The 91st Academy Awards

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I absolutely love the Academy Awards and have watched every year since, I think 1993 when Schindlers List swept the board. As a Brit, we can be very dismissive of an event that amounts to little more than just an annual backslapping event where, highly decorated individuals award highly decorated individuals by claiming that for one year only, they are the best. However, to have this cynical view is to hugely miss the point. The Academy Awards are meant to be a celebration, yes they are cheesy and yes an inordinate amount of time is spent trying to figure out what people are wearing, but the glitz and the glamour are what makes it what it is. A chance to take stock of where my favourite art form currently is.

Lets get one thing clear, the Academy Awards rarely, in my opinion give awards to the Best Films of the year, or even the films that will last long in the memory, and 2019 was certainly no exception to the rule. Green Book, this years Best Picture winner, was a light, fluffy piece that barely scratched the surface on the subject matter that it was based upon. Compared with the other nominee that tackled race issues in America, Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, to me there is no comparison, not only in the quality of the filmmaking but also the handling of the subject matter at hand. My thoughts are that out of the two, Green Book was the safer choice for an Academy, who desperate to show they are moving with the times, couldn’t quite be persuaded to award their highest prize of the year to a film that could be considered a political hot potato in the current landscape. Likewise, moving with the times is one thing, but awarding a black and white, non American language, made not for Cinema film Best Picture also proved to be a step too far for the Academy to take on this occasion, as pre-tournament favourite, and Netflix produced, Roma also missed out on the biggest prizes I personally am ok with this, I admired the astounding beauty of the film but I needed a bit more to convince me that I would need to watch it again or root for it as the overall best film. The Director and Cinematography gongs that it took home were hugely justified.

Ok, before I go on, I have a confession to make, I haven’t seen The Favourite yet, and will hopefully catch up with it before the week is out but I have seen the rest of the Best Picture nominations. My vote would have gone to the previously mentioned Blackkklansman and I would have also picked Adam Driver in Best Supporting Actor over Mahershala Ali, who was great in Green Book, but Driver kept me guessing as to which way his character was going right up to the very end of that film and I found it a completely magnetic performance.

So onto the ceremony itself, dogged with controversy before a limousine even pulled up to the red carpet, with a host in Kevin Hart first being hired then fired, a decision to not let all the Best Original Song nominees perform on the night, which was partially rescinded (4 out of the 5 had a warble), the decision to not let last years winners announce this years winners in the acting categories, again rescinded, and the daddy of them all………….a decision to not present all 24 categories on air, with 4 being moved to advert breaks. This last one was beyond ridiculous and was a potential smack in the mouth of the nominees and winners of those categories. The Academy was coming across as quite Orwellian with its “all categories are equal, yet some are more equal than others”. Thankfully, once again common sense prevailed and all were to be given their moment and rightly so. These people may not get to sit on the front row but its because of them that certain people do get to sit in the VIP seats.

So I was a little nervous before the ceremony started with no host, I personally think Jimmy Kimmel had done a solid job in the last 2 years and would have had no qualms with him getting the hat-trick, alas it became the job nobody wanted or seemed fit to do. With memories of Snow White fuelled nightmares of when last time the Academy went hostless being shown relentlessly on YouTube, the biggest gamble the Academy had made in 30 years was about to be unleashed on the audience.

And what an unleashing. If you going to go big, then go in BIG. Queen, with Adam Lambert, roared onto the stage, blasting the ear wax out of a possibly unsuspecting crowd with renditions of stadium rock anthems We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. The crowd in the auditorium and, I suspect watching at home, embraced this cacophony of rock as the complete antithesis of the comedic monologue, Javier Bardem, in particular, was not holding back headbanging away as if he was in the back seat of the Murph Mobile behind Wayne and Garth. So far so good for the new look Academy Awards.

Once everyone had found their breath and their seats again, we got on with the more traditional act of actually handing out awards. First on stage was the comedy SNL triumvirate of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, who briefly raised the hope on the watching audience that the Academy had cunningly bluffed us all and had indeed secretly lined up a host or hosts. Oh and what a treat that would be, anyone who has watched Fey and Poehlers 3 opening monologues (or is a duologue if two are doing it) at the Golden Globes would know they would be outstanding hosts. Here they didn’t disappoint, firing off some zingers including a great gag about Netflix and how it was possible that their microwave would make a movie next year.

As soon as Ali was announced as Best Supporting Actor, they left the stage with him and that was that. However what followed was a host of mainly young, upcoming stars from a diverse range of backgrounds from the quite brilliant Awkafina and John Mulaney, who made my favorite joke of the night when he remarked at his first Oscars. “I want these people to like me to a degree I find embarrassing,”  to the strange choice of Serena Williams who didn’t look that happy to be there.

I did miss a few of the more traditional faces, I always like to see some of the legends being themselves and there wasn’t a lot of that this year. Michael Keaton turned up halfway through to present Best Editing and seemed almost like an imposter surrounded by all these young upstarts. Having said that the irrepressible Barbara Streisand almost stole the show and actually did steal Richard E Grant’s heart as she sassed onto the stage to deliver a speech on behalf of Blackkklansman. Further to this Bette Midler charmed audiences everywhere when she sang “Where the Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins returns with enough Diva gesturing to ensure that the Old School charm of Oscar was simmering away nicely in the background.

The highlight of the night, however, was to come when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sent the audience, literally Gaga with a spellbinding renditon of soon to be crowned Best Original Song winner, Shallows from A Star is Born. Its a big song at the best of times but to perform like that on the Biggest stage surrounded by peers was possibly the one moment that will be talked about for decades to come.

I always look forward to the In Memoriam section of the Oscars, not because I take any great pleasure in those lost, but usually because it is a quiet moment of reflection and is often the emotional heartbeat of the ceremony. This year was no different as the faces of those lost, some I knew, some I didn’t played across the huge screen accompanied this year by the conductor Gustavo Dudamel who guided the Los Angeles Philharmonic, through John Williams “Leaving Home” from Superman. This poignant moment, especially when Margot Kidder appeared really captured the solemnity of this section. As is the case most years, there is always omissions, and whilst I know the Academy can’t include everyone, Gary Kurtz should have been there. I’ll give the Academy the benefit of the doubt with Stanley Donan having only passed in the last couple of days.

Back to the awards, and finally some recognition for Spike Lee’s outstanding contribution to modern American Cinema with his Best Adapted Screenplay for Blackkklansman. Presented by Samuel L Jackson, who’s personal impartiality (rightly) went out of the window when his cheer echoed around the auditorium. Lee went on to make a speech about love, unity and ensuring the correct choice was made in 2020. He even dropped the F-Bomb for good measure which has largely gone unreported. Lee’s involvement in proceedings, however, wasn’t to end with this award.

The leading Actor awards, which were nailed on last year when Frances McDormand and Gary Oldman surprised no one with their wins last year really did provide the shocks this year. The often, unfairly, maligned Rami Malek won for Bohemian Rhapsody ahead of favourite Christian Bale and gave a quite wonderful speech, and Olivia Coleman brought the house down when triumphing over the perennial bridesmaid Glenn Close for her turn in The Favourite. Coleman could not have been more British in her speech, self-deprecating, witty, and the emotions just about kept hold of. She truly was a phenomenal winner on the night (I haven’t seen the film yet) but there was a little bit of heartbreak for Glenn, who I know will win one day.

Alfonso Cuaron took Best Director, as many predicted, which seemed to confirm the bookies number one pick of Roma to be crowned as Best Picture winner. But no, this most unusual of Oscar ceremonies had one more rabbit in the hat. And the Oscar went too……………..GREEN BOOK. Cue wild delirium by the Green Book posse, cue Spike Lee attempting to leave the auditorium before being ushered back into his seat. It is highly likely that the newly introduced preferential voting system, where members rank the films 1-8 as opposed to just picking their favoured film, will have seen Green Book over the line, but if that’s what it took, that’s what it took.

The lack of host only really showed we didn’t have a host at this point, with Julia Roberts having to lean into the microphone, whilst the Green Book party began to warm up, to tell everyone that “erm well that’s it everyone, go home now” or words to that effect.

Once again another year is over. I really enjoyed the show, I always do, I missed some of the magic, I love a good “lump in the throat” montage (see the YouTube clip below for an example from last year) but again I saw the celebration, I don’t think the Best Film of last year won, that was clearly A Quiet Place which wasn’t even nominated, but they rarely do win. All I know we now live in an age where Spike Lee is an Academy Award Winner and Olivia Colman has become the most unassuming Biggest Star on the Planet. Till next year folks.

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