America in 2019 is a tough one to live in. We are living in a constant state of fear and sadness. The political climate is a mess, the actual climate is going to hell, we turn on the news and it is always something bad: another mass shooting, minority groups being the target of violence, celebrities we thought we knew and loved turning out to be monsters. Everyday is getting worse and it is getting harder and harder to find a place to escape.
Back during World War I and The Great Depression, when life in America was arguably at its absolute worst, people would use entertainment, including movies, as a form of escapism. Parents would take their families to a cheap movie in order to have them not think about the current issues, if only for those 90 minutes on screen.
This past Sunday, the 91st Academy Awards aired. The Academy Awards are arguably the biggest night in cinema, honoring the best movies, performances, and technical achievements from the past year. The big winner of the night was Bohemian Rhapsody, taking home four Oscars including Best Actor for Rami Malek. Following closely behind were Roma, Black Panther, and Green Book, all winning three awards last night, respectively, with Green Book taking home the big prize of Best Picture. Green Book’s Best Picture win came as somewhat of surprise, as the film faced some controversy on the during the season, as well as there being more support in the film community for a lot of other nominees.
There are certain movies that are considered “Oscar-bait”. They are usually big, sweeping, sometimes inspiring period pieces, most of the time based on a true story, most of the time with a predominantly, if not all, white cast. There was a run of these movies in the 90’s, with Dances with Wolves, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, and Shakespeare in Love and at the beginning of the new millennium with Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. Yet for a brief moment, there was a changing of the guard in terms of Best Picture wins. Movies like The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker all won the big prize, showing a shift in genre and possibly a shift in the Academy’s way of thinking.
However, the beginning of the decade saw a return to Oscar-bait formula, as The King’s Speech, The Artist, and Argo won the big prizes. All of them period pieces, all of them with white casts, and two of them about Hollywood themselves, something that Academy really loves, and two of them being true stories. It looked like we were back in the old days again. But when 12 Years A Slave won in 2013, it started a new shift in the Academy. Following 12 Years, movies like Birdman, Moonlight, and The Shape of Water would end up taking Best Picture and showed a progression in inclusion of what kind of movies could win Best Picture. Though the movies may not have been everyone’s favorite, nobody could deny that this was new for the Academy and a step in the right direction.
Now, back to this years show. With the Academy moving forward in terms of the progression of the movies that were winning Best Picture, it seemed like the trend was going to continue this year. Here is a brief glimpse of this year’s Best Picture nominees:
BlackKklansman – A true story about a black man infiltrating the KKK in the 1970’s.
Black Panther – A financial juggernaut and the first superhero movie ever nominated for Best Picture.
Bohemian Rhapsody – A biopic about Queen frontman Freddy Mercury.
The Favourite – A lesbian romance set in 18th century England.
Green Book – A true story about the relationship between a white man and black man in the 1960’s.
Roma – Black and white Spanish gem and Netflix first film nominated for Best Picture.
A Star is Born – Third remake of a classic story.
Vice – Biopic about Vice President Dick Cheney.
2018 was an incredible year for movies but it was also an incredibly depressing year for movies. There were not a lot of movies that left you feeling great after leaving the theater. And that is why the movies that won last night won: they were pure escapism and that is what we need right now.
As I said above, the big winners of the night were Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, Roma, and the eventual Best Picture winner, Green Book. Now, Roma isn’t exactly escapism, but the craft of the film could not go unnoticed, which is why it was rewarded Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Director. Roma would have kept in the progressive trend going. But let’s look at the ones did not win a lot. A Star is Born is an incredibly sad remake, BlackKklansman is an important movie, though one that shows how bad America has gotten, The Favourite is too weird for the Academy, and Vice is a film about the same government people currently hate. In a time when everyone is sad, we don’t want to feel sadder, we want a movie to take our mind off the tragedies of regular day and into a new world.
Which brings me to Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, and Green Book. These are the movies that people want to watch. Escapist fun that makes them forget their problems and makes them feel good after leaving the theater. Bohemian Rhapsody highlights one of the greatest rock bands of all-time and showcases its wonderful music. Black Panther was the biggest movie of 2018 and one of the most important comic book movies ever, taking us to Wakanda and not letting us leave until weeks after see the film. Though it is a progressive film in terms of superhero representation, it is still a comic book movie filled with thrilling action, fun set pieces and bright colors. Green Book is an inspirational tale about the bond of friendship during a dark, mean time. Green Book is far from the best movie of the movies nominated and isn’t even close to being the best film of these three (Black Panther is the only good film here), but what it did was make people feel the best and that, along with preferential voting, are the reasons why it won Best Picture this year. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, but for most it was. Film pundits all over Twitter and other social media platforms expressed their dismay for Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody’s wins, yet that Academy wasn’t awarding the “best” film, they awarded their favorite film, the one that made them feel the best. I’m not saying I agree with this win, as it does feel like the Academy is taking ten steps backwards in terms of progress, but it seems relatively obvious as to why these films won.
But what does this mean going forward? It doesn’t seem like the world is getting any better, so what will the Academy do next year? Will it go back to its progressive course? Or will it be the movie that everyone felt the best leaving? We’ll find out in a year. But for now, Green Book is your 2019 Oscar winner because it made everyone feel good. Is that the new qualification for Best Picture? I sure hope not.
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