I want to be honest with all of you. If you’ve read my Best of 2018 List, then you know by now there were a number of films I did not see. Of the many winners from Sunday night, by far the two most controversial films were both the musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the drama based on true events; Green Book. Full disclosure, I had no intention of seeing either of these two films because of their multiple controversies and I was content to go without. But that changed somewhat after the previous night’s festivities. And it’s not for the reasons you think.
Let me explain:
It’s no secret that we here at Movie Base LOVE movies. This site wouldn’t exist if we didn’t. That said there are only so many movies we can watch, and even more so, there are only so many movies that are worth watching. Both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody are movies that represent the latter half of that. That said, I love Queen (I think it’s safe to say many of us do), but biopics-specifically musical biopics-don’t really interest me. This is specifically because for the most part those that I’ve seen (Ray, Straight Out of Compton, Notorious, Dreamgirls, to name a few) all follow a very similar and formulaic structure, one that Youtuber Patrick Willems can illustrate much better than I can and in video no less.
This is to say that when I first caught wind of the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, it looked very much like some of the afformented films mentioned above. Is this a knock on the film? Sure. It’s also unreasonable considering I haven’t seen an iota of a frame from the full movie and all I have to go on is the marketing. But in truth, I feel that the life of Freddie Mercury deserves more than the glitz and glam than the trailer conveyed. That isn’t to say the film SHOULDN’T be that, Queen was notorious for their bombastic style and concerts but the man is Freddie Mercury, and his life both internal and external was so much more than just Queen. However, I still haven’t seen the film, and its precisely why I would like to give it somewhat of a fair shot. Just not anytime soon. I can’t say for certain that all of my bias will be gone by the time I come around to it, especially in light of the multiple sexual abuse allegations against director Bryan Singer. I feel that I can safely say that I won’t be seeing a film of his ever again, but the director of the soon to be released Elton John musical biopic Rocketman by Dexter Fletcher was brought on to finish the work Singer could not. And for his contribution alone, big or small I think he deserves to have it seen.
Now about Green Book. When I saw the trailer months ago before its release, upon first glance I legitimately believed it looked excellent. It’s two leads, both Viggo Mortensen and the always excellent Mahershala Ali have portrayed some incredible characters over the past decade. Coupled with a pretty decent hook of two men learning to reconcile their differences both internal and external, it seemed to be a pretty good shoe in for an Oscar nod. But then it fell off my radar, simply because it wasn’t Oscar season yet. And then it released. All I saw in its wake was outrage, from its limited (I.E. predominantly white) P.O.V. to its apparent white savior narrative. Yet despite the plethora of behind the scene problems both inside and out, like Rhapsody I want to somehow gives this a fair shot. Granted the problems with Green Book could be considered lesser than that of Rhapsody’s, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that many find it problematic for a number of reasons.
All of this stems from two very different conversations I’ve had regarding both films with people near and dear to my heart. One is my father, the man who practically built my love of cinema brick by brick. The other is my girlfriend, and both have seen Green Book and enjoyed it. Now before I go any deeper into this, I need to preface that both these two individuals are white. This will mean nothing to most of you, but it does to me as I am a mixed, black man. The fact that my mother, a black woman, married and had three children with my father tickles me to no end considering the nigh universal circumstances I came across my current girlfriend and moved out to the Netherlands with/for her. Now as a black man coming into his own identity and taste for many things, I can’t help but wonder if they enjoyed Green Book because it was a “good” film, or did they enjoy it because as a potential white savior narrative it made them feel good about themselves? I can’t say, and to presume that for them, especially in the latter idea, would be profoundly unfair to both them and their respective tastes. That said I can’t rule this out when looking at the broader spectrum of thoughts regarding Peter Farrelly’s Best Picture winner. And while only one half of this duo has seen Bohemian Rhapsody (That being my father), the mere fact that it has become the highest grossing biopic (Both normal and musical) of all time speaks to its popularity and that for the most part the general public could care less what went on behind the scenes or what its former director has been accused of. The people very clearly have spoken in this regard, in both its Oscar winnings and the amount of money that has been made, and for that there can be no doubt to its success.
As said earlier, both films are highly controversial for a myriad of reasons. And these same two films won big Sunday night with Rami Malek taking home Best Actor for Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book taking home the bacon for Best Picture. Again, I can’t speak on these films or whether or not they deserved to win, but I can say I’ve seen a lot of great films in the past year and its pretty easy to say that it would be hard for either of these films to top some of them (Like say, Spider-Verse). Yet these wins (Specifically Green Book’s) feel like a direct refutation of the last two years winner, both The Shape of Water and Moonlight respectively. For its part, the Academy seemed to be on some sort of change towards real progress and change, but one only needs to look at back at the past year to see how well documented it is that the Academy REALLY dropped the ball. From nearly annexing certain awards from its live broadcast (Some of which makes up the very bones of cinema itself), nearly creating the very ill-advised “Most Popular Film” category, to the disastrous back and forth of having and not having a host. It was clear the Academy had no idea what they were doing and it shows.
But there should be credit where credit is due: There were some really great wins the other night. From Regina King winning Best Supporting Actress (And rightfully so, she is absolutely astounding in If Beale Street Could Talk), to Roma rightfully taking home Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Film and Best Director. And let’s not forget one of the absolute best wins of the night went to Into the Spiderverse as it finally dethroned Disney with both Ralph Breaks the Internet and Incredibles 2 (I suppose firing Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from Solo, and then they went on to produce Spiderverse adds extra salt in the wound). Couple that with Spike Lee finally taking home a much-deserved Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKKKlansmen, (A damning and inflammatory film that given the slow ongoing progression of the Oscars from the last few years, I would have imagined taking home the bacon Sunday night) and you have a night full of whiplash.
We may never know the percentage or extent that the Academy voters went to picking their respective choices (They don’t release those numbers for whatever reason), but like 2018, the 91st Oscars were the perfect summation of a tumultuous year. A year where everything good and amazing was punctuated by something devastatingly awful. In the end we can only hope that the Academy sorts itself out sooner rather than later (And open up a category for Best Stunt work, goddamnit), so that the next awards show can better reflect its audience and the general movie going public.