Sunday night contained a fair amount of surprises, some fun choices (Spike Lee, Ruth Carter, Olivia Colman), and some questionable (you know exactly which ones I’m talking about). It seems like this discussion happens every year, but it feels like this year has a bit more engaging of a backlash due to the ultimate winner.
Green Book, a film about jazz pianist Don Shirley who embarks on a tour through the Jim Crow south of the 60s while being accompanied by a white New York club bouncer who serves as his driver, sparked much debate even before it won, given that it went up against films such as Black Panther and Blackkklansman, films that would have been a much more suitable choice for the communities those films represented, so much so that people are calling it the worst best picture winner since 2004’s Crash.
But are we actually surprised? At all? Probably not, but more disappointed that the Academy continues to keep choosing films that not only don’t push the envelope in terms of cinema, but that don’t even try. Green Book is just the latest entry in a list of forgotten best picture winners by decade’s end. But it’s the Academy, right? Aren’t they supposed to be unpredictable? Aren’t they supposed to put on a good show?
Well, yes and no. It’s a good time when you see the folks you don’t expect to win, win. While it also carries its fair baggage of questions (How did this film top the other? How do they exactly vote on this? How do you judge “best editing?”), it’s also a little disappointing to see that, out of all the best picture winners of the past nine years, by decade’s end this year, no one will be talking about any of them.
Let’s take a look back at the best picture winners of this decade:
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Argo
2013 – 12 Year’s a Slave
2014 – Birdman
2015 – Spotlight
2016 – Moonlight
2017 – Shape of Water
2018 – Green Book
Do you remember those? Do any of them actually stick out in your memory enough to think of them as best picture of the year? Will we actually be talking about the lasting significance of The Artist? Or the short-lived victory of The King’s Speech? If you ask me, the only film on this list that will truly stand the test of time is Moonlight. Perhaps 12 Years as well, but I’m still not quite sure yet of how it’ll settle with time, given that it shared the limelight that year with other modern masterpieces such as Her and Gravity.
But what’s even more interesting is to look at the films those winners were up against. Social Network, Winter’s Bone, and Inception all lost to The King’s Speech. The Tree of Life lost to The Artist. Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty lost to Argo… and I could go on. But it seems like all the films that could have won were the ones that pushed the boundaries every year, that broke ground on new territories within the medium. And yet, it’s funny how the outcomes are each year. Even though these films have been crowned a title of “best picture of the year,” it doesn’t actually mean that. But with so many choices, so many demographics, and so much talent to be rewarded, the Academy chooses to stay near safe ground.
But wait, didn’t they award the film with the giant fish romance last year? Or the silent black-and-white musical? Yes, but most of these best picture winners don’t do ANYTHING NEW. With the exception of Moonlight, none of these films actively ask us to reflect back on ourselves as a society and question or challenge who we really are. But who knows, maybe five to ten years from now, Green Book may very well stand the test of time, and we’ll be looking back at how ballsy and audacious and bold it was to be crowned such a title.
Or, y’know, maybe Roma will be the one on top of the “best of the decade” lists (which will be coming out later this year. Yikes) like we always knew it would. And yet, I always love to be proven wrong. Here’s to making some bold movie going choices in 2019.
Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA Today