Does Anyone Really Watch These?
Academy Awards 2019
While I love movies I have to admit that I don't bother watching award shows. Once you've seen a few of them you realize that most of the people voting for these things (the "Academy" or whoever is behind this or that award) is a bunch of old, white dudes that largely prefer sedate period dramas that reinforce how awesome it is to be an old, white dude. Those times where something outside this genre of films wins it's usually because the Academy is trying to make a statement (and invariably a poorly thought out statement, such as, "we're not as racist as you might thing, so here's a film about how white people solved racism"). To say the Academy is out of touch with the kinds of films I like to watch is an understatement.
Now, sure, I will watch anything, and I've seen a number of Academy Award winners over the years, but it's always because it was about a subject I wanted to see and not because it had just won an award. I don't look at the covers for movies (or their images on NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).) and think, "oh, that won such-and-such award? Man, I have to see that now." More likely the Academy likes one kind of film (boring dramas) while I like something else (usually sci-fi or superhero flicks) and we don't see eye-to-eye on what constitutes a "good" movie. Maybe the production design, or acting, or writing on a film was great, but if it's about a subject I have no interest in I'm not going to care if it's up for 10 awards or not. And since that's 95% of everything that gets nominated, I tend to avoid award shows.
With that said, what did I think of this year's winners? Well, for starters, I didn't see most of them. I realize that Roma, the new Alfonso Cuaron, was available to watch on Netflix, but I didn't get around to it because (a) it was in Spanish and (b) a film about a Mexican family in the 1970s didn't speak to me. I'm sure it's a lovely movie, but it's not a subject I particularly care about. Now, if the family is then attacked by a chupacabra or something I'm all in at that point.
And then there's a movie like Green Book, an Oscar-bait film through and through. This is a movie about how a white person taught a black person how to be black, and it's also a complete falsehood based on a book written by the son of the white person featured in this movie. Sure, maybe the film was well directed and well written, and the actors in it are generally great, but there is no way this movie deserved to win over BlackkKlansman or, hell, even Black Panther (and, yes, we'll address the falsehoods in BlackkKlansman shortly).
The fact that all three of these movies were nominated for Best Picture but then Green Book won just shows the Academy's built-in bias and need to over-correct at play. "Let's nominate a bunch of movies from minorities so people think we're open minded. Then when we pick a winner that in no way challenges our views, people won't judge us poorly." For all intents Green Book feels like Driving Miss Daisy, another film about white people solving racism (and, spoiler, it's awful). I've read enough about Green Book by now to know I have no need to watch it (it's not about an evil book that summons the dead, for starters) and if that makes me seem closed minded, so be it. I can survive not watching this Oscar-winning garbage.
So what about the movies I did see this year and the categories they won for? Let's go look at those in more detail:
Best Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
This movie sucks. I've already reviewed Bohemian Rhapsody before so we don't have to get into too much detail there. In short, it's a well produced movie but it neither tells a good story about Queen nor do it work as a band film, failing to give us enough of the music from the band to be worth listening to the facile story. There's good material deep down in the flick but it fails to solidify into a satisfying whole in any way. And, as I noted last time, a film called "Bohemian Rhapsody" that fails to play the title track even one time through truly has its priorities wrong.
Clearly the movie wasn't Best Picture material, and yet it was nominated for it all the same. Why? Well, probably some of the Academy nominated it because, for some incomprehensible reason, it made a lot of money. A lot of people turned out in theaters to see a film about Queen, and even a bad movie about the band is still a decent enough time on a boring weekend. A lot of Queen fans likely turned out for the film and the Queen fans in the Academy voted for it because it's Queen!
Then there's the sneaky part of my brain that says some people in the Academy voted for the film because it would make the organization look more open minded. Freddy Mercury was a famous, LGBTQ icon. Nominating a film about him makes the Academy seem like it's not just a bunch of old, white guys. And hey, I'm all for inclusion and if that was their goal then great! I just wish they could have found a better movie to nominate for this than Bohemian Rhapsody because, damn, does this movie ever blow.
That said, the best part of the movie was Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury. Although he was hobbled by a terrible set of fake teeth (that gave him a weird, donkey mouth), his performance was still amazing in the movie. He was certainly in it as Freddy Mercury, a larger than life figure that the actor embodied. Whatever my qualms with the film might be, I had no issue with the actor.
So yes, I think they award was well deserved (certainly more so than Christian Bale in Dick Cheney cosplay or yet another award for Green Book). Maybe next time Malek can actually get cast in a good movie to use his talents for even better effect.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
See, this is what I'm saying. Green Book is a movie about a white dude befriending a black dude and teaching the black person how to be more black (by enjoying fried chicken and soul music -- this film is deeply racist), and the black person is the supporting character! What the hell is that, guys?!
Instead let's look over at Adam Driver in BlackkKlansman. This was an actor that was deep into his role and the film itself isn't troubling in the way Green Book is. Now, sure, Driver's character is basically a fictitious, a made up version of a real person with all the details (and even their religious upbringing) changed. While that's not the best (although we'll get into the down-and-dirty of that in a moment), I do think Driver was well into the role. Whatever changes Spike Lee made to the source material it doesn't cause me to question the film and the message the movie is conveying to me.
I don't even like Adam Driver all that much as an actor (Kylo Ren sucks, guys), but I think his performance was fantastic here. And if I can think that about an actor I really don't like, you know his performance was award worthy.
Best Adapted Screenplay: BlackkKlansman
Okay, so let's really talk about the issues BlackkKlansman has in regards to what actually happened. Yes, this movie is largely a work of fiction; while it may be based on an actual book (a very dry report of the events that took place by the cop as the center of the investigation), Spike Lee took a number of liberties with the story. Some are the basic ones you'd expect, inventing conversations whole-cloth so that the viewers can see the characters interact. Others are more out-there, such as making an entire third-act climax that never happened at all. There are those that complain about this movie because it's not factually accurate enough, and if that's what you expect from every one of your movies, I guess that's a fair point.
That said, if you hate this movie because it's not factual enough but also like Bohemian Rhapsody you may want to do some research about the history of Queen. Neither of these movies are truly factual, but at one of them (BlackkKlansman) is using fictitious events to craft a politically relevant parable (and the other just decided that the life and times of Freddy Mercury didn't fit the easy rock star movie genre well enough). Let's be clear here: Spike Lee clearly knew what he was doing and while he could have created a movie that was more historically accurate, his job wasn't to comment on events of the past but to highlight parallels with events taking place right now (such as the white supremacist, and counter-protest, in Charlottesville).
So no, BlackkKlansman isn't historically accurate, but then if Spike Lee had followed the events as they happened he couldn't have crafted the parable he was going for. The point of the movie is the let people think, "hey, we solved racism in the 1970s" and then, in the last act, show how that opinion is completely wrong. We root against the KKK characters because the movie makes it easy to hate them but then we have to confront the fact that Ron Stallworth may have gotten the better of David Duke back in the 1970s but it hasn't changed nearly as much in the intervening 40 years and White America might like to think. That message is powerful enough that it transcends whether the movie is truly historically accurate or not.
And, yes, this screenplay, hands-down, deserved to win. Note that Green Book also won (for best original screenplay), and that's a terrible thing. It's like the two categories are mirrors of each other, one highlighting a strong, racially-themed movie and the other showing how White America ended racism. There's an irony to that (and a sad one since Green Book won Best Picture over BlackkKlansman).
Best Animated Feature: Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse
Let's get on to lighter topics with our last category of this article. As I've noted before, Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse is a brilliant movie and if you haven't already seen it you need to go out and watch it right now. It absolutely deserved to win for Best Animated Feature; the only issue I have with this is that it wasn't also up for Best Picture (not that it should have won, mind you, but just because it was a fantastic movie that should have been allowed in the running).
Of course, considering the contenders for the title it was no surprised Into the Spider-Verse won. On the one hand you have Pixar's Incredibles 2 which was a perfectly serviceable movie that could not, in any way, live up to the original. That doesn't even take into account the 14 years of waiting in anticipation for an eventual sequel to come out; that only made the hype for the movie worse. But having sat on it for a while and gone back to the film again, my opinion hasn't changed. It's fine, maybe even good, but when compared to the original Incredibles it's but a sad and pale imitation. Most of the film is a pale retread of the first film and the only good moments are the few, fleeting new ideas introduced (and then wasted).
Meanwhile there's Wreck it Ralph 2, which squanders all the good will I had for the first movie. This is a movie which has three very good moments sprinkled through out an interminable 90-minute run time, with the other 85 minutes being a tedious slog. Taking the arcade characters out onto the Internet should have been enjoyable, but instead of seeing the characters flee through one whacked-out set piece for another, the film simply re-imagines the Internet as a larger version of their home arcade. Nothing about this movie feels fresh or new; it makes the case that maybe Ralph should have remained a one-off film.
Now I know some of you aren't going to say, "but what about Isle of Dogs or Mirai? In reply, I will note that the only films I hate more than Wes Anderson's tweet output is the whole of the Anime genre and, somehow, I'd be willing to bet many of the members of the Academy agree with me (they're old, white men so clearly they aren't going to get off on Wes Anderson art-teen style, and Anime has got to be a bridge to far for them). Isle of Dogs is a very Wes Anderson movie, and Mirai sounds about as Anime as you can get without giant mechs or a dude with a twenty-foot-long sword and spiky hair. They were nominated because they were artsy and diverse in their styles but they weren't going to win.
So, yeah, at least on this front the winner was an easy gimmie. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse barely had competition, sure, but I'm still glad it won. A win by a mile is still a win.
Looking Forward to Next Year
I mean, come on, I'm not going to watch next year's awards either. Maybe Avengers: Endgame will get a Best Picture nod (for the same reasons Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King did all those years ago: the end of an epic that redefined the Box Office). Hell, maybe it can even pull off the big feat and win (even without seeing the movie I really doubt that). Regardless, nominating a superhero movie won't get me to watch the special (just like nominating Black Panther didn't get me interested this year). But then, I'm also positive I'll probably write another article like this after the fact (if for no other reason than so I can rip into another movie that should never have been nominated, just like Green Book).