Green Book (winner)
A Star is Born
The list of nominees for Best Picture 2018 is so disappointing compared with the actual year. While there are a couple of nominees (three, in fact) that I think should be here, the fact that that represents less than half of the total in a good year is a disappointment. We can eliminate Oscar’s “not in the wheelhouse” films straight away—horror movies like A Quiet Place and Hereditary are not going to see a nomination in 100 years. The same is true with a completely gonzo vision like Sorry to Bother You. Science fiction combined with horror and a virtually all-woman cast is three strikes too many for Annihilation. Documentaries never get nominated for Best Picture, leaving out Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers. It’s a long-shot for animated movies, too, which will ignore Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse, The Incredibles 2, and Isle of Dogs. And, despite recent history, it’s a hard nomination for foreign language films to achieve, which leaves out Capernaum. Crazy Rich Asians may have been to formulaic (and far too Asian) for contention. First Man might have been to antiseptic to generate real passion. If Beal Street Could Talk feels like a natural nomination, though, and with as much love as the Academy gives Quentin Tarantino, you’d think that a film like Bad Times at the El Royale--clearly influenced by his style—might gain some buzz. I still think Widows is painfully overlooked in general. But really, with several other nominations, Can You Ever Forgive Me? doesn’t belong here?
Weeding through the Nominees
8. Green Book is not the film I liked the least of these nominees, but in a lot of ways, I think it’s the one least deserving of a nomination. My problem with it isn’t the main cast (I like both actors) or the way it was filmed. No, problem with it is that it commits a movie’s biggest sin in my opinion: it’s lazy. If it couldn’t have been construed as both an anti-gay and an ethnic slur, I’d have titled my review of it Driving Miss Lazy. That’s really all this is—an update of a movie that shouldn’t have won Best Picture 30 years previously.
7. I’ll win no fans in my own home for putting Bohemian Rhapsody this low, but it’s exactly where it belongs. This is such a harmless film, a biopic that explores nothing we didn’t already know about the band Queen in general. Sure, they were a great band and Freddie Mercury was, well, mercurial as a front man. But again, this was a lazy movie. Mercury comes off as a self-absorbed ass, and I think the movie does a great deal to tarnish him more than it celebrates him. As with Green Book, it shouldn’t be here.
6. My contention with Vice is that Dick Cheney isn’t worth a biopic. Sure, it’s done well enough, but making this man, arguably one of the most soulless and evil people to approach high levels of American political power, a subject of what is in many ways a light-hearted romp feels like it leaves an oil slick on the screen. Is this a warts-and-all biography? Perhaps, but it also does nothing to change anyone’s opinion. If you liked Cheney, you’ll see this as vindication of him. If you didn’t, you’ll pretty much think as I do.
5. The only reason I’m not putting A Star is Born lower than this is because it absolutely got one thing right. In a role that was captured in the past by the incomparable talents of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, they got Lady Gaga, probably one of two or three people on the planet talented enough to make that role believable. Otherwise, this is just a modern rehash of a story that’s been told before and told better. Gaga is great, no question, but there’s no real reason to go beyond the version from the 1950s. Bradley Cooper is no James Mason, after all.
4. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Roma that a very aggressive edit couldn’t fix. At 135 minutes, Roma feels at least 60 minutes too long. This is a very small story played out on a very long time table. I won’t dispute that it’s well-made or well-acted. There’s a great deal here that works well. But I struggled to be entertained by it. It makes it this high only because I think it is well and artistically made. The elements of the film beyond the plot and story lift up what would otherwise be bland going.
3. Finally, with Black Panther, we have a film that I think warrants being discussed in this context. The problem is, of course, that it’s not much more than a superhero origin story for a superhero that most people aren’t that familiar with. And it comes in this high, admittedly, because T’Challa has been my favorite of the Avengers since my comic book collecting days in the late 1980s. This is a good movie, and a hell of a lot of fun, but only in a very weak year would it make it to the top of any serious list for me.
2. The Favourite has the benefit of being a very smart movie. It’s funny, but the comedy is of the blackest variety. It’s gorgeous to look at as well, and the costuming is some of the best I’ve seen in years. But what really sells The Favourite is the three performances central to it. Olivia Colman may have won the Oscar for this, but her performance would be nothing without the work of Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Honestly, this has a lot of what I want when I sit down to watch something. It’s a hell of a fine movie.
1. But everything The Favourite does well is done better by BlacKkKlansman. It has the same dark sense of humor, the same sensibilities in a lot of ways, but it also feels a great deal more relevant. Spike Lee has always been someone the Academy hasn’t loved as they should, and I genuinely appreciate that he won an Oscar for this screenplay. With the eight nominees that I have, this is where I’m going. But with all of the available movies from 2018 to choose from, Spike Lee gets the nomination, but not the win.
The most recent Oscars ceremony showed us that things we thought were impossible can happen. Movies that we think have no real chance of winning can actually walk away with the trophy. The best movie of 2018 was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s the best Spider-Man movie, the best superhero movie, and the best animated movie of the last decade, and that’s saying a lot. Only fear kept the Academy from rewarding it is it should have been rewarded. Such a shame!