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Green Book wasn’t the best film I saw that week, let alone the entire calendar year. But the thing is, I don’t vote for the Oscars. It’s not really any of my business.
I won my office Oscar pool this week, which was nice, because I’ve been in this office less than a month and I’m already walking away with a block of chocolate as a prize and the knowledge that I am one of life’s winners. So it seems to be worth saying that I had a better Oscars than, say, Glenn Close did.
(Poor soul, she’s 0-7 in her quest for gold. But I think she’s kinda circumspect about it, and at the end of the day, the very notion of art being a competition is silly. But more on that later.)
The big story of the night (no, it wasn’t the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga duet, steamy as it seemed) was about Green Book’s taking the top prize. There are a few ways to look at this result.
One, you could see it for what it is, which is the result of a 5,000+ member club voting for their favourite achievements in the 2018 film year, and a large dose of them thought it was the best of the bunch. If you look at the film in isolation, in a bubble if you will, then it’s a perfectly nice film: a road movie which touches on racial politics, discrimination, class, gender. It’s rife with stereotypes, but it’s also set in the pre-Civil Rights Act south. Nothing about it was revolutionary, but it was nicely performed. It was in focus. It had a neat three-act structure and a happy ending.
Looking at it in isolation, not knowing about the questionable racial politics, the stereotyping, the notion of the “white saviour” tropes upon which it is perilously leveraged, the film is fine. Reflecting on it, Green Book is ripe for appreciation in the same way a biscuit is: that’s nice, but one cannot make a meal of it, as it’s not really that nourishing. Now, for me, BlacKkKlansman was a full, hearty meal. First Man was a sumptuous meal. Even Mary Poppins Returns was nourishing, if high in processed sugar. But since I’m not a voting member, these notions of mine are neither here nor there to the Academy’s voting body.
The result was shocking for those who hadn’t paid much attention to the awards season for the fact that Green Book’s path to victory was forged by a trio of incidents: one, it won the audience prize at the Toronto Film Festival; two, it won Best Picture (Musical or Comedy—despite the fact that it is neither) at January’s Golden Globe Awards; and then, most recently, it won Best Film from the Producers’ Guild Awards—usually a pretty strong predictor of eventual Oscar success. I hadn’t taken these factors into account (the Golden Globes gave The Hangover the same prize a decade ago), but when you do, the end result shouldn’t surprise you.
One should just tune in for the frocks, the jokes, and for lovely moments when ordinarily jobbing actors like Olivia Colman end up winning a prize and being genuinely moved, and shocked, and utterly, utterly charming and British for all the world to see.
However: if you look at it in the context of modern politics and race relations, calling Green Book the best anything is…bothersome. And in a year when aforementioned Spike Lee film is released, and then Black Panther (a comic book movie which uses its genre tropes to repurpose the idea of Martin Luther King vs Malcolm X, passive vs active resistance to American racial injustice, and in doing so becomes a cultural and financial juggernaut)…they wind up going with the gentle buddy film where everyone learns a lesson, neatly, with little to no fuss.
Then there’s also the disturbing stories about director Peter Farrelly, who once had a propensity to whip his junk out on set (HR were not so quick to act on that one), or co-writer Nick Vellalonga having Tweeted his support to Trump’s entirely made up notion of crowds of New Jersey Muslims cheering the burning World Trade Centre on 9/11…
Julia Roberts’ announcement of “The Oscar goes to…” surprised me, that much I can tell you. “Wow,” I said, out loud, knowing fully well that Hollywood was never going to give the golden goose to a Spanish language Netflix film like Roma and basically destroy their entire business model in the process. I’d have thought that a popular crowdpleaser like A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody was more likely a winner. Even either of the “Black” films (Panther, or kKklansman) if they were feeling saucy. “Best”, however, seldom comes into the argument, unless you’re talking about strategic marketing. The Oscars have that business down to a tee.
The Oscars have given softball Best Picture trophies out before. They gave Driving Miss Daisy Best Picture in 1989. They did the same for Out of Africa, Ordinary People, Rain Man, going back to the likes of The Greatest Show on Earth and Around the World in 80 Days. Sometimes they make boneheaded decisions, sometimes they get it right. They thought Pulp Fiction wasn’t as good as Forrest Gump; they thought Dances with Wolves superior to GoodFellas. In 1941, enough of them thought How Green was My Valley was the better film than Citizen Kane, of all things. It’s not a particularly good track record. I mean, sure: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Amadeus, Schindler’s List, and Unforgiven all took home the top prize. But you’ll find plenty of people out there who’ll dispute even those choices, bless them, which takes us back to the idea of “art in competition” being a simply ludicrous consideration.
One should just tune in for the frocks, the jokes, and for lovely moments when ordinarily jobbing actors like Olivia Colman end up winning a prize and being genuinely moved, and shocked, and utterly, utterly charming and British for all the world to see. And then tomorrow, she, we all can go back to work and live our lives.
No, I’d not have voted for Green Book. But nobody asked me to. They were just kind enough to let me watch their annual industry function on television. It was quite enjoyable.