Really, HFPA?

On Film / The Daily — Jan 7, 2019
Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Starting today, the over eight thousand voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be casting ballots in twenty-four categories. They’ll have a week to get those ballots in and then, on January 22, the nominations for this year’s Oscars will be announced. On Twitter, critic Bilge Ebiri wryly suggests that “this extremely good year for movies might be on the verge of producing the most ridiculous group of Oscar nominees.” The tweet went up just as the seventy-sixth Golden Globe Awards ceremony was winding down on Sunday night, and reactions all across social media to the roster of winners selected by the ninety or so members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) have ranged, to put it kindly, from mixed to disgruntled. One of the harshest verdicts comes from the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr: “The two worst most popular movies won the Golden Globes tonight and people are surprised?”

Few will have much of a problem with Mahershala Ali’s win for his supporting performance as an accomplished black pianist being escorted through the Jim Crow South of the 1960s by a white New York City bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book. But we’ll find less enthusiasm for the awards going to Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Nick Vallelonga for the screenplay and to the film itself as best musical or comedy. Some critics have taken Green Book to task for its bland, tradition de qualité aesthetic, but for most, its greatest sins have to do with the way it’s skewed a true story. “It’s one thing to get historical facts wrong, or to massage them for the sake of dramatic coherence,” writes Vanity Fair’s K. Austin Collins. “It’s another thing entirely to take something so essential as racial identity—as the inner life of a person of color—and revise it. And to bypass due diligence. And to think, as a white filmmaker, that questions of this sort are things you can blithely make up or change outright.”

Reactions to Bohemian Rhapsody’s two wins in the drama category—best picture and actor—sound a similar chord. For many, Rami Malek’s performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury is the movie’s saving grace. At RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz suggests, too, that a case could be made “that a PG-13 film about a rock star who died of complications from AIDS, and that doesn’t tap-dance around that part of the story, and that’s going to be seen on airplanes and probably end up on a commercial cable channel and be watched on Thanksgiving day by extended families because it’s something everyone can agree on, constitutes a certain kind of subversive cultural progress.” But the movie “treats same-sex attraction as something not merely physically dangerous . . . but sinister and destructive.” As further evidence of widespread disapproval of this best picture win, Mark Harris, the author of Pictures at a Revolution, a book about the five contenders for best picture Oscar in 1967, points us to the crushing responses to a tweet from the Human Rights Campaign congratulating the film for its celebration of “Queen and its extraordinary lead singer and LGBTQ icon.”

Hardly anyone will quibble with the HFPA’s choice of Alfonso Cuarón as best director or Roma, based on Cuarón’s childhood memories of the woman who cared for his family in Mexico City in the early 1970s, as best foreign language film. Roma, which won the Golden Lion when it premiered in Venice and has been going strong ever since, also fared well with the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, winning best film and direction when the eighth AACTA International Awards were presented last Friday. And the forty-two members of the National Society of Film Critics who voted this year put Roma at the top in its director, cinematography, and foreign language film categories. Roma was also a close second for best film to Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, a beautifully understated portrait of a horse trainer in South Dakota.

A few more Golden Globe winners need mentioning. Christian Bale won best actor in the musical or comedy category for his portrayal of Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s Vice and thanked Satan “for giving me inspiration on how to play this role.” Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter, was not amused. Olivia Colman, who’s been scooping up awards ever since Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite premiered in Venice, won best actress (musical or comedy) for her turn as a gout-stricken and just generally miserable Queen Anne. And Glenn Close took best actress (drama) for her performance in Björn Runge’s The Wife, which Manuela Lazic, writing for the Ringer back in August, called “the latest example of Close refusing to be ignored by the patriarchy in a forty-year career paved with always powerfully, sometimes brutally feminist roles.”

As for the show hosted by Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh (who won a Globe herself for her performance in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s television series Killing Eve), it’s already been panned by Daniel D’Addario (Variety) and Kevin Fallon (Daily Beast), but the New York TimesJames Poniewozik doesn’t come down on it quite as hard. “The awards aside—and you should always set the perplexing Golden Globe Awards choices aside—this year’s Globes were a test case for what works at an awards show these days,” writes Poniewozik. “Having tried running politically hot and sardonically cold, this year it wondered if warm might be just right. Sometimes it was cozy, sometimes just tepid.”

So are all these winners now Oscar front-runners? Hardly, as Sam Adams explains at Slate. First, none of the journalists in the HFPA are Academy members, and second, the numbers Adams points us to reveal a pretty wide divide between the two organizations’ preferences. There is one thing we can be sure of, though. On February 24, with or without a host, the ninety-first Academy Awards ceremony will finally bring an official end to the current awards season. By the time the curtain rises in the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, this year’s Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin film festivals will have come and gone, and awards-watchers will have already picked at least a few contenders for next year’s Oscar race.

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