The 91st Academy Awards promised us a train wreck but gave us—for the most part—a pretty good ride instead.
Here’s my recap of the moments I remember the most, good and bad.
The start of the show was a little rocky, in my opinion. The performance by Queen, fronted by Adam Lambert, was fine but a little more dull than I was expecting or hoping for. I know that’s a tough room to play, but the whole thing seemed too low energy to me. It was the first time a rock band had played the Oscars and maybe we’re seeing why. What made things worse was when the show then cut to a standard “welcome to the Oscars” package, featuring voiceover narration and footage from the red carpet with standard shots of celebrities waving to the camera, it seriously felt like the People’s Choice Awards, not the Oscars. The show was in serious danger of grinding to a halt. This is the gaping hole that was left by not having a host and I felt like they failed miserably to fill it. There was no edge, no spark, no genuine excitement at the top of the show. Thankfully, though, the producers inserted the traditional movie montage here and it righted the ship. The montage is always my favorite part of the show, so maybe I’m biased, but I watch the Oscars to celebrate movies, so these montages which celebrate the past year in film always give me goosebumps. And then, with the first presenters, I could feel the show back to steaming full speed ahead. Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey arrived to present the first award, but, before they did, they essentially delivered a host-type monologue and it was fantastic.
FUTURE HOST OPTION #1: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. Just stop teasing us in every awards show and do it yourselves, for goodness sake. You know it’s what we want.
The first award of the night led to the biggest ovation of the night for Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King, which couldn’t have pleased me more. This is the award I REALLY wanted to happen, so I was happy, no matter what else would happen.
Then came the most painful moment of the night, at least from a viewing perspective. I hate to call it out, but the winners for Makeup and Hairstyling were so unprepared and uninspired, they are the exact reason producers of the Oscars wanted to cut some categories from the show. I could literally hear millions of televisions changing the channel during the most painful two minutes I’ve ever experienced during an awards show.
But for those of us who were still watching, we were rewarded with the arrival of Brian Tyree Henry and Melissa McCarthy, who just may have saved this year’s Oscars from oblivion. As they were there to present the award for Best Costume Design, Henry and McCarthy were dressed in some fantastic concoctions which were seemingly pieces and parts inspired by all five of the nominated movie costumes stitched together into two garish and hilarious outfits which were, by far, the best sight gags of the night. In addition, McCarthy had a train covered with stuffed bunnies and had a bunny hand-puppet, all in tribute to nominated film The Favourite. It was all quite inspired and is exactly what the show needed.
FUTURE HOST OPTION #2: Brian Tyree Henry and Melissa McCarthy. This would be gold.
Then came history: black women winning consecutively, making history. The first was Ruth E. Carter, the winner for Best Costume Design for Black Panther. Carter is the first black woman ever to win the award. Then, Hannah Beachler, the first black woman ever even nominated for Production Design, WON for Black Panther. An incredible pair of moments, fittingly together.
Another highlight for me came when Trevor Noah introduced the Best Picture nominee Black Panther.
FUTURE HOST OPTION #3: Trevor Noah. He’s funny, edgy and smart. Give him a couple more years to raise his profile and he’ll be perfect.
Spider-Man: Into the Spidey-Verse winning for Best Animated Feature made me very happy. I think it’s the best animated film I’ve ever seen, so I naturally expected the Academy to overlook it.
The second-best speech of the night came from the winners of the Best Documentary Short, Period. End of Sentence. Their glee and passion were contagious and everything the Oscars should be about. They made a movie about something they believe in, something the world needs to know about and they were able to call out all of it with gratitude, humor and genuine joy. This is why ALL the categories should be televised. You never know where the moments will come from.
Speaking of moments, how about that performance of Best Song nominee (and eventual winner) “Shallow” from A Star is Born? I found out later that Bradley Cooper had directed and choreographed the number, including all the camera movements and you could really tell because it looked like nothing else on the show. His choice to shoot the performance from the back of the stage instead of the front (a callback to how he shot the concert scenes in A Star is Born) was genius, because, in that setting, we were able to see the two performers, two microphones and a piano in the foreground, and a sea of Hollywood’s finest sitting in their seats in the background, listening and watching intently—this number itself deserved a cinematography award, it was so beautiful. And the performance by Lady Gaga and Cooper was everything I had expected and hoped it would be. Stunning and breathtaking.
At this point in the show, they had me eating out of their hand. So, when they gave Spike Lee his first competitive Oscar win, for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, I had almost an out-of-body experience. I loved everything about his win and speech, it was a LONG time coming. It was a very nice touch having fellow Brooklyn-ite Barbra Streisand introduce BlacKkKlansman as Best Picture nominee. It felt like a genuine moment, which, in settings such as these, we need desperately.
But the most genuine and by far the best moment of the night came when Olivia Colman pulled off the upset of the century, winning Best Actress over four other women, including Glenn Close, the 7-time nominated movie legend who has never won an Oscar and was considered the overwhelming favorite to win. Colman, a British working actor who has toiled in near-obscurity before gaining fame for playing the crazy Queen Anne in The Favourite, was as surprised as the rest of us when Frances McDormand called her name. Her speech was a giddy mess and she couldn’t have been more charming if she’d tried. I didn’t think she could top the speech she gave at the BAFTAs, but she did. It’s a good thing, too, because it made us all but forget that Close lost, a truly staggering moment in Oscar history. Only Peter O’Toole (8 nominations) had received more nominations and never won. She’ll probably get an honorary Oscar, the way O’Toole did, but this might have been her last chance to win a competitive one, which is too bad. Still, Colman’s win was a truly silver lining because her speech will be remembered as one of the best ever.
But then came the crash. Pun intended.
Like when you’re on a sugar high, it all has to end sometime, and usually badly. I was enjoying the show, loving so many moments, and then came the climax, the award we had all been waiting for: Best Picture. I knew there was a big chance that Green Book could win, but my heart and mind were so set on Roma winning, because I believed a body of film professionals would be able to see through a movie that is simplistic, formulaic and old-fashioned and would instead choose to award a visionary film that will likely go down in history as a cinematic masterpiece. Well….Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Picture either. In 1942, it lost to How Green Was My Valley. Now I’m not really comparing Roma to Citizen Kane, but history might. And the fact that Green Book beat Roma reminds me of the time Crash beat Brokeback Mountain and I forced myself to accept that the Oscars are far from perfect and far from infallible. Like Crash, the selection of Green Book as Best Picture will go down as a black mark in the Academy’s history, for its lack of courage, inventiveness and new thinking. Roma would have been a much better choice, as would have The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman or Black Panther, for that matter. I could’ve even lived with A Star is Born winning. But not Green Book. I’m disgusted, but mainly disappointed. Disappointed because there were so many steps forward this year, and in the diversity of awards from the Academy, who has taken great strides to be more inclusive and progressive in their body and their choices. But, alas, the preferential balloting process that they use to select Best Picture (the only category in which the method is used) is seemingly designed to reward the mediocre as the movies that people are truly passionate about (one way or another) are eliminated, which leaves the movies that sit in the middle of the passion scale, the movies that don’t offend or upset, are familiar and don’t take any risks. I had great hopes when Moonlight, a movie not like any Best Picture winner before it, won a couple years ago, that maybe things were changing, but, alas, we’re back to where we were 20 years ago, when Green Book would have been the runaway favorite to win. But we have made lots of strides in 20 years, and I would love to see that progress reflected in the art that we award.
When Green Book’s name was announced as Best Picture, Spike Lee and I had the same reaction. We left our seats and walked away. We both eventually came back, but the gut reaction remained. Frustration, sickness and disappointment. I’m not quite to the point of disillusionment yet, because so many other things happened last night that continue to give me hope for the industry and the Oscars themselves, but one step forward, two steps back helps no one. Look at the movies nominated for Oscars this year and you’ll see a list of inventive, original and fresh work that do not feel reductive or regressive. I would’ve been happy with almost any of them winning over Green Book. (Except Bohemian Rhapsody, but that’s an argument to have another time.)
Overall, the show moved faster and felt tighter, that is true. Did I miss a host? Yes. Do I think it can be done without a host? Yes. But I think last night proved there are many options out there, they just need to figure out what they are going to do and figure out how to continually improve on it. The ratings apparently were terrible last night, as they were a year ago, so the Oscars may have to make a real decision soon: stay what they are and EMBRACE it, ratings be damned, or toss out everything and find a new and different way to celebrate the medium. Who knows what the future will hold, but, no matter what and no matter the heartache, I’m fully on board. For all of it.