The History That Was, and Wasn’t, Made: Oscar Recap 2019

E:  Ah, Oscar Monday.  Time for rehashing and recriminations, best and worst dressed lists, and general Monday morning quarterbacking.  Mostly, I found 2019 Oscar telecast either as expected or cooler than expected, though there’s a lot to talk about in this very weird, unstable Oscar year.  I went four for six in the main categories,  neither great nor terrible.  Some of my favorite wins were technical, and most of my favorite speeches came from people who’re not famous.  I am forced to acknowledge that I’m not fashion-forward enough to appreciate Gemma Chan’s dress and I don’t even know what to make of Sarah Paulson’s hideous bubble two-piece making best dressed lists.  And we’ve all discovered that the show’s more than fine without a host – not to mention 40-60 minutes shorter than usual.

It wasn’t a typical opening number, but Queen was pretty fun, right?  Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph rocked their mini-faux-monologue.  The show in general left us wanting more, and that’s so much better than a bloated evening full of obligatory, inconsistent comedy bits.  Did I miss spending 10 minutes in the movie theater down the street, or giving snacks the the audience, or various crazy costume changes?  Nope.  I didn’t.  I love me a good opening monologue, but few can meet the standard set by the likes of Billy Crystal, and pretty much all attempts go on too long.

Instead of a host, we had a bunch of unusually delightful presenter pairings.  Show of hands: who else wants to see comedies staring Awkwafina and John Mulaney, or Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, or Helen Mirren and Jason Momoa?  The pairing were inspired. And let’s not even get started on Melissa McCarthy and Bryan Tyree Henry’s hilarious send up of the costume design nominees.  I can’t get over McCarthy and the hand puppet. (If you haven’t seen The Favourite, I can gift you with the downer tidbit that Queen Anne has seventeen pet rabbits in the film – tragically, one for each pregnancy or child she’d lost – which is the reasoning behind the stuffed bunnies.) Somebody needs to write a script for those two, stat.  Ben Falcone, what do you think?

The celebrities chosen to introduce the Best Picture nominees, on the other hand, were a baffling bunch that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.  Civil rights pioneer Congressman John Lewis lent gravitas to Green Book while The Hate U Give‘s Amandla Stenberg brought a youthful perspective in a very grown up dress.  Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were an absolute delight giving tribute to their Wayne’s World characters and their favorite band.  Trevor Noah was something of a headscratcher stepping in for Black Panther, but certainly hilarious.   I still have no idea what Serena Williams’ connection to A Star is Born might be, but Barbra Streisand’s fandom for BlackkKlansman and her fellow Brooklynite and hat-lover Spike Lee was delightfully unexpected.

And then there were the speeches, and the wins for women who ruled the documentaries and the shorts, not to mention the technical categories.  Not only did Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler become the first African Americans to win their respective categories, they’re actually the first African Americans to be nominated in those categories (although as she mentioned, Ruth’s first nod came for her work with Spike Lee on Malcolm X).  Put them together with Regina King (who thankfully was not sunk by a racist backlash after all) and you have the most black female winners in a single Oscar night.  And unlike the poor Vice make up team (sigh), they used their time so well, thanking the people who mattered most while still managing to say something intensely personal and moving and powerful for the rest of us.

Even with all the wonderful wins I cheered, I’m still stuck on the travesty of Glenn Close losing Best Actress.  Olivia Colman gave an absolutely delightful speech.  She seems like a lovely person, and I’m happy for her.  But Glenn Close! This is going to be looked at as one of the biggest mistakes in Oscar history. I actually saw a backstage interview that Lara Spencer did with Colman during the show.  It was so sweet that you acknowledged Glenn Close in your speech, Spencer smiled.  Well, said Colman, looking down at her Oscar, that’s because this should be hers.

And I’m sorry, but it should be!  Even if you adored Olivia Colman’s child-queen performance (I didn’t), I don’t know how you make the case that she was even the lead actress.  You could absolutely debate if Stone or Weisz were the lead, since their rivalry drives the story, but Colman?  No.  I could have handled Lady Gaga winning (she was so absolutely honest and real) even though I still would have been wrecked for Glenn Close.  But this?  Ugh.

And I want to add that this is not about a partisan, lifelong fandom.  I wanted Glenn Close to win because I saw The Wife.  Now, obviously I find it more poignant that she’s 71, that she’s only been nominated twice in this century, and that she has more nominations than any other actress without a win.  In fact, she has more winless nominations than any living actor.  How many other chances is she possibly going to have, and could any of them be as right as this role?  This win would have been perfect.  It would have honored a screen legend for an enduringly fierce and moving role.

Let’s move to the happy moments before I get to the next big one.  Regina King, YES!  Mahershala Ali, YES!  Hannah Beachler and Ruth Carter, YES!  Spike Lee, YES!  Rami Malek gave a lovely speech for his win, too, and some folks are celebrating last night for being Oscar with a plurality of wining actors of color.   (Malek, as he noted, is the son of Egyptian immigrants; he’s the first Arab American to win best actor.)  Women rocked the short subjects, with teams of women (notable including Asian women) jubilantly taking home both animated and documentary short,  and a husband and wife team winning live action short.  I’m particularly driven to check out documentary short winner “Period. End of Sentence” and find out more about the American high school students who made a profound difference in the lives of impoverished girls in India.  What’s better than art that makes an actual, real world difference?

And yes, I’m super excited that one of my favorite films of the year, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, won for Animated Feature.  It’s such an exciting, innovative film that also tells a terrific diverse story.  Whether you attribute Oscars’s new penchant to diversity to AMPAS’ new members or just to awareness raised by #Oscarssowhite, it’s something to celebrate; an Oscar night that looks more like America than it did before.

Okay, now let’s take on Best Picture.  Green Book versus Roma.   As you know, I totally didn’t call that one.  If I was expecting a surprise at all, it was for Bohemian Rhapsody based on it’s number of early wins.

Let me say, lightly, that I’m annoyed to have misinterpreted the late BAFTA surge: they picked Roma and Olivia Colman, and I chose to follow them in the wrong category.  Sigh.

When he introduced the film, the clearly well-meaning Chef Jose Andre highlighted exactly my problem with Roma, helpful because I’ve been thinking about the movie and working out my response to it all weekend.  He said, and I quote, “This beautiful, intimate film, one that gives a voice to the voiceless, reminds us of the understanding and compassion that we all owe to the invisible people in our lives, immigrants and women who move humanity forward”  Yes, society often ignores women.  Like when it says that 51% of the population aren’t “us.”

And that’s the thing.  I’m not saying that Andre’s a bad person, or Cuaron is a bad person, and I’m not saying that a turn of phrase that a non-English speaker might not even have written makes him an enemy of feminism.  I get that it’s well-intentioned and it’s moving toward the right thing.  (Heck, Andre is an immigrant who fed furloughed federal workers for free, setting up a pop up restaurant during the recent government shut down.  Clearly his heart is in the right place.) What I am saying is that it’s an unconscious, even unintentional attitude that highlights why I ultimately found the film dissatisfying.  While (justly) celebrating the audacity of making a film about an indigenous woman, its fans forget that Roma isn’t Cleo’s story.  Roma is a story told about Cleo, a story that includes Cleo but doesn’t present her interior life.  It’s not a film that gives voice to the voiceless; it’s a film that gives screen time to the voiceless.

Literally, maddeningly, this film does not give us Cleo’s voice, speaking about her own feelings or perspective.  She speaks two entire sentences in the movie about what she feels, and those burst out of her in a moment of pure trauma.  She spends the entire film effacing and erasing herself.  She is so focused on others that she seems unable to  imagine a life outside her servitude, not when wooed by a lover, not at gunpoint, not even while she sobs on a hospital gurney in the face of devastating loss.  I didn’t dislike the movie, but I don’t understand why this facet of it isn’t remarked on more generally.

I totally understand why some people don’t like Green Book.  Their points are valid; the movie is misnamed, and it portrays family history that feels accurate to its writers (especially Tony Lip’s son) but not to Don Shirley’s family.  And I get the whole thing about how cross-cultural or racial friendship stories can feel like it’s the black characters’ job to bring about awareness in the white characters, and I certainly see that’s an offensive stereotype.

It’s a fair critique to say that Green Book is not an #ownvoices story.  I submit that Roma isn’t either.  Perhaps Don Shirley’s voice is not what it should be in Green Book; can anyone really say Cleo’s is?  If it matters that Nick Vallelonga is not African American, then why doesn’t it matter that Alfonso Cuaron is not an indigenous Mexican woman?  If it matters for Green Book, then it should matter for Roma; to deny that truth risks keeping Cleo both invisible and mute.

But. We all respond to art in different ways, and we’re entitled to do that.  Both Roma and Green Book are film that leads with love and compassion, and make the people who like it feel good things.  I love talking about Oscar movies and what they mean, but that means not throwing out movies that don’t fit a particular mold.  I don’t want to throw away Green Book or Roma.  More AMPAS voters responded emotionally and positively to one movie than the other.  It’s a small subset of perhaps unusually well-versed voters,  but that’s all.  It’s subjective.  Neither film is the Triumph of the Will, and I hope those of us who like to talk about our film preferences can remember that.

Anyway.  I always feel bad for frontrunners when they lose, and I feel sorry for Alfonso Cuaron that he’s now won two best director Oscars without winning Best Picture.  That’s kind of sucky and definitely unusual. Maybe he and Ang Lee should start a support group.

Also?  Whatever you think about this year’s show down, let’s be real: the movie that people will remember from this year isn’t Roma or Green Book, it’s Black Panther.  The movie that was the most revolutionary?  Yeah, sorry, Black Panther.   The actual #ownvoices movie?  Black Panther.  After how many decades of black actors and film makers being told they had no international appeal, for this film to take over the world, crushing the box office at home and abroad the way it did?  For it to be beloved by critics and audiences both?  As the man in the Wayfair commercial aptly says, game changer.

Can we wade into less controversial topics and swoon over that “Shallow” duet for a second?  I’m surprised that piano didn’t spontaneously combust.  Perhaps this is how Bradley Cooper got over his stage fright, by ignoring the audience and looking only at Lady Gaga and the piano – and if so I am all for it.

I was less pleased with the normally wonderful Jennifer Hudson, resplendent in a legal robe-inspired gown, and the divine Miss M, rocking a flowered dress I loved until I saw it conformed to my least favorite trend of the night, unlined skirts.  I don’t need to see her thighs through her dress!  She also just over sang a beautiful, gentle song.   JHud falling flat is more of a puzzle; that might be a combination of over-singing and an unimpressive song .  Sorry Diane Warren!

Marc Shaiman did not, after all, complete his EGOT last night, though as expected both Rami Malek and Regina King got half way there, as did someone I didn’t really think about, Lady Gaga, who now has a Grammy and an Oscar.

A few quick notes about fashion: trends of the night were clearly unlined (ie see-through) dresses, the color pink (Jason Momoa, Lisa Bonet, Kiki Layne, Helen Mirren, Kasey Musgraves, Gemma Chan, Angela Bassett, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Paulson, Linda Cardelini,  Julia Roberts), adventurous tuxedos (and even dresses) for men (Billy Porter, Jason Momoa, Chris Evans, Chadwick Bosman, Spike Lee, Stephan James), pants suits for women (Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, Elsie Fisher, Amy Poehler) , capes (Glenn Close, Melissa McCarthy, Gemma Chan, Ruth Carter, Maya Rudolph, Karli Kloss, Amatus Sami-Karim) and textured gowns (Jennifer Lopez, Emma Stone, Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Brie Larson).  Over all it was pretty fun with a lot of risk-taking, and enjoyable to see.

So if you’re out there, tell me what you think!   How’re you feeling about Olivia Colman and Glenn Close, about Green Book and Roma?  Did you enjoy the show?  Miss the host? Pine for Kevin Hart?  Want Queen to rock out for longer?


This entry was posted in TV.

One comment on “The History That Was, and Wasn’t, Made: Oscar Recap 2019

  1. M says:

    “Neither film is the Triumph of the Will…”

    As you later stated, neither film is Black Panther, either. And that a film like Black Panther, while thrown a token nomination, was never considered for the award itself continues to be the reason Oscar is losing audience, and relevance. In a relatively crappy year for movies, Oscar had the chance to overcome their own prejudices. They did that in some areas, but only in ones that they found convenient, and safe. I didn’t watch a minute of the broadcast, didn’t look up who won, and only know because I read this now. If you’d have told me that I’d do that 10-15 years ago, I would have laughed you out of the room. Now? I can’t see it changing.

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