Oscars, Indies, and Césars

Mahershala Ali in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (2018)

And the award for best opening line of an Oscars 2019 postmortem goes to the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard: “It was all going so well.” The better part of the three-hour-plus telecast of the ninety-first Academy Awards was, as Willa Paskin puts it at Slate, “the best, most lithe, most invigorating, diverse, engaging Oscars in recent memory.” Turns out, not having a host makes for a pretty zippy show. At Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz suggests that, as of Sunday night, it’s “now easier to recognize that committing to a host also meant committing to a series of human-shaped speed bumps that must be surmounted between categories.” The New York TimesJames Poniewozik agrees: “Maybe the secret to an awards show isn’t joke writing or pizza-and-selfies stunts but faith: trusting in the moments that come from serendipity and emotion—which is to say, usually, from awards. The only way to get those moments is to get out of the way and hope.”

The show was also a triumphant reflection of the Academy’s conscious efforts to diversify its membership. Spike Lee finally, finally won in a competitive category. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler became the first African American women to win in their categories for their work on Black Panther. Alfonso Cuarón, whose Roma, an ode to a Mexican maid of indigenous heritage, won best foreign language film, also scored best director and cinematographer. Accepting the best actor award for his turn as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami Malek thanked his Egyptian immigrant parents. Winners with Asian backgrounds included Domee Shi (Bao, best animated short), Rayka Zehtabch (Period. End of Sentence, best live action short), and Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Free Solo, best documentary feature). And then, despite—or perhaps because of, as Nate Jones suggests at Vulture—the critical pile-on that followed its win at the Golden Globes, the best picture Oscar went to Green Book.

The Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang argues that Green Book, based on the memories of Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer who drove pianist Don Shirley (best supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali) through the American South of the 1960s, is “the worst best picture Oscar winner since Crash, and I don’t make the comparison lightly. Like that 2005 movie, Peter Farrelly’s interracial buddy dramedy is insultingly glib and hucksterish, a self-satisfied crock masquerading as an olive branch. It reduces the long, barbaric and ongoing history of American racism to a problem, a formula, a dramatic equation that can be balanced and solved. Green Book is an embarrassment; the film industry’s unquestioning embrace of it is another.”

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