The biggest winner of the night? The Academy.
(The list of actual winners can be seen at the bottom of this in-depth Oscar night analysis.)
After a toxic awards season that was often completely outside of the Academy’s control but was then further complicated by the Academy and its constant mishandling of how it was producing the ceremony (from its host-hiring fiasco to backtracking on every “change” it made to the program, because each change rightly infuriated the membership), the actual show — miracle of miracles — was the best in quite some time.
The Academy didn’t simply make a template for how to produce a host-less Oscars; they made a case for it.
Consistently entertaining, a relaxed atmosphere, and clipping along at a steady pace and fluid flow that almost never dragged (save for a few stumbling awards speeches), the Academy Awards were better without a host than with one.
This is especially true given what the Oscar host role has become: a thankless job with unfair expectations where the person who’s hosting is often joking on eggshells. They’re in this constant, almost no-win battle of “will this joke or bit play or not”, a level of extreme scrutiny that can only resort in snarky nitpicking in this social media age.
Conventional wisdom is that a host should provide unpredictability, be edgy, but clearly what the Oscars need — and what this one had — is simply more class. Hosts often put attendees on edge, for fear of what they might say. To not have that was clearly a relief for the audience.
This point was made right off the top with the Queen intro. Their set was pure fun — with no nerves — that got people both relaxed and hyped. If that’s what a host is supposed to accomplish with the opening monologue, then this kind of music opener did the host’s job way better than most hosts have.
Then what’s the next best thing to not having an opening monologue? A trio of friends like Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler who can kill (and share the load) in a short-but-sweet 3-minute intro, one that doesn’t have the burden of needing to duplicate its purpose many times over for the next three-plus hours.
Forgive me but, due to this fascinating victory for an Oscars sans-host, I’ve actually buried the lead: Green Book, one of the more controversial films of the awards season (despite its feel-good uplift) won 3 Oscars including Best Picture, in what was the second biggest upset of the night. Many assumed Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther would duke it out, although to be fair a number of Oscar pundits — mostly L.A. based — still believed Green Book was right in the mix, based on industry buzz. I’ll get to the biggest upset in a minute.
I’m happy that Green Book won Best Picture, but not because I think it deserved it or even because I thought it should’ve been up for it (I don’t). I’m happy because it’s the winner that this obnoxiously toxic awards season deserved, especially with its Film Twitter legion of politically “too woke for their own good” haters.
Everything doesn’t have to be an extension of whatever anxiety we’re experiencing in our current political moment as a nation. If anything, film should help us rise above that, even when we disagree about the particular merits of filmmaking.
The fact that Green Book won Best Picture after a completely unfair dirty campaign lodged against…well, it may not be a victory for cinema but it sure as hell is a victory for decency, the virtue that was missing most throughout this entire awards season.
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Scott Feinberg‘s fair and comprehensive analysis for The Hollywood Reporter right here; it’s the best you’ll find on the controversy.)
Green Book endured and triumphed over attacks of being antiquated in its approach to racism, as well as outdated in its form of liberal values. Making things more maddening, detractors began to even contradict their own talking points, with claims of “White Savior Movie” from some and “Magical Negro” digs from others, two pejoratives that happen to be polar opposites.
Look, Green Book is a decent but not great film. Its lack of greatness is simply due to its formulaic construct, not because — as many of its snide detractors have claimed — it thinks it solved racism in two hours. It doesn’t, nor does anyone who liked or loved Green Book think it “solved racism” by the end. It portrayed an ideal. One to aspire to. That’s it. Full stop. And that’s something to applaud, even if there were better films to award.
And trust me, the irony is not lost on me that Green Book is the Best Picture winner in the year of BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, and If Beale Street Could Talk, (and for that matter Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting, although I don’t think they are — ducks head — as good as Green Book), but on the range of racial injustices in America today it doesn’t even register. In fact, in its own heartfelt way, Green Book is a sincere and uplifiting antidote to those injustices.
But incidentally and for good measure, since I love pouring salt in the wound of an apoplectic Film Twitter, The Godfather and Moonlight were two Best Picture winners that won three awards in total; the other two statues they snagged along with Picture were an acting and screenplay award. Now, Green Book joins them with the same three awards in that small, very specific club.
Plus, as a sliver lining, the post-Oscars comments from Spike Lee — whose BlacKkKlansman lost Best Picture — should be a blast, particularly since the similar-to-Green Book civil rights dramedy Driving Miss Daisy won Picture the year of Lee’s masterpiece Do The Right Thing. (That was thirty years ago, in 1989, which coincidentally was the last year that the Oscars didn’t have a host.)
For Lee’s part, though, his immediate post-Oscar quotes were told in joking, good-natured fun, with quips like: “The ref made the wrong call.” and “I’m snakebit. Every time someone’s driving somebody, I lose.”
The fact that Green Book and BlacKkKlansman shared the screenwriting awards (Original and Adapted, respectively) is such a fascinating dichotomy, proving that the Academy actually isn’t some kind of single-minded monolith. That’s a good thing. It’s to their credit that they’re actually diverse (even on issues like, say, diversity), embracing a wide breadth of liberal values on racial equality.
In this case, two completely different perspectives and voices, each with strong, smart, intelligent African-American artists as key collaborators, all became Oscar winners. This is where real conversations start and happen, not in echo-chambers.
The only Best Picture win that would’ve been worse for the snobs griping beyond all sense of proportion would’ve been Bohemian Rhapsody. But hey, at least that movie can still aggravate them for this reason: BR took home more Oscars than any other film this year, with 4.
Back to what the show did right (which was virtually everything): following the Maya/Tina/Amy trifecta, the show’s writers and producers continued to trot out inspired presenter pairings with material that worked for each person, wisely only going for huge laughs with presenters that could actually swing and homer, like Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry for Best Costume Design.
The Costume winner speech — by Black Panther‘s Ruth Carter (who became the first African-American to ever win that award) — was yet another template for how to give a great speech, including that it can be inspiring and heartfelt while reading from prepared remarks. Then, to drive the point home, fellow Black Panther artisan Hannah Beachler (the first African-American to win the Production Design award) did the same, through tears and a deep well of emotion.
Furthermore, what these two categories proved is exactly why no category — no matter how “minor” they may appear to be for a mass audience — should ever be relegated to some off-air commercial break slum. I mean, could you imagine if either of these speeches had occurred while ABC was running commercials?! Along with being historical wins, these emotional wins are *exactly* what we tune in to the Oscars for. These are the moments.
And there were plenty more where those came from, including the Documentary Short acceptance speech (again, by female filmmakers) with an opening line of, “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.” (You should really watch their film, too. It deserved to win. The 30-minute Period. End of Sentence is on Netflix right now.)
This was a night filled with moments like that, kicked off by impassioned Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King an on to nearly every winner that followed. A couple of people didn’t quite have their thoughts together, which gives ammo for the naysayers looking for any excuse to cut, but the majority of winners absolutely owned their moments in beautiful, memorable ways.
That crescendoed with Spike Lee’s first ever competitive Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay (my favorite win), an explosion of sheer joy that probably received the biggest applause of the night (as well as a leaping full-body hug by Spike of presenter and former collaborator Samuel L. Jackson). As much as I’d rather have seen this moment for Best Director, I’m glad we — and Spike — got it here.
But beyond that, even when I wasn’t happy with a particular winner — like, say, in both the Actor and Actress categories — I still greatly appreciated what they had to say and how they said it.
Which leads me to the biggest upset of the night that was also the evening’s biggest disappointment: Glenn Close losing Best Actress.
She seemed like a lock for a variety of reasons, not least of which that she won every major precursor honor. It likely makes her loss is unprecedented in that respect (I’d have to double-check history to be sure), but making matters worse is she has become the most undeserving bridesmaid in modern Academy history, now 0-for-7 in her lifetime, in a career that is iconic and Oscar-worthy.
Instead, Olivia Colman shocked the room (along with every person who follows the awards season closely) when she won, ironically enough, in an upset for The Favourite. So much for that line of reasoning proffered by pundits that suggested “Olivia should’ve run in Supporting Actress where she had a chance of winning.” Take that, awards seasons gurus.
But ugh. Poor Glenn Close. At age 71, that should’ve been hers, an Oscar that would’ve been earned both for the actual performance and the iconic career. I’m honestly stunned that the Academy voted differently. She may likely never have as good a shot again.
Although quasi-favorite Roma failed to win Best Picture, director Alfonso Cuarón still made history on multiple levels:
- He’s the first person ever to win Oscars in his career for directing (Gravity and Roma), editing (Gravity), and cinematography (Roma).
- Roma is the first Mexican film to win the Best Foreign Language Film prize.
- Roma is the first Foreign Language film to win the Best Director prize.
- Roma is the first black-and-white film to win cinematography in 25 years, and only the second in over 50-plus years. (And for that matter, when Schindler’s List won 25 years ago, it technically had key splashes of color, but Roma is entirely black-and-white.)
- This year, Cuarón won 3 Oscars in one night. For context, that’s equal to the number of Oscars that Steven Spielberg has won over his entire career.
Nevertheless, despite all of that Oscar glory, the Best Picture prize still eludes Cuarón. Gravity lost to 12 Years a Slave, and Roma lost to Green Book (each losing to films about America’s history with slavery and racism, no less). He joins Ang Lee with this distinction. Lee has won two Best Director Oscars as well — for Brokeback Mountain (which lost to Crash, another film about race in America) and Life of Pi (losing to Argo) — but no Best Pictures.
It was great to see Black Panther claim three Oscars; I predicted two (Costume and Production Design) and the third for Best Original Score was wholly deserved as well (even if I would have preferred If Beale Street Could Talk or BlacKkKlansman to take it).
Wrapping up, it’s hard to look past a couple of big ironies as it relates to the Best Actor win by Rami Malek. Expected though it was, two things were pretty stark within the Oscar broadcast themselves. They were:
- In his Best Actor nominee clip, he was lip synching.
- In the Oscar ceremony, Bradley Cooper sang his song (and absolutely killed it with Lady Gaga; I also loved how that number was shot, ending in close-up, mirroring the film) but Adam Lambert had to sing Freddie Mercury‘s.
Suffice it to say, I think the wrong singing-performance won, since the one that won was the non-singer. (Well, among other reasons…)
And finally, here’s a list of random but intriguing facts and observations:
- When The Shape of Water won Best Picture last year, it was the first film in 22 years to do so without having been nominated for the Screen Actors Guild “Best Cast” top prize. Green Book, also denied a SAG Best Cast nomination, has now made that two years in a row. The last one to do it prior to these two? Titanic.
- Mexican filmmakers continue to dominate the directing category, because of three men. Mexicans have won Best Director 5 of the past 6 years: two for Cuarón (Gravity and Roma), two for Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman, The Revenant), and one for Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water). Furthermore, with just one year left, this decade of the teens may close with only one American winner in the Best Director category (Damien Chazelle in 2016 for La La Land); the rest have been foreigners.
- In the four acting categories, three were won by ethnic minorities (two African-Americans and one Egyptian-American), and the fourth was by a non-American (a Brit).
- In Academy Award history, only 3 black women have won Oscars for anything other than acting. 2 of them were this year: Ruth Carter (Costume) and Hanna Beachler (Production Design), both for Black Panther.
- Women directors / co-directors swept the three shorts categories, as well as the documentary feature. It’s particularly poignant for the co-directors of Bao, the short from Pixar. It’s quite a statement for the post-John Lasseter regime; his ouster was the result of unprofessional sexual misconduct on his part and a fostering of a male-dominated work culture.
- I’d be totally down for a Awkwafina / John Mulaney buddy or romantic comedy, or sitcom.
- Bohemian Rhapsody‘s win for Film Editing was, essentially, a “having to piece an entire feature together without a director to guide you” award. (Troubled director Bryan Singer was fired before production was completed.)
- The “In Memoriam” segment (watch here) was played to an original composition by Academy Award winning legend John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, etc.). Unfortunately, the passing of musical director legend Stanley Donen on Saturday was too late to be able to include him in this year’s reel.
- Good restraint on the part of the orchestra (and show producers) in cueing music for speech givers to wrap it up. It never felt intrusive or disrespectful, and even the tech and shorts winners were given leeway to speak.
- Having a variety of winners throughout the evening — jumping between Bohemian, Roma, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, and Green Book — kept the Best Picture race wide open all night. That was exciting.
- To bring the show in at three hours, as they had hoped, the show’s producers would have needed to average 4 awards per half hour. They did exactly that for 2 1/2 hours, but more leeway was given, undestandably, for the final four top award speeches. The show’s final run time clocked in at 3 hours and 18 minutes, about a half-hour shorter than last year.
- The set designer for the Oscars this year was David Korins, the Tony-nominated designer for Broadway’s Hamilton.
As I begin to wrap up, here are a few clever tweets that stood out to me during the ceremony last night:
Can Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler just keep not hosting the Oscars? 🤞 #Oscars2019
(the next tweet refers to the Makeup & Hairstyling acceptance speech, and the next three tweets are from the imminently followable IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich)
honestly if this acceptance speech were any clumsier it would be a scene in VICE. #Oscars
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has now won more #Oscars than CAROL, LADY BIRD, PADDINGTON 2 and i dunno let’s go with Andrei Tarkovsky combined.
Pharrell just introduced INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE by quoting the Bible. it’s that good. #Oscars
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY winning for Sound Editing proves that voters don’t know what a sound editor does.
That Period. End of Sentence. speech is why you keep short film speeches in the damn ceremony.
Dueling screenplay awards: This year, DRIVING MISS DAISY and DO THE RIGHT THING are *both* winners!
This hostless Oscars is like the part of The Office where Michael Scott left and they hadn’t hired a new boss yet and it turned out everybody worked better without a boss at all.
The final tally for top winners:
- Bohemian Rhapsody – 4
- Green Book, Roma, and Black Panther – 3 each
Finally, as far as my predictions were concerned, it was a tepid showing. Despite nailing some hard-to-predict categories, some upsets in others did me in. I went 14-for-24 overall. The coveted 20-or-more wins standard remains elusive.
Below is a complete list of the winners. To see all the nominees, click here.
*To watch each acceptance speech, click on the category title.*
THE 91ST ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – Free Solo