As predicted, there were bound to be some surprises this past Sunday at the 91st annual Academy Awards, honoring the best in movies from 2018.
And I got most of my predictions right, but two very big ones wrong. Both of them were, coincidentally, in the acting categories for actresses. More on that in a moment.
First, though, I want to gloat about correctly predicting the big winner of the night – “Green Book” for Best Picture – going against the tide of popular opinion.
By last week, most seemed certain “Roma” was a lock for the win. I reasoned, though, that with “Roma” certain to win Best Foreign Language picture (which it did) and Best Director (which indeed Alfonso Cuaron did), and with the fact that never before has a foreign language film won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, this would all likely keep “Roma” away from the final award of the night. Which, apparently, it did.
Predicting a winner is as much about whether the movie/performance was any good as it is about politics and the mood and temperature of the U.S., and even the world, at that time.
And as I wrote last week, even besides “Green Book” being my personal pick for Best Picture, and winning Best Theatrical Motion Picture from the Producers Guild of America and the National Board of Review’s choice for Best Film of 2018, and Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, “it would seem like the type of film that would be the ‘traditional’ pick for the Oscar’s Best Picture. It tackles some of the toughest, most controversial issues today – racism and homophobia – in a based-on-a-true-story tale demonstrating that even the most difficult and set-in-their ways individuals are capable of change and great humanity.
“Coupled with its two strong lead performances, I suspect the inspiring overall message will resonate with Oscar voters.”
It appears this did happen, and “Green Book” checked all the right boxes, even with all the controversy surrounding it. Family members of one of the two principal characters have been saying the movie is “full of lies”, a “symphony of lies” and filled with “hurtful” lies. So, one can assume some liberties may have been taken with the story.
But that can be said about most of this year’s nominees, more than half of which (five out of eight), were “based on true stories”. From “Bohemian Rhapsody” rearranging whole sequences of events and timelines, to “BlacKkKlansman” amalgamating some actual people into one character and creating whole new characters who never existed. Ask some historians just how factual or verifiable are those suggestions of a lesbian love triangle involving Queen Anne of Great Britain in “The Favourite”. And I’m sure at least one person will say Dick Cheney isn’t at all as conniving as “Vice” portrays him to be.
A bigger problem, though, has been the odd narrative before, but even more so now in the aftermath of the “Green Book” win. A lot of it has come from Spike Lee, who has been the loudest voice in the chorus of folks who have chastised the film for promoting the “white savior” and the “magical negro” concept (which Spike largely coined). Many of these critics have said this movie downplays the harshness of the segregation era to make white viewers feel better about themselves.
I think this is an unfair criticism, however, I do believe it is entirely possible for the average Bahamian watching the movie to have a completely different reaction to it compared to the average black American.
Thus, I urge all Bahamians who have yet to see “Green Book” to watch it for themselves. Do not get caught up the negative hype. Our experiences and perspectives are going to be unique for various reasons.
But I do believe the Academy voters got it right with “Green Book”!
With the other winners, I rightfully predicted – as did almost every single right-minded person on the planet – that Mahershala Ali would be collecting his second Oscar (in three years) for his role as Dr. Don Shirley in “Green Book”. He is now one of only two black people to have multiple Academy Awards for acting – the other being Denzel Washington, who also has two.
I predicted that Rami Malek, as Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), would have an edge over the other frontrunner, Christian Bale, as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (“Vice”).
And we all knew it was Alfonso Cuaron’s night for Best Directing for the acclaimed “Roma”.
There was also little doubt that “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” would win Best Animated Feature Film.
But alas, as mentioned previously, I was very wrong with the actress categories.
With Best Actress, everybody knew this was between Glenn Close (“The Wife”) and Olivia Colman (“The Favourite”). All awards season, they’ve largely see-sawed the wins, with Lady Gaga occasionally popping in. But this was the Close/Colman fight. And I really did believe the seventh time was going to be the charm for Close, finally ending her long history of losses at the Oscars (no wins ever since her first nomination in 1982?!).
This may not have been her best work ever, and it was in a largely forgettable movie, but it was a very nuanced performance, one that skillfully showcased her great experience and depth. A win would have also been a celebration of Close’s decent body of work.
But the Academy went with Colman, who is fantastic as Queen Anne in “The Favourite” – even though I still say Emma Stone’s and especially Rachel Weisz’s “supporting” performances were the real draw for this very entertaining picture.
My final error, though, is all on me.
The writing was on the wall. Regina King, the greatest actress on television today, and now finally making waves on the big screen, was predicted to win by anyone who can spell “award”, and also by inhabitants of other planets who have yet to see “If Beale Street Could Talk”.
But I figured King’s chances of winning would be diminished, as she has played similar characters on TV for each of her three Emmy wins in the last four years, and she was the only actress in the supporting category not in a movie nominated for Best Picture.
Well, what do I know? This was a big year for many first-time nominees who are now winners. And King, deservedly, has an Oscar to add to her growing mantel of awards.
In the writing categories, which I did not try to predict, Spike Lee won his first Academy Award ever, as part of the writing team winning for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”.
And in a move that must have led several people (including Spike Lee) into conniptions, the writing team for “Green Book” – which included Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Lip, the character Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen played in the movie – won for Original Screenplay.
Even with no host, ratings for the Oscars telecast on Sunday were up compared to last year. That’s likely because most of the nominations were for movies people have actually heard about, and possibly even seen. U.S. ratings were about 29.6 million viewers, up 12 percent compared to last year’s lowest-rated Academy Awards telecast in history.
Despite the increases, this year’s broadcast is still the second lowest-rated ever.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email [email protected] and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.