If I Were an Academy Member
By Kim Hollis
February 24, 2019
If I were an Oscar voter, I would have nominated a few films that weren’t in the Best Picture mix. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse totally deserves a spot, people!
Anyway, since we all know that preferential voting now plays hugely into the way that Best Picture results are tabulated, observing the way BOP staffers would rank the films if we had the opportunity can be informative. Alternately, it might be utterly useless other than for you to throw things at your computer because you disagree with me. Either way, I present to you how I would rank the Best Picture nominees if I were an Oscar voter.
8) Green Book
So, I hope this movie doesn’t win Best Picture. It’s not that Green Book is bad, exactly. It just makes me… uncomfortable. Mahershala Ali is spectacular as always here, playing an aloof, haughty, brilliant classical jazz pianist. I think I could watch him in Paint Drying: The Movie and find it satisfying. Also, the music is magnificent. While watching the film, I hummed and sung along with a lot of the songs he played as his character, Doc Shirley, went on a concert tour of the South.
On the other hand, I struggled with how the film plays some of Shirley’s foibles for laughs. He’s not “black enough,” so white guy Tony “The Lip” Balalonga teaches him how to be (including the all-too-clichéd approach of introducing him to fried chicken). He’s not “straight enough,” so straight guy Tony “The Lip” Balalonga protects him and sticks up for him. And the Deep South of the 1960s, he’s definitely the wrong color to eat or stay in certain places, so white guy Tony “The Lip” defends Shirley. Look, even if the story truly played out this way in real life (and Shirley’s family contends that it did not), I still feel like the story of a friendship could have developed in more respectful way. Green Book is really the only nominee that I would put in the “ugh” category.
I’d be fine with any film from here on out winning Best Picture, though I do think that selections 5-7 are a bit marginal. I was predisposed to like Vice, I guess. Adam McKay’s sense of humor works for me, whether it’s in Anchorman, Talladega Nights, the short film The Landlord, or The Big Short.
While it’s true that Vice is a mean-spirited exploration of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s ascension, it still amused me. I suppose I can admit to enjoying some schaudenfraude now and again, and since I think Cheney is as much to blame for our overall negative political landscape as any operative out there, I might have needed it, too.
I’ll agree with criticisms that Vice is oddly edited, although I do fell the choice is intentional. It does cause problems with pacing, but I still think it’s absolutely hilarious to run credits early in the film to give the audience an impression of a happy ending. Also, the Shakespearian banter between Dick and Lynne is just damned perfect during… that scene. You know the one. No one is going to call Vice subtle, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to be.
6) A Star Is Born
There is so much to like about A Star Is Born. Bradley Cooper’s world-weary, destructive Jackson Maine is played to perfection. And even though I’ve seen plenty of criticism of Lady Gaga as Ally in the film, I think she was a delight in the role, particularly in early stages of the film. Her character is endearing and charismatic, the kind of girl you’d hope would ascend to stardom, really.
I think the real issue for A Star Is Born is the fact that Ally’s ascension comes at the cost of selling out, which isn’t in character for her at all, while Jackson’s decline comes after experiencing jealousy and bitterness, which might have made sense if we’d seen him do the same thing with other characters. Also, Dave Chappelle shows up all of a sudden in the movie for a period, and we don’t really know where he came from or why he and Jackson are friends. Don’t get me wrong – I love Chappelle. But it just didn’t make much sense.
Still, I think intentions were really good here, and Cooper’s greatest directing crime might have been sticking too closely to the story of the first two films. I wonder if he couldn’t have taken it a different, unexpected direction. One thing I know is that there were a lot of confused people in the theater when Jackson hit rock bottom. That’s not a good thing, but by the same token, everyone still seemed to enjoy it.
5) Bohemian Rhapsody
I can actually see myself watching and rewatching this film. I loved Queen growing up. My family used to take Sunday drives and songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Bicycle Race,” and “Killer Queen” provided the soundtrack to those afternoons. I sing along with Freddie whenever the band’s music is played on the radio.
And still I recognize that Bohemian Rhapsody is a bit of a bloated mess of a film, though it’s a fun mess. I also don’t really feel like it provides any true insight into Freddie himself, much as it purports to. I wanted to know so much more about his relationship with Mary Austin, and then later his relationship with Jim Hutton. Still, I realize that Bohemian Rhapsody is the story that Mercury’s bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor were comfortable telling. It’s their biography, too.
Anyway, it’s a flawed film but one that is nonetheless a joy to watch. And yes, Rami Malek is fantastic (though I think Lucy Boynton deserves more praise than she gets for her portrayal of Austin, and I quite liked Ben Hardy as Taylor, too).
4) The Favourite
Now we’re talking. The Favourite is a lot of nasty fun. I adore movies that involve political intrigue, but let’s be honest. The politics aren’t the point of The Favourite. Instead, it’s the power play between two cousins and the queen they theoretically serve.
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz portray those cousins, and I’m hard pressed to think of a film with a better pair of supporting actresses. Their repartee is sharp and dagger-filled, and you will absolutely shift your sympathy back and forth between the two of them as the movie progresses.
Perhaps it’s the queen whom we should feel for the most, though. Truly, she doesn’t want to govern. She wants to play with her many rabbits or, you know, recover from painful gout. Still, when she realizes that she’s perceived as a poor ruler, she wants to regain that power that belongs to her, and in fact, that’s where the movie leaves us. It’s not a happy ending for any of the women; each one overplays her hand.
Also, the bunnies are super cute.
Even though I rank Roma third amongst my choices, I can’t help but feel that it’s the movie most deserving of the Best Picture win. It’s technically gorgeous, with stunning black and white cinematography and impeccably framed shots. The music provides the right historical note to set the film in 1970s Mexico. And the performances are sublime – Yalitza Aparicio draws the viewer into Cleo’s story, and Marina de Tavira and Verónica García strike the perfect note as the other women in Cleo’s life. Yes, they are technically her employers, but they are her family, too.
What Roma shows us is the resilience of femininity. Cleo experiences highs and lows, mostly lows. Her highs mostly center on the children of the family she cares for, while her lows come from a cruel, violent lover and a harrowing pregnancy. Likewise, Sofia, the mother of the family and Cleo’s employer, must deal with her husband’s constant absence and eventual leaving the family behind. And Teresa, Sofia’s mother, is the stolid presence that keeps everyone grounded.
I truly admire Roma. It’s a film that deserves every accolade it has received. And yet, I enjoyed two films more.
2) Black Panther
When Marvel gets superhero films right, they really get them right. I must admit that I often turn on Thor: Ragnarok if I’m working, because it just brings me a crazy stupid amount of joy when I watch it. In 2018, Avengers: Infinity War and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse were both top-notch storytelling efforts, too. But Black Panther stood tall amongst them all, expanding the universe in new and creative ways while bringing female characters to the forefront.
How great is Wakanda? This country where the people cooperate together to create amazing things is what we should aspire to. And yet, Killmonger still manages to be one of our great villains even as he wants to use that knowledge in less than honorable ways, mainly because his goal is one that makes sense.
Black Panther has everything. A great hero in T’Challa/Black Panther, a fantastic villain (and sub-villain), an amazing set of characters who surround Black Panther, soaring, original music, and a story that is reminiscent of James Bond while freshening up the entire concept. It would be a worthy winner in any yer.
My favorite of the Best Picture nominees, though, is this thoughtful, funny, timely exploration of race relations in the 1970s through the eyes of an undercover cop. When Ron Stallworth calls up the KKK and asks if he can join up, the guys on the other end of the line have no idea that the man to whom they’re speaking is an African-American. He and one of his fellow officers are able to maintain the charade when a white Jewish cop becomes the “face” of Ron Stallworth and goes to join.
Every performance in this film is outstanding, with of course John David Washington and Adam Driver standing high above the rest. The screenplay is smart and fast-paced, keeping the viewer on their toes. Spike Lee also plays with an interesting juxtaposition in the film – black people don’t trust the police, but a black cop infiltrates a hate group to prevent them hurting and threatening minorities.
BlacKkKlansman challenges us to think about what it means to be white and what it means to be black in today’s America. This quote from A.O. Scott of the New York Times sums it up for me. "Committed anti-racists can sit quietly or laugh politely when hateful things are said. Epithets uttered in irony can be repeated in earnest. The most shocking thing about Flip's (Adam Driver's undercover detective role) imposture is how easy it seems, how natural he looks and sounds. This unnerving authenticity is partly testament to Mr. Driver's ability to tuck one performance inside another, but it also testifies to a stark and discomforting truth. Maybe not everyone who is white is a racist, but racism is what makes us white.”