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by Jason Frank Koenigsberg
Here are three storylines that you can see play out at the 91st Academy Awards. This is not about the decision to go host-less for the first time in three decades, nor is it a commentary about the producer’s decisions to not broadcast certain awards, major awards for that matter like editing and cinematography, and give them out during the commercial breaks to speed up the award show (which they have since thankfully rescinded). This is about a showdown of cinematic values we will see go head to head competing in many categories that could determine where the Academy itself stands on major issues facing motion pictures today.
Old vs. New slash Black vs. White
The Academy attempted to make strides over the past year to improve their ratings and appeal to a younger demographic. With ideas like a Most Popular Film category, the young and popular Kevin Hart as the front runner to host, and a faster broadcast by not airing certain awards the producers deemed unimportant. None of those ideas came to fruition and we have yet to see if anything that has happened will improve their television ratings on ABC. But the Oscars do have a chance to make a statement this year. Whether or not you agree with the Academy’s choices for their nominations is irrelevant to this. The nominees this year are as diverse as anyone could ask for. Even with If Beale Street Could Talk and Crazy Rich Asians being overlooked in some major categories, 2018 looks like a great year for diversity on film. But now the Academy voters are in a predicament. Do they continue to honor the old guard ‘Oscar type’ of movie, or do they diversify for real by letting movies and people that are not the typical ‘Oscar’ movie actually take home the gold? Is this the year when being nominated is not enough?
Spike Lee earned his first Best Director nomination. Will the Academy let him make history and be the first of his race to take home Best Director for Blackkklansman? Black Panther made history by being the first comic book movie to earn a Best Picture nomination. Does the Academy have the courage to take the next step and actually give a Marvel movie Best Picture? I for one think that Spike Lee will take home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay along with its three other writers. However other African-Americans have won that award. The more progressive move would be to go against the DGA’s choice and the heavy favorite to win Best Director Alfonso Cuaron for Roma, who previously won the Best Director Oscar in 2013 for Gravity and give it to Spike Lee for his tense and topical direction of Blackkklansman. Cuaron is already the third Mexican filmmaker to win Best Director this decade (along with his friends Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro) and it would be the fifth time a Hispanic director won Best Director this decade. Do they want to continue to give it to the same guys who have already won for movies that despite their greatness still fit the typical ‘Oscar mold’ that the Academy tends to always honor? We will find out soon enough.
Then there is Black Panther. A completely different type of movie that celebrates diversity and history in a way that no other major blockbuster had before and earned a spot in the Best Picture race. I have a feeling that Black Panther is a long shot to win Best Picture but it has a good chance of winning a lot of the technical awards it was nominated for. The biggest roadblock standing in Black Panther‘s way… The Favourite. Despite its screwball comedy and sarcastic tone, The Favourite is a typical Oscar film that could have been made any time in the past forty years. With its ten nominations (tied with Roma) it is the more typical ‘Oscar’ movie to win those technical categories such as Production Design, Costumes, and Editing over Black Panther. Both Black Panther and The Favourite are nominated in a lot of the same categories and are both very strong films with completely different looks and styles. Will the Academy favour (see what I did there) the more traditional elements of one film versus the stylish and groundbreaking expertise of a genre film that is more of a traditional blockbuster than an awards darling. History favours The Favourite, but the voters have a real chance to take a stand and make their voices heard by awarding Black Panther with some Oscar wins instead of just nominations to symbolize a real change with the way the Academy historically operates. This race is every bit as much about old versus new as it is black versus white. Even though both films are technically brilliant, the Academy has a chance to make a statement about the future of cinema and reward a crowd-pleasing blockbuster instead of a stuffy arthouse picture. The power is in their hands to set the precedent. Could this be the instance where being the nominee just is not enough? Black Panther represents the new wave of Hollywood that the Academy typically ignores, The Favourite represents everything the Academy typically adores.
The final old versus new category that will play out on Oscar night does not involve race. Instead, it involves age. An older, talented and constantly overlooked actress facing off against a younger, prettier, nominee that is not even an actress by trade but a singer making her major motion picture debut. I am talking of course about The Best Actress showdown between Glenn Close in The Wife and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born. Up until the Golden Globes when Glenn Close’s name was called as the winner (she looked just as surprised as anyone, if not more) Lady Gaga was the appointed front runner.
A Star is Born was a huge hit, she was a big name and knowing how the Academy wanted to skew younger this year in terms of its broadcast, she seemed like the ideal choice to be anointed as the new face of the Oscars by winning Best Actress. But ever since the Golden Globes Glenn Close has been winning and winning and there is no logical reason it should stop at the Academy Awards. The people behind the Oscar telecast may want Lady Gaga to win, but the voters still prefer to honor their own and not care about the ratings. They have made it clear that they want it to be Glenn Close’s year to finally take home a long overdue statue. This is like a rematch of sorts when Close lost Best Actress in 1987 for her role in Fatal Attraction to singer turned actress Cher in Moonstruck. The biggest difference being that Glenn Close and Cher are about the same age. Lady Gaga is old enough to be her daughter (or possibly her granddaughter). The Academy seems to want to give the award to Glenn Close for her seventh nomination instead of honoring the younger woman known primarily as a singer and not an actress. The Wife had little to no heavy campaigning behind it, so it is nice to see an actress win an award based solely on the performance. Whereas A Star is Born was declared an Oscar favorite before it even came out. The rave reviews and big bucks at the box office helped but the studio still wants to see Lady Gaga and A Star is Born take home a lot of Oscar gold so we shall see how this race of old versus new pans out. The old Glenn Close vs. the new Lady Gaga showdown for Best Actress is a race to watch that could make a statement about the Academy’s values. Or they could both cancel each other out and Olivia Coleman could win Best Actress for The Favourite.
Spike Lee vs. The Ghost of Driving Miss Daisy
I already mentioned above that Spike Lee has as good of a chance as anyone to make history and be the first African-American to win a Best Director Oscar. He was overlooked 29 years ago and only nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Do The Right Thing. That year instead of the Academy honoring his critically acclaimed picture about racism on the hottest day of the summer in New York City, the Academy awarded Best Picture to Driving Miss Daisy, a film that was practically the anti-Do The Right Thing about a years-long friendship between an old white woman and her African-American chauffeur in the South during the Civil Rights movement. A lot has changed since 1989 when Do The Right Thing was practically shut out of the Oscars and Driving Miss Daisy won the top prize… or has it? According to Spike Lee’s own film Blackkklansman, the United States is in practically the same place we were in during the Nixon administration. Sure the Academy has made strides honoring diversity and awarding African-American and minority filmmakers with Oscars, but when you look at some of the nominees, one, in particular, 2018 feels a lot like 1989. The nominated film that I am talking about is Green Book which can basically be summed up in one sentence: Green Book is Driving Miss Daisy for 2018. All they did was reverse the roles. Instead of having an illiterate black man drive around a wealthy old white lady, they had a dumb guido-type, working-class guy (Viggo Mortensen) chauffeur a rich, educated, and talented African-American musician (Mahershala Ali) on a tour through the Southern United States in 1962. How perfect and politically correct. I make this point and various comparisons between the two films in more detail in my review. I will just say that it is ironic that the year the Oscars finally honor a Spike Lee film with Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and other nominations, it is going up against a film that feels almost like a remake of the one that slapped him and his previously most honored picture by the Academy in the face.
Netflix vs. Traditional Movie Studios and their Platforms
Move over Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal. A new player is in the house and they are changing the rules of the game. Netflix has been a dominant force in entertainment as a streaming service for years but this is the first time that they have a movie that may possibly change the Oscars. They already transformed television with their original programs that have won Emmy’s but now they are poised to forever alter motion pictures and the Academy Awards if the Netflix original film Roma wins the top prize as many have predicted it will. The fallout could be enormous. Everything from saying goodbye movie theaters with the traditional wait time of several months between a theatrical release and then home video and streaming services, to a wake up call for the other studios to start financing more original ideas from brave filmmakers. While also giving those filmmakers such as Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese, and Noam Baumbach (all of which have made Netflix original films) more freedom. Instead of throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at the same franchises, reboots, and remakes Now the studios will have to think about film as art and getting back into the business of winning Academy Awards and making money that way. This storyline could have the biggest ramifications out of anything. If the Academy Awards honors Roma in a big way on Oscar night, the future of movies could change drastically. Some of it could be good with more original Avante-Garde pictures from auteurs given more creative freedom, and some could be devastating like losing out on seeing those pictures on the big screen in a theater and instead streaming them on your smartphone. Time will tell how much of an impact Netflix will have as they have already influenced the movie industry heavily, but they are set to make history and already have with Roma earning its ten nominations. The old studios and their strategies will be tested against Netflix going against the grain and allowing everyone with a subscription to see their movie.