Last night’s Oscars felt dead on arrival when Queen opened the show with a performance that was so lifeless and awkwardly shot one might have mistaken it for a clip from Bohemian Rhapsody. Fortunately, though, the ever-reliable trio of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph brought the energy back to the room. In the absence of the usual opening monologue, the trio offered a funny bit that ripped on the many gaffes the Academy made en route to this year’s Oscars, including losing host Kevin Hart and backtracking on its decision to award several categories during the commercial breaks and present edited clips later in the show. This year’s Oscar broadcast might have been the swiftest one yet since it didn’t have a host to pad the evening with jokes and filler. The Oscars didn’t suffer much without a host, but like the show could have used a bit more pizzazz. One can hardly fault the Academy because they ultimately listened to viewers and delivered a show that focused largely on the nominees and winners.
Last night’s Oscars might have been the most no-frills Academy Awards ever. The show nevertheless listened to concerns from audiences (and nominees) about the inclusion of all Best Original Song nominees and four of the nominated songs provided the night’s few elements of entertainment. (Kendrick Lamar and SZA declined to perform “All the Stars” from Black Panther.) Lady Gaga brought the house down with an electrifying rendition of A Star is Born’s winning anthem “Shallow” in a piece that was staged so intimately, captured in one unbroken take that one half expected her to make out with Bradley Cooper by the end. (Although Cooper’s vocals were a bit shaky.) Her speech, expectedly emotional, was one of the night’s stronger moments, especially when paired with reaction shots of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson nodding along to Gaga’s words about working hard in an unforgiving industry. Other highlights included Melissa McCarthy and Bryan Tyree Henry’s goofy presentation for Best Costume Design using a mash-up of threads from the nominees, including a smorgasbord of bunnies to honour The Favourite.
Without any host to fill the gaps between awards, the show relied heavily on the emotions of the winners and they mostly delivered. For me, the absolute highlight of the night was Olivia Colman’s upset victory in the Best Actress category over heavy favourite Glenn Close. Although my vote would have gone to Lady Gaga, Colman’s thunderously funny turn in The Favourite was a close second and might have been a once in a lifetime opportunity for the British character actress. Colman, visibly shocked and overcome with emotion, provided one of those candid moments that the Oscars crave. It’s great to see such recognition and genuine emotion on the circuit. I’ve been a fan of Colman’s work since the early days of Peep Show through to her heartbreaking performance in Tyrannosaur and the hidden gem London Road, so I hope last night’s win opens a door.
The trio of short film winners were especially enthusiastic (although I absolutely hated Best Live Action Short winner Skin) and it was great to see Toronto’s Domee Shi scoop an Oscar for Best Animated Short. Shi was one of two Canadians to win Oscars last night with sound engineer Paul Massey nabbing Best Sound Mixing for Bohemian Rhapsody.
While Massey’s work is one of the few technical or artistic highlights of Bohemian Rhapsody, last night’s focus on the winners also drew attention to some very questionable choices by the Academy. Most egregious were the trio of technical gongs for Rhapsody, especially its hacky film editing, that helped it be the big winner of the night with four awards. The quartet of Oscars meant that Bohemian Rhapsody official won more Oscars than Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Psycho, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, or all four versions of A Star is Born combined.
The winners of the night were a mixed bag and a tension of demographics colliding as Black Panther scooped some well-deserved Oscars for its Afro-futurist costumes and production design, while Queen stans voted for Bo Rhap without showing any discernable appreciation for what editing (film or sound) does within a movie. Similarly, there couldn’t have been a more bizarre contrast in the screenplay categories with Green Book winning Best Original Screenplay alongside BlacKkKlansman in the adapted category. The former is a well-intentioned and jovial, if completely tone deaf, buddy comedy about race relations in 1960s America, while the latter is a chillingly relevant satire on the continuation of racial politics through to the present day. However, Spike Lee’s enthusiastic and incendiary speech, a provocative beat poem that mixed the obligatory thank you shout-outs with calls to action, proved one of the best moments of the night. His recognition by the Academy was long overdue and a fitting name to highlight what was ultimately a very respectable evening for diversity in film. Last night’s winners feature a noticeable uptick in the number of women and people of colour taking the stage with well-deserved wins highlighting the importance of reflecting different experiences through film.
That all felt very weird, though, when Julia Roberts opened the envelope to present Best Picture not to favourite Roma, but to the populist Green Book. What followed was the most muted reception for a Best Picture winner since Crash stole the show in 2006. There’s a lot to enjoy about Green Book, especially its note-perfect screen team of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, but it’s hardly worthy to stand as the best film of 2018. In a year when so many films broke boundaries and brought something new to the screen, this well-trodden, safe but admittedly enjoyable flick is a better fit to stand as the best film of 1988. (Or 1989, when it was called Driving Miss Daisy.)
As much as I don’t think Green Book is a worthy Oscar winner, I can’t join the chorus of people eager to burn down the Dolby Theatre. For me, its win means that the big loser of the night was campaigning. The onslaught of negative press—some warranted, some not—ultimately proved ineffective in terms of derailing a film that has undergone one bombshell after another since winning the People’s Choice at TIFF. This cycle of outrage that has become the dominant thread of Oscar coverage, yet it doesn’t seem to work, as noted by the fact that the two biggest winners of the night, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, were the most piled upon movies of the year. Perhaps last night’s win for Green Book was pushback from Academy members who simply wanted to vote for a film that moved them and weren’t concerned about whatever over-arching generalizations people wanted to draw. They might not have the best taste, so if folding an entire pizza in half and scarfing it down is their idea of a good time, then let them have grease dribble down their chins. The Academy gave viewers the show they wanted, but the Oscars got the last laugh.