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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The 91st Academy Awards: Did you expect anything other than a hot mess?

An Oscar award is pictured.

The 91st Academy Awards last Sunday were full of memorable moments. From historic — and long overdue — wins for black women in non-acting categories toa sultry “Shallow” performance that sparked plenty of online chatter, it seems the 2019 Oscars were not a ceremony to be forgotten. Viewers agreed: the 91st ceremony saw a 12 percent increase in viewership from last year. That being said, there were some definite outrages and snubs; don’t worry, we’ll get to the “Green Book” (2018) Best Picture controversy, but there are also plenty of other things the Academy messed up this year.

For one thing, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) winning four Oscars, the most awards of the night, feels like a crime. The film, a perfunctory attempt at a Freddie Mercury biopic which received a great deal of criticism for its portrayal of Mercury, his life and his sexuality, was the worst-reviewed film to be nominated for Best Picture since “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (2011). Sure, a fan of “Bohemian Rhapsody” could argue against its historical inaccuracies by saying that Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury was spot-on — he lip-synced for two hours while wearing fake teeth, so maybe not that good — but let's not forget that the credited director has a long list of sexual assault accusations involving underage boys. Controversy aside, the movie was a nice two-hour distraction but hardly worthy of a Best Picture nomination.

Thankfully, Bryan Singer, the director of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” has been notably absent throughout awards season, and he was also missing from all acceptance speeches for the film. Malek himself declined to mention Singer during his acceptance speech, but don’t worry: Malek suggested in an LA Times interview that he wasn’t ever informed about the allegations against Singer, possibly due to a “supernatural intervention" from Mercury’s ghost. We truly can’t make this stuff up, but apparently Malek can. We all know the Best Actor category was one of the worst in years, but the win should have gone to Christian Bale for “Vice” (2018). At least he actually did a good job.

While it would have been nice for the Academy to pull “Bohemian Rhapsody” from consideration like the GLAAD Awards did, they didn’t. Rather, they gave it multiple wins, including Best Editing, and anyone who has seen the film knows that the editing looks like it was done at 11:59 p.m. the night before on a Red Bull-induced rampage. It seems the Academy did not do the best job considering what “Bohemian Rhapsody” winning means to the survivors of Singer’s assaults. In the time of #MeToo, this was simply disrespectful and disgusting. Of course, other wins were shocking and confusing as well.

The award for Best Live Action Short Film went to “Skin” (2018), a brutally violent and tasteless film — one that feels familiar in its approach to the racist underbelly of white America but decides to equate a Nazi father and his gang of friends beating up a black man to a group of black men tattooing that Nazi’s entire body. It’s a strange lesson on racism being taught, a weirdly crude political take on how violence is found on both sides. It feels like the Academy fell for “Skin,” thinking it was politically relevant in our day and age. Unfortunately, this is not the only thing they fell for this year.

There were some good things: Olivia Colman had perhaps the most heartwarming acceptance speech of all time, and even better, she celebrated her win by renting a party bus and driving around Los Angeles all night with five of her friends. She is a true queen. Spike Lee’s first Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) was long overdue and his speech was incredibly passionate, featuring an homage to black history. Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter were the second- and third-ever black women to win non-acting awards, and there had never been a black male or female winner before in their respective categories. Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for his work on "Roma" (2018), which was a well-deserved win for the director and another nod towards “Roma’s” greatness. Finally, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper delivered the steamiest performance we’ve ever seen, and honestly can they please just date already? Also, their song was great live. Now, for the tea you’ve all been waiting for.

“Green Book,” another critically divisive film, won Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, the latter of which we wish were a second win for “Moonlight” (2016). “Green Book” is not only historically inaccurate, it is a flat-out fantasy of Don Shirley’s life. Shirley, a Jamaican-American pianist, is the subject of the film, and his family was extremely upset about the “lies” that “Green Book” tells about him. The family reported that they were not contacted by the studio until after development of the film. Like ... what? Between “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it seems historical inaccuracies were a winning ticket this year. Cue the eye-rolls.

In this way, giving “Green Book” Best Original Screenplay almost feels right. It is original, after all, since it presents a fabricated version of Shirley’s life. “Green Book” has also had quite a terrible press tour: Remember when Viggo Mortensen used the n-word in a Q&A? We do. At the end of the day, “Roma” or “The Favourite” (2018) would have been much better picks. It’s aggravating that the Academy saw a positive story about 'friendship' in “Green Book” and decided to reward that. But why do they keep rewarding these out-of-touch, tasteless films? Remember “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) and “Crash” (2004)? How can the Academy go from rewarding indie darling “Moonlight,”a story about black men that felt rich and expansive and just oh, so good, to a film like “Green Book,” which is quite literally none of those things? End rant.

Overall, the 91st Academy Awards were a very mixed bag. The host-less ceremony was covered nicely by a variety of celebrities, and “Black Panther” (2018) deservedly winning three awards was so nice. Sure, there were historic wins, and it is always nice to hear Gaga’s iconic outburst in “The Shallow,” but that Best Picture win, coupled with the many other hiccups, tainted the entire ceremony. Here’s to next year, which will most likely be a battle between Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019), Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” (2020),Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (2019) and  Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (2019). Oh, and that Popular Film category? Give it to “Star Wars: Episode IX” (2019), or else.