Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.
This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.
There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered. It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.
Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category. Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film. (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).
Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.
Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win. Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.
Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around. But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.
One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay. It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.
Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.
What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.
Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year. As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!
Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.
Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.
It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage. Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.
Was any of this indelibly memorable? Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.
That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.