For the first time in years the Academy Awards felt truly of the moment, from the contentious, ugly and mean campaign season through the whiplash-inducing good news/bad news awards that honored women and people of color AND tone deaf white dudes and Bryan Singer. This was 2018 all wrapped up and dropped onto the stage of the Kodak Theater, forever preserving the past year in the peculiar amber of an awards telecast.
The behind-the-scenes brouhaha actually led to the best Oscars show in forever – maybe in a decade, since the time they had Hugh Jackman host. It was lean, without dumb ‘bits’ and tedious montages, and while the opening number by Queen was lame, the actual musical performances were great. In fact, the Oscar-winning “Shallow” was presented in a duet that is instantly an all-timer, one that will get the highest honor anything can in this depraved day and age – a million gifs.
The show moved, and that speed (it clocked in at under three and a half hours, truly a remarkable feat) allowed us to really FEEL the back-and-forth nature of the awards. The first hour or so seemed to bode well, with Regina King taking home the first award of the night for If Beale Street Could Talk and then two more black women winning (making history in their own right in their own categories). Nestled between was Free Solo, made by Asian-Americans. A white man took the stage to accept Make-Up, but he was joined by two women.
But in the second hour the shape of the show made itself truly known. After Alfonso Cuaron made history with his Cinematography win, Bohemian Rhapsody took home two sound awards. We would see the show seesaw back and forth, going from Bohemian Rhapsody winning to Roma to Green Book to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. And like, the Star Trek movies, it seemed to keep going back and forth, alternating good and bad.
The highs, though, were extraordinarily high. Spider-Verse winning was a triumph (I literally burst into tears), even if it was largely expected. Bao continued the beautiful diversity of the night, and even the filmmakers of Period. End of Sentence. could believe their menstruation-focused short won. Olivia Colman, a beloved actress, upset Glenn Close for Best Actress, and everybody was not only okay with it, we loved it, and we loved Colman’s wonderful, emotional and funny speech.
And Spike Lee won! It was his first Oscar (competition Oscar, that is), handed to him by his friend Samuel L. Jackson. It came right after Green Book won Best Original Screenplay, so there was this sense of vindication, of cleansing. But the night wasn’t over.
Bohemian Rhapsody took four awards, doing incredibly well for a film directed by no one. None of the winners mentioned Bryan Singer, not even editor John Ottman, whose career as an editor has been almost SOLELY working with Singer. Not that anybody wanted Ottman to say anything, but the whole situation felt weird (almost as weird as the terrible editing in Rhapsody winning an award).
But it was the continuing presence of Green Book that really underscored how 2018 these awards were. On one side we had this progressive, diverse group of winners, representing hope and the future. And then here was this bloc of white guys who made a slickly hackish movie intended to make us feel that racism had been largely solved. Poor Mahershala Ali, making history as only the second black man to win two acting Oscars, is stuck right in the middle of this moment.
Green Book is a fine 1980s Oscar winner, but in 2019 it is clangingly out of place. But that’s the past year – a cadre of people looking forward being met with clueless white people who play down the serious racial issues facing us and center white stories in black experiences. Green Book is a 1980s winner, but it’s a 2018 movie in that it’s for white people who don’t think they’re racist but also think that AllLivesMatter.
This is what living in 2018 felt like – every time something good or positive happened something else terrible and depressing would counter it. The key, I think, is to pay more attention to the good stuff than the bad stuff, which is hard because the bad stuff takes up so much of our psychic real estate. What’s more, the bad stuff feels even WORSE when it comes on the heels of good stuff, because we’re being let down. It’s hard to hold on to the good feelings, but we have to do it.
And when you look at the night through that lens, it was a great night. Even some of the bad stuff has a silver lining – Rami Malek, awful in the awful Bohemian Rhapsody, is the first actor of Middle-Eastern heritage to win an Oscar (Omar Sharif somehow lost to Ed Begley in the Lawrence of Arabia year). (EDIT: He is NOT! F. Murray Abraham won in 1984 and he’s Syrian, which I did not know) Mahershala Ali made more history (and wore that cool hat). The faces on that stage tonight were largely a diverse and fresh crowd of people who have been historically underrepresented on Oscar night. So many good things happened, so many correct awards were given out, that to focus on the few where it was fumbled does a disservice to the wonderful people who deserve your attention.
Final thought: Green Book joins the long list of bad movies that have won Best Picture. It’s almost traditional at this point. Do you even remember that The Artist exists? How often do you watch Crash? Argo? It’s not even a bad movie, but when’s the last time you thought about Spotlight? You think anybody is going to do a rep screening of A Beautiful Mind in 20 years? Hell, I don’t even think the best picture won last year, and it was a good movie that won (Get Out and Phantom Thread are the 2017 all-timers).
Ten years from now we’ll be talking about Black Panther and BlackkKlansman and Roma. Ten years from now the history that was made tonight will seem quaint, much in the way that the big deal about In & Out would feel hopelessly dated today – omg, two men kiss?Call Me By Your Name’s peach would like a word with you. Ten years from now nobody will remember Green Book (Bohemian Rhapsody is so bad they might really remember it, though). Ten years from now nobody will remember BBQ Becky but they’ll remember Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Ten years from now nobody will remember Pew Die Pie but they’ll remember Issa Rae.
Two weeks from now nobody will remember Green Book.