Personal Oscar screening party 2019

2019/02/24

The nominees this time were (alphabetically):

  • A Star Is Born
  • BlackKKlansman
  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Green Book
  • Roma
  • The Favourite
  • Vice

As usual, I’ve screened them all and write how they stack for me. All star ratings should be considered as my assessment of each film’s merit to win the Oscar, not whether they belong among the nominees. Each is well deserving.

In an odd twist, there’s not The Gay Movie this year. But half the films at least touch upon LGBTQ themes in at least one scene apiece. Meanwhile, the #OscarsSoWhite issue that plagued the Academy three years ago seems a distant memory (though why “If Beale Street Could Talk” was not a ninth nominee has me wondering).

Edits in italics are post-Oscar results and reflections.

 

8.

ROMA

When I first saw the trailer for this black and white period piece about a young woman who works as a domestic during 1970s Mexico, I thought I’d get an epic example of gorgeous filmmaking. It certainly has some powerful sequences, but this film mostly succeeds at being supremely boring with a story told in the margins. Every scene and shot is held too long for too little payoff other than the showy camera work. Disappointing. 2.5 stars.

“Roma” won Oscars for cinematography, foreign language film and direction.

 

7.

GREEN BOOK

Sort of “Driving Miss Daisy” in reverse, this latest white savior movie to be recognized by the Academy is actually pretty good, if you go in ignorant of how the “based on a true story” misrepresents its black co-protagonist (according to his family). But even if you’re aware, “Green Book” can win you over with its recounting of a racist New Yorker who chauffeurs genius pianist Don Shirley across the Jim Crow South. Mahershala Ali should be a lock for Supporting Actor and Viggo Mortensen is awfully good as well. 3 stars.

In addition to Ali indeed winning a second Oscar, “Green Book” also won Best Screenplay and Best Picture. 

6.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Like “Green Book,” this biopic about the rise of legendary rock band Queen and its frontman Freddie Mercury apparently suffers from certain inaccuracies. But as a casual Queen fan, I wouldn’t notice — and didn’t. This movie is a celebration of the man and the music that edged to No. 6 on my ranking on the strength of Rami Malek’s career-making performance. 3.5 stars.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” won awards for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Best Editing and, of course, Best Actor for Malek.

 

5.

BLACKKKLANSMAN

Longtime auteur Spike Lee tells the based-on-true-story of how black detective Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado during the 1970s. This sort of movie is right in my wheelhouse. I enjoyed it thoroughly, even if I don’t think it’s quite the director’s best film (1989’s “Do The Right Thing”). 4 stars.

“BlackkKlansman” was awarded Best Adapted Screenplay — Lee’s first (and overdue) Oscar win.

 

4.

VICE

After 2015’s “The Big Short” surprised me with its deft combo of truth-telling and wicked wit, I was looking forward to this take on former Vice President of the U.S. Dick Cheney. I wasn’t disappointed, especially with that great fake scene in the middle.  4 stars.

“Vice” took home the Oscar for Best Makeup because OMG Christian Bale absolutely transformed into Cheney.

 

3.

A STAR IS BORN

Having never seen any of the other three versions, I went into this remake about a young performer (played winningly by Lady Gaga) discovered by a declining superstar (Bradley Cooper)  cold and came out moved. A somewhat saggy middle act drags the movie from the top spot and maybe first-time director Cooper hogs the spot a bit too long at times, but when a musical makes me forget that A) I don’t really like them and B) manages to not actually be a musical … well, it’s a feat worth noting. 4.5 stars.

The movie’s signature number, “Shallow,” won Best Original Song.

 

2.

BLACK PANTHER

I’ve written plenty enough already. But for emphasis: There’s no other film this year that does so much this well across the board in such groundbreaking yet classic fashion — it’s in every way the positive answer to “The Birth of a Nation.” 5 stars.

“Black Panther” was awarded for Best Costume Design (a first win for a black woman), Best Production Design (a first for a black person) and, most gratifyingly for me, Best Musical Score. WAKANDA FOREVER!

1.

THE FAVOURITE

I went into this Oscar season with a clear favorite but expected that my own biases were interfering with my judgment and that some if not several of the other Best Picture nominees would objectively be better than “Black Panther.” But NONE of them blew the superhero masterpiece away, not even this one starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as dueling 18th-century courtiers ingratiating themselves with the Queen of England (Olivia Colman). The fact that the film is super-engaging despite it not being in my wheelhouse (though I’ll watch anything Emma Stone does) and supremely well-made in addition is enough for it to stand just a wig hairpiece taller than BP in this ranking. 5 stars.

“The Favourite” won Best Actress for Colman.

———

More post-Oscar reflections:

My No. 1 in this annual screening party has never taken the Oscar for Best Pic.

  • 2015: “Birdman,” No. 2 of 9
  • 2016: “Spotlight,” No. 2 of 9
  • 2017: “Moonlight” No. 6 of 9
  • 2018: “The Shape of Water” No. 3 of 9

But the win by “Green Book” is probably the first time I have utterly disagreed with the result. It simply wasn’t especially exceptional outside of Ali’s arresting performance and Mortensen’s transformation (from noble Aragorn in the “Lord of the Rings” films to “AraGOON” here). If “Roma” had had a more engaging story, it would have left “Green Book” squarely in last place on my list (and probably won as Best Pic).

That aside, I have no quibbles with the overall winners. Colman made me a fan (“This isn’t how I wanted it to go,” she hilariously said to fellow nominee and now-seven-time-nonwinner Glenn Close in the audience during her speech). “Roma” won all the awards it should have. Lee FINALLY got his statue.

And “Black Panther”? It got almost all the awards it should have. But watching last night’s ceremony, I was absolutely struck by how fantastic the film looked next to the rest of the nominees on all levels.

It wasn’t as pretty as “Roma” but had a much more engaging story.

It was superior to “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in every way except for their respective Oscar-winning acting performances. (And yeah, I gotta be real: Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger was not quite on that level of the other nominees)

It was cinematically more amazing than “BlackkKlansman” and, to be honest, had more to say (although Lee’s film also did a fine job of showing what good white allyship looks like).

The contrast in quality between “BP” and remaining nominees “Vice,” “A Star Is Born,” and “The Favourite” is markedly less extreme. But each of those other film projects sort of built on long histories of similar type films to similar levels of excellence. To put it bluntly, their cinematic language was already set. (Hell, one was a full-blown remake.)

“Black Panther” invented much of its language from whole cloth (literally, looking at Ruth Carter’s unprecedented costuming), while existing in a genre not known for producing high art. So yeah, it could have — and maybe should have — won Best Picture.

But whatever. As I said, my pick never wins anyway. 🙂

 

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