The 2019 Academy Awards has come and gone yet again, with as much predictability, drama and controversy as has come to be expected from the ceremony. As the dust continues to settle, I will look at those who left as triumphant winners, and those who left as light or even empty-handed losers. To clarify, by winners and losers I don’t mean those who won or lost per se, but rather films, filmmakers and actors who ended the night with resounding success or stinging failure.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Despite failing to come away with any major category wins besides Best Actor for Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody earned 4 statues on the night, more than any other film. This is very impressive for a film that garnered relatively lukewarm reviews from critics, but to its credit, there is a strong argument to be made for each of its wins. Malek is truly spellbinding as the beloved Mercury, earning the resounding approval of the frontman’s former bandmates, while the sound mixing, sound editing and film editing coalesced to deliver powerful musical numbers that serve as the film’s crowning achievements.
Roma/Alfonso Cuarón – While Bohemian Rhapsody garnered the most statues of the night, the singular undisputed winner of the night was Alfonso Cuarón, whose Netflix drama Roma nabbed three awards for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, all of which went to Cuarón and Cuarón alone. There is not a whole lot more I can add to this, given that his wins pretty much speak for themselves, solidifying the filmmaker’s reputation as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
Bao – The sole Canadian winner of the entire ceremony, not only is Domee Shi the first woman to direct a Pixar short, but she is only the second woman to win an Oscar for Pixar, period. The Toronto native took full advantage of the opportunity afforded to her, delivering an animated short that offers significant representation for the Chinese-Canadian community of her home city, while delivering a relatable story that is equal parts heart-breaking and uplifting.
Blackkklansman/Spike Lee – It might have taken three decades, but the Academy have finally done what they should have in 1989 and awarded legendary veteran Spike Lee with his first Oscar. Garnering considerable recognition for his work on films such as Do The Right Thing (which he referenced in his admirable speech), Malcolm X and He Got Game, it is all the more shocking to think that this is the first year where he has been nominated for Best Director. Lee and his co-writers beat out stiff competition in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, and while this might be viewed by some as a conciliatory Award of sorts, I believe Blackkkansman is fully deserving of the award, delivering a funny, insightful, dark, socially aware script that is emblematic of Lee’s best works.
Green Book – Now this one is a doozy. Green Book came away with three awards on the night, winning Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and the most coveted award of the night, Best Picture. Many were upset by Green Book’s win, not least because of its apparent issues in handling race relations (more on that later), but also because it managed to beat a slew of cinematic heavy-hitters. Yet, it also has Oscar-bait written all over it, with the poster alone coming across as Driving Miss Daisy (a controversial Oscar winner in its own right) with the racial roles reversed. Regardless, while critics have offered restrained praise for the picture, audiences have been gushing with admiration, and given the Academy Awards’ declining ratings over the past few years, it makes sense (on paper at least) that they go with the fan-favourite, giving Green Book the perfect climate on which to capitalise, and capitalise it did.
The Favourite – Alas, for there to be winners, there must be losers, and The Favourite was the biggest loser of the night. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ style is certainly not for everyone, but he possesses an undeniably unique cinematic eye, which is abundantly clear in the The Favourite, and critics revelled in his period piece. That being said, Lanthimos was not considered a frontrunner for any awards himself, but being a period piece, The Favourite was predictably nominated in the Best Costume and Best Set Design categories, for which many considered it a shoo-in, but was beaten by Black Panther in both categories. The screenplay, which took almost two decades to complete, was the favourite in the Best Original Screenplay category, but was once again beaten, this time by the darling of the night, Green Book. Olivia Colman managed to salvage the cast and crew’s trip to the awards by winning Best Actress, but one win out of ten nominations for a film called The Favourite is amusingly ironic at best.
Glenn Close – The Favourite’s sole win marked one of the more significant upsets of the night, though that is not to say that Olivia Colman is undeserving of the award. On the contrary, Colman was unanimously recognised as Glenn Close’s sole competitor for the golden statue, similar to Christian Bale being the only realistic challenger to Rami Maleck at the time. Though unlike Malek, Close failed to secure that elusive Oscar, having now been nominated seven times without a win, a dubious record she now shares with the late Peter O’Toole. Many thought a win would not just be an acknowledgement of the veteran actress’s work in The Wife, but her career as a whole, something to which the Academy have proven themselves quite partial on numerous occasions, making her loss all the more surprising.
A Star Is Born – Much like The Favourite, A Star Is Born came away with a noticeably poor win-to-loss ratio, only managing to snag Best Original Song out of its eight nominations. The Academy have been unabashedly partial toward Bradley Cooper in recent years, and given that the multi-faceted filmmaker directed, co-wrote, co-produced and starred in the film, it was always going to garner nominations aplenty…the acclaim certainly didn’t hurt either! Unfortunately for Cooper, he lost in every one of his own categories, still failing to nab that blasted Oscar. But hey, at least we now live in a world where Lady Gaga is an Oscar-winner! Sorry again Glenn….
The Academy – Whenever the Academy seems to do something right, something that is sure to draw the praise (and ratings) that they so badly crave, they somehow manage to undo it all in one fell swoop. As a most recent example, when the Academy tries to distance itself from the whole #OscarsSoWhite fiasco, they still manage to screw it up by mistakenly announcing a film with a predominantly white cast for Best Picture, instead of the film with the all-black cast that actually won. While Green Book might have won big at the ceremony, it has come at quite the cost for the Academy’s reputation.
As previously mentioned, Green Book has been a favourite for audiences, winning the highly regarded and indicative People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (9 of the last 10 winners have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards), but it has also courted its fair share of controversy, given its handling of racial politics and the misrepresentation of Don Shirley’s character. I will admit to having not yet seen Green Book, so I cannot offer up my full opinion on the matter, but it seems apparent that this was a predictably safe choice in the minds of the Academy. Though, if they really wanted to play it that way without perpetuating their reputation for favouring commercially white-washed cinema, one can only wonder why in the world it wasn’t Blackkklansman that came away with the biggest award of the night.