Oscar Run 2019: Final Reflections

Well, another Oscar season has drawn to a close. Since Melanie and I don’t have cable or use a digital tuner to be able to watch live TV, last year we started what has become a yearly Oscar tradition. We check into a local hotel for the night, pick up some snacks, and kick back to enjoy the ceremony.

And, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Oscars. Yes, there were moments that were awkward and uncomfortable, moments that made me cringe. And yes, I was less than thrilled with some of the winners – many of the winner, if I’m honest. But even though I don’t agree with all of the decisions made by the Academy, I love this yearly celebration of an art form that has meant so much to me down through the years.

With all the hoopla about trying (and failing) to find a host, I thought it all actually worked out pretty well. I personally love the energy and personal touch that a host can give the Oscars, but without a host, the producers were able to keep things moving and bring the ceremony in at just over three hours. I do think one consequence of this move was the feeling that everyone was rushing through the presentations, the speeches, and the montages. Not the end of the world, but I do think a host can provide a needed breather in the midst of a long string of awards.

I did cringe when Queen opened the ceremony with a medley. Bohemian Rhapsody was my least favorite film among all of the Oscar nominees, and while the songs may have been appropriate to an awards ceremony, it did go on for way too long. It also made me worry that this slipshod, incompetently made rock biopic that was designed to stroke the egos of the surviving members would end up winning Best Picture. Thankfully, that didn’t occur, but I did find it disheartening that it won the awards it did – making it the film with the most Oscar wins for the night.

The rest of the musical numbers were fine, though like so much else during this awards ceremony, they all felt rushed. I wish they would have convinced Emily Blunt to sing her song from Mary Poppins Returns – I’m not a huge Bette Midler fan. It also felt a little incomplete, having performances of every song except Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Star” from Black Panther (from what I was able to read, he didn’t feel as if he had enough time to put together top-notch presentation of the song).

I think the true highlight of the evening was watching Spike Lee finally get his Academy Award. I am sad that they gave it to him for screenplay – that seems to be the only award that the Academy is willing to give African American filmmakers and it is well past time for an African American director to finally win the Oscar for Best Director. Still, watching the unadulterated joy with which Lee accepted the award (and jumped up and hugged Samuel L. Jackson) was infectious. His speech was brilliant – and as fiercely political as ever – and I hope this help him build momentum to get more films made.

It was also exciting to see African American women win for the first time in Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Feature, we had the the first win for an African American director of an animated feature. While it is extremely depressing to realize that it’s taken us 91 years to get there, these are still wins to be celebrated.

I would have like to see If Beale Street Could Talk win more awards, but I was extremely happy that Regina King won for Best Supporting Actress. It was a delightful surprise to see Olivia Coleman win Best Actress for The Favourite (that film’s only win), and her speech was definitely one of the most delightful moments of the ceremony. On a quieter note, I was really happy to see First Man win the award for Best Visual Effects – something that I did not see coming at all.

While Roma wasn’t my favorite film out of the nominees, I can certainly respect its artistry and don’t begrudge it any of its three awards. I also really appreciated Alfonso Cuarón’s speeches about the role of artists in society – to make the invisible visible and to make those who are unseen seen and heard. They were beautiful sentiments.

But at the end of the day, it was Green Book’s win for Best Picture that was the gut punch at the end of a very long awards season. It’s a film that is designed to make white liberals feel good, pretending to address racism while simultaneously indulging in racist tropes. Peter Farrelly’s speech was a saccharine bit of “all we need to do is realize we’re really all the same” nonsense that helps perpetuate systemic inequity and institutional racism. And the real insult is that this regressive film won in the same year that Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins both made incredible films that deal with the complexities of race in more honest and interesting ways.

So yes, I still love the Oscar and thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony, even if one of the worst films of the year ended up winning Best Picture (the only saving grace is that it wasn’t Bohemian Rhapsody). The last few Best Picture winners have been much better (Moonlight winning in 2017 is still one of my favorite wins ever), and I hope that next year’s crop of nominees ends up being a better batch.

And I hope that we don’t have another Green Book win on our hands.

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