony, Columbia, and Marvel nailed its comic book aesthetic with fresh fervour. This Oscar win will only help to solidify an inevitable legacy.
Overall, one can argue that we could put the disappointing aftertaste down to the impossibility of being able to please everyone. Naturally, not every great film can be a big winner on the night. But despite the few moments of justified glory and the celebration of diversity, the Academy has fallen down in some really obvious categories. They’ve come a long way since #OscarsSoWhite but there’s still work to be done.