Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

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.

See: Green Book

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.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

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.

We know Glenny.

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.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

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!

But like.. HOW?!

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.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

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.

Welp, there it is.

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.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

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Spiking the Oscars

Spike Lee should win the best director Oscar this year for BlacKkKlansman.  The film is THAT good, THAT timely and yeah, as its producer Jason Blum said recently, it is his time.

His time means that Lee has been in the filmmaking trenches over four decades and has given us such memorable, and sometimes seminal works, as Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X and Bamboozled, as well as such prescient and under-appreciated ones as She’s Gotta Have it, School Daze, Summer of Sam, and Get on the Bus.

Icon status

Lee has done and continues to do what every artist attempts and that is to create a body of material that reflects both himself and the times he, specifically, lived in.  You can look at any one of his movies and get a window into some aspect of national and/or personal history told through the vision of an African American kid from the New York boroughs with stories and messages whose truths reverberated throughout the world for nearly half a century.

That is no small feat for any director these days, but near impossible for one who is non-White.  Name another.

Waiting.

Still Waiting.

Right.  Well, we have nothing but time here so take another minute.

And…………

um helloooooo

Yeah.

So how is it that Spike Lee has NEVER BEEN NOMINATED for an Academy Award as best director??

Guess it must be bad luck or oversight.  Okay, maybe once…or twice.  But anyone who has ever been a reporter in a newsroom knows the old journalism adage: Three (or more) is a trend.

With the announcement of this week’s 2019 Academy Award nominations it is important to note that any number of films and/or filmmakers will be left off the list or rather purposely snubbed for a myriad of reasons.   Taste, personal animus, overcrowding and just plain ignorance are all excuses that come to mind.

One could also question why it even matters anymore given that the Oscars are clearly the most exclusive of clubs with a rarefied membership that more and more seems to speak less and less for the general public, i.e. the zeitgeist.

The majority of Oscar voters #oldwhitemen #morethan12 #oscarssowhite

Well, in a world of lists, elections, statuses and immeasurables it is THE most famous arbiter of professional excellence calibrated by a group of peers working in an artistic field that we have.  Sure there is consistent omission, bone-headed pettiness and high/low intellectual ignorance that keep the voters from truly always getting it right.  But love ‘em or hate ‘em there is a reason why each year the show gets watched by more than a billion people worldwide and the honor of receiving one of those little gold (but surprisingly heavy) statues gives the winner a strange sort of immortal status of achievement.

Spike Lee recently did an NPR interview with Elvis Mitchell where he noted his students (Note: He teaches at NYU’s grad program in filmmaking) don’t seem to care about any films made prior to the last five years.  He felt that it was generational and didn’t have an explanation for it, but also found that when he exposed them to work from directors like Kazan or Kurosawa they appreciated, even loved their films.  It was more a general sense of intellectual non-curiosity he was lamenting and he still didn’t understand the reason, even when pressed.

Would this help?

One could surmise it has to do with how much information we must all sift through these days and time management.  It also can be attributed to accessibility; meaning if you can get everything nothing is particularly urgent to experience.  It’s all at most of our disposals whenever we want it so why not do anything else that takes less time and is more pleasurable in the moment.

As one of my heroes, Carrie Fisher, so aptly wrote:

Instant gratification takes too long.

Yet that was back in the 1980s, before the web and about herself and her life as a drug addict.

We miss you lady

Building on this prescient theory, it’s not too far of a stretch then to say that we have all become a nation of addicts whose drug of choice is no longer the movies but the comments on endless streams of social media platforms, television shows and perhaps blogs such as (but unlike) this one where we get to opine on everything and nothing without doing the work it takes to truly earn our opinion.

This seems more than possible because if one is always giving one’s opinion of likes and dislikes, when would one ever have the time to read or watch anything else that would allow one to be educated enough on said subject and its creators in order to truly judge the issue or thing that is being presented???

This is why so many of us are such fans of the film BlacKkKlansman and of Spike Lee in particular.  Love him or hate him as a moviemaker you can never say he doesn’t study an issue, sift through numerous uncomfortable truths and then use his technical and creative expertise to form his take on what’s goin’ on.

When it comes to Mr. Lee, there seems to be no in between

Sure, it may be skewed but what he never does is waste your time on sheer nonsense or filmic masturbation that could at its best only be personally orgasmic.  Every film he does is called a Spike Lee joint and the reason is simple – he wants you to get stoned on the story, subject matter and characters along with him.

This was once deemed exotic and controversial but perhaps that is no longer the case with a pot store seemingly on every other block in L.A. and soon (perhaps?) the majority of the country.  But as a successful moviemaker, particularly one who is non-white, it is extremely rare.

BlacKkKlansman gives us the highly unlikely yet true story of a Black detective in the 1970s that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.  Said detective engineered it with the help of his White counterpart yet it is the Black man who takes the lead in the narrative.  But it is then Lee who imbues a rather unsavory and sadly quite timely story with equal parts humor, drama and irony.  Not to get too cute about it, but the result is a REAL black comedy in every sense of the word that only someone with a very particular body of work, mined over this particular half a century, could have brought justice to.

2018’s masterpiece #imeanit

That is why Spike Lee deserves the best director Oscar for BlacKkKlansman.  It is a smart, entertaining and expertly made film that speaks in particular to THIS moment in time through the lens of the past as it simultaneously teaches us all we need to know about the present.

But he also deserves it as a career award (Note: Like that doesn’t happen ever other year) and as a sentimental favorite who had been all but written off by mass contemporary audiences and too many industry decision-makers.

Finally, he deserves it for pissing us off so many times over the years as he’s done all of the above.  He deserves it for that, too.  Most especially.

End Credits – “Photo Ops” from BlacKkKlansman soundtrack