Saying the road to the 91st Academy Annual Awards has been a rocky one would be the understatement of a lifetime. Controversy after controversy and bad decision after worse decision has made a mess of this year’s Oscars. It started with the announcement that the Academy was considering new categories for Best Popular Film. That was met with disdain from the public who saw this as a cheap attempt to get MCU fans to watch the Oscars and boost ratings. Things spiraled from there. Kevin Hart was announced and then retracted as Oscar host, leaving the show hostless. Then just a week ago, the Academy announced that four major awards wouldn’t make the live broadcast, including those for editing and cinematography. The universal backlash led the Academy to cave on that decision as well. Everything the Academy has done in an attempt to boost the dwindling ratings has backfired and alienated the people who actually still watch the awards show.
All this could have been for naught in a what I thought was a tremendous year for movies, but the Academy nominated a safe and underwhelming field of Best Picture nominees. In a year where exciting new and original filmmakers delved deep into a smorgasbord of issues, the Academy tried to placate the viewers with a satisfying yet overall unimpressive Top 8. I’ve seen all eight films and here is my ranking of the Best Picture Nominees of the year.
8. Bohemian Rhapsody – This film was great for two things: Rami Malek’s fantastic turn as Freddie Mercury and… duh, Queen’s amazing music. I enjoyed Malek and the amazing final scene is a masterful recreation of Live Aid. But Bohemian Rhapsody is a mess of choppy editing and selective history. Not to mention the embarrassing spectacle of nominating a Bryan Singer-directed film amidst his scandals. Overall, I walked out feeling like given the chance to ever rewatch the movie or simply put on one of my myriad of Queen records, I’d simply do the latter.
7. Vice – Adam McKay does for Dick Cheney what he did for the Wall Street collapse with The Big Short. While Vice was entertaining, there was a sense of been there, done that with McKay’s structure and the overarching feeling and disdain for Cheney makes you feel dirty to enjoy it. It’s not a standard biopic, but it’s close enough. The marvel of watching Christian Bale yo-yo between obesity and starvation for movie roles has long since lost its freshness.
6. Green Book – 2018 was a fantastic year for movies that dealt with race and class issues. Many of those were completely overlooked by the Academy, specifically Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting. Those films were challenging, they blended genres, and they did not leave the audiences able to breathe sighs of relief about the realities of these complex issues. Green Book is maybe the safest and easy to digest film about race ever made. Then again, it’s what you expect when white writers and directors made movies about race. They become white savior pieces. Before I sound too harsh, I really enjoyed Green Book. It has great performances, is genuinely funny, and at times moving. But as a history teacher, I was left feeling like I got the whitewashed story, leaving out any importance or explanations of the actual “Green Book” and essentially turning the Civil Rights story into Driving Mr. Daisy.
5. Roma – The favorite (not The Favourite) to win seems to be Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal love letter to 1970s Mexico. Produced by Netflix where it debuted, Roma is that low budget slice of life story that the Academy just loves. Roma tells of an upper middle class family and their maid and the personal issues that impact them. And that’s really it. It is beautifully filmed and shot in black & white to emphasize the minimalism of the story. Cuaron should be commended for his heartfelt story and gorgeous visuals, but at 2 hours, 15 minutes, I felt it could’ve used a trim, especially in the first hour.
4. BlacKkKlansman – Unlike Green Book, director Spike Lee doesn’t treat racism with kid gloves and tells this amazing true story of a black cop in Colorado who infiltrates the KKK with the help of a white officer. The film features great performances and a sometimes uncomfortably funny screenplay from Lee and company. Just like Lee’s classics like Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour, it leaves you with a gut punch at the end, tying the Civil Rights-era film back to modern racial divides.
3. Black Panther – The Oscar buzz around Black Panther started literally the day it came out last February. Breaking through as the first superhero movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Ryan Coogler’s story of Wakanda broke records and boundaries in the industry and created one of the most awe-inspiring visual events of the year. Black Panther is culturally a landmark and that plus it’s quality earned this spot. It was not my favorite superhero film of 2018, but if ever one was going to get the first Best Picture nomination, I’m glad its Black Panther.
2. The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos has become event filmmaking. His two prior films, The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer, were two of the most unique and bizarre films I’ve ever seen. His story of British monarch Queen Anne in the early 18th century is hilarious to the point that you cannot believe the things you are hearing and seeing. And with that said, it looks like a routine period drama. Lanthimos benefits from three amazing Oscar-worthy acting performances from Olivia Colman as the Queen, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the two competing for her affections and attention.
1. A Star is Born – No one is more surprised to see this at the top of their Oscar list than me. I wanted nothing to do with this and only went as a date night with my wife. That said, it was the only one of the nominees that completely floored me in the theater and left me wanting to see it over and over. Bradley Cooper is a tour de force and he takes a tired “remake every generation” idea and freshens it up. As great as his performance was, I was stunned by his direction with the editing, the beautiful long takes, and some of the gorgeous shots. Lady Gaga proves she is more than a music star as she dominates this film as Ally. And let’s just give “Shallow” the Oscar for Best Song right now because I still can’t get that epic first performance out of my head.
Are these the top 8 films of 2018? In my opinion, no. Only 3 or 4 would’ve cracked my top 10. I fully expect Cuaron to dominate the show and take the major prizes for directing and film with Roma. Disappointing more than anything was the complete lack of genre and horror nominees. Coming off a year before that saw Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water and Jordan Peele’s Get Out dominate the awards, horror was completely shafted this Oscar season despite amazing films and performances like Toni Collette in Hereditary and Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place.
The 91st Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast live this Sunday, February 24th at 8:00pm on ABC.
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