By Christian DiMartino
The 91st Academy Awards is among us, and even closer than that is the unveiling of the nominations, which is on Tuesday, January 22nd. The Academy Awards is something I love, until I hate it. There are so many instances in which they have been dead wrong, to the point where you wonder just what the hell they were thinking. No, I’m not referring to Crash, which everyone hates because it won Best Picture (did it deserve it? Maybe not. But I’ve always thought it was a strong film). While I have a tendency to disagree, I always enjoy the show for what they get right. This year though, I have a sickening feeling in my stomach.
Truth is, for me, a Best Picture nominee should range from “really good” to “great.” Most years, the Academy hits the bullseye. This year, I am not so certain. It feels as if a lot of their big contenders are, well, not that worthy. At least from where I’m standing.
Now again I must note that this is strictly my opinion. My opinion, from time to time, can be wrong in the eyes of others. Everyone who has seen Alfonso Cuaron’s gorgeous Roma has swooned over it, with some calling it the movie of the decade. Eh. I liked the movie, for all its beauty, and it has some undeniably terrific moments. But I was mostly left untouched. See? My opinion is wrong.
However Roma is not one I am complaining about, because I could at least sense a masterwork in there. I liked Green Book, which picked up three Golden Globes, quite a bit. But I was never wowed. I thoroughly enjoyed Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, and yet while much of it was great, its finale let me down. Of the other contenders, Vice is a film that left me torn. There’s certainly admirable qualities, yet a lot of its execution irked me. Black Panther just may become the first comic book movie to get a Best Picture nomination. It’s a good movie, but really? I don’t even think it was the best comic book movie of 2018, let alone OF ALL TIME. And then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and the fact that this movie is still a part of any conversation not only comes across as a joke, but also as a slap in the face to those of us who have actually seeked out the years best movies, rather than settled on a lame, tame, safe, bland and half-assed attempt at one.
There are contenders that are worth a damn, I would say. Personally, I too fell for Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born. It’s a story we’ve heard 4 times now, and I never cared because Cooper and Lady Gaga sold it so well. I also dig Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, which is never afraid to shock us with the truth. Hell, I even prefer Mary Poppins Returns to some of those contenders. It’s not a masterpiece, yet as a pure, lovely, movie-going musical spectacle, can you really beat it? My personal “favourite” of the lot is Yorgos Lanthimos’ wonderfully bonkers The Favorite. And even that film seems to be losing traction.
The Academy has probably done their voting already. So what I’m going to say is probably pointless. But I’m going to say it anyways. The so-called list of frontrunners, compared to recent years, is fairly weak. It’s not that this was a bad year for movies. Actually, quite the contrary. Yet it’s weird: the Academy announced that they were doing a “Best Popular Film” category early last year, and due to controversy they have seemed to chicken out. Yet if you look at the movies in contention, they almost haven’t. Are they actually choosing the BEST movies? No. They’re not.
Black Panther is not one of the best movies of the year. Critics tried pretending it broke new ground. I’m a critic. It didn’t break new ground. As much of a technical marvel as it was, it became super predictable in the last half. You know what wasn’t super predictable in the last half? The Dark Knight. But eh, they couldn’t nominate that one.
Yet that one isn’t quite as insulting as the awful Bohemian Rhapsody. It made a lot of money. The American people love Queen. Shoot, I love Queen. Yet I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was, to be frank, kind of terrible. It’s terrible because it wasn’t a labor of love; it was a labor of money. There was no effort put forth. The filmmakers knew of everyone’s love for Queen, and they ran with it, rather than making a movie out of movie-making passion. They also failed to make Freddie Mercury’s story fascinating, even though it totally was. It was a lame, tame, saturated, safe piece of Queen erotica, and you know what? It worked, much to my chagrin.
I have done a lot of rambling, so I bet you’re wondering: what am I getting at? I’ll tell you. Since these precursor shows have started, I’ve been praying that the Academy will right their wrong. Yeah, I was peeved that The Shape of Water somehow took home the Best Picture award last year, despite their usual genre bias. But I apologize for my anger. Please, do not let some of these things happen.
Please, do not let Bohemian Rhapsody get a Best Picture nomination. Please let it be one of those movies that screams Oscar bait but doesn’t really take off. Honestly, I don’t even think Rami Malek deserves his nomination. Also, just because it’s a liberal love fest doesn’t mean Vice is actually one of the best movies of the year. The performance by Christian Bale is Oscar worthy. The movie, well, isn’t.
What the Academy should do though, and I’m hoping they will, is nominate what’s actually, you know, worthy. Personally, I am pulling for Paul Schrader’s First Reformed and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? to make it to the finish line. The latter has picked up some nominations, as it so should. Schrader’s film though, despite being loved by anyone who has seen it, has yet to take off.
First Reformed, personally, is the years best picture. A film so brave, so daring and oh-so haunting, not only will you not be able to remove it from your memory, but you won’t want to. The fact that Ethan Hawke isn’t leading the charge of the Oscar race shows just how ridiculous this Oscar race is (another notable snub: Toni Collette’s best-of-the-year work in Hereditary). I guarantee you this film won’t make it on the board, yet considering the fact that Schrader, somehow, has never received an Oscar nomination, they really owe it to him. First Reformed, regardless of how you feel about it, will stay with you far longer than “Bohemian Trash-ody.”
Fingers crossed that come Tuesday morning we’re all going to be in for a wonderful shock.