Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Final Thoughts on This Year's Oscar Season

Left to right: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
With this year's ceremony now three days ago, it feels like the perfect time to start wrapping everything up. While I unfortunately didn't have as much time as I wanted to cover everything about the ceremony (my personal life is very busy right now), I do feel like my previous entry on the overview did a good job of exploring what made this year special. In a moment where it felt like everything was going to go poorly, Hollywood pulled through and created a show that not only delivered some of the highest ratings in many years, but presented a new radical idea. Maybe it was for the best that Kevin Hart got booted. Maybe what we're seeing is a new shift in awards ceremony that isn't so much about who's hosting as it is who's winning. Only time will tell. For now, it's time to say goodbye to the season, warts and all.

Lyrics from "Always Remember Us This Way" from A Star is Born (2018)
More than any other year since Oscars So White, it felt like this past year was one where The Oscars were constantly scrutinized. Every detail came across as an audible groan, as if the thing that we all loved was being taken away from us. At points it stressed me out and I did buy into the cynicism, and I apologize for that. Movies are supposed to be these great forms of expression and awards aren't meant to divide us. They're merely a recognition of talent in the industry. In a time where Best Popular Film started to derail conversation, we overlooked how exciting it was to have Black Panther in the Best Picture race, or that we honestly believed that Netflix and a Spanish-language film could win the same category. As a veteran of Oscar history consumption, Green Book's win doesn't outright offend me as much as most. We've had milquetoast crowd pleasers win before. This is just how things go.

While part of me worries that my lack of outrage at Green Book's win means that my tastes are starting to suffer, I think it's just something that comes with knowledge. I run a column called Failed Oscar Campaigns and I've done 50+ entries that have opened up my eyes to how these things work. It's not only in quality, but how it's marketed, who's schmoozing who, and the box office. Roma getting so far is a miracle, but much like Silence and Carol before it suffered from not having it seen theatrically in a way that makes you appreciate the detail. Green Book may have had conflicts all the way down (including a certain screenwriter saying some problematic things), but it was a counterbalance to the radical winners of Moonlight and The Shape of Water. Much like The King's Speech winning after The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker, it's merely because there needs to be some shake-up every now and then, and it tends to favor an older crowd. I get why Green Book is off-putting to certain demographics, but as an Oscar winner it makes sense that a story reflecting compassion towards racism appealed to its voting body.

In all honesty, this year wasn't my favorite even if a film I really wanted to win (notably A Star is Born) actually did. It's in part because the competition just wasn't that interesting and the films that I would've loved see be nominated (Widows, Sorry to Bother You, Tully) failed to get nominated because they hit those bumps along the road or were too esoteric. Even watching First Man tumble in its September release was heartbreaking because I knew what that symbolized. As much as it's about quality, it's as much about being enough of a hit to matter. While there's plenty of great films that won, there wasn't any that grabbed me the way that the class of 2017 did where you had prestige horror (The Shape of Water, Get Out) being taken seriously  alongside one of the best romantic dramas (Call Me By Your Name) and a life altering war picture (Dunkirk). The year 2018 would never be able to compete with that, even if If Beale Street Could Talk got more nominations. It was a good year, but it definitely didn't fill me with enthusiasm. I haven't really had one of those years since the year of Birdman, where I mostly rooted for the good films but didn't care if they lost (I'm not sure why we loved Boyhood so much). Green Book may have been about five or six down on my preferential ballot, but I honestly am relieved it won instead of Vice or Bohemian Rhapsody

Despite all of the controversy, I think that what I loved once again was having an audience out there who wanted to talk about the very structure of the Academy Awards. What did they think of Black Panther going all the way? Why wasn't Netflix's Roma playing in more theaters? These conversations were so fulfilling on an intellectual fan level, going beyond reactionary culture to understand these decisions. I'm still not a fan of John Bailey, but he may have accidentally fixed The Oscars by taking out the host. I loved the feeling of being able to explore every facet of cinema and find something that keeps bringing me back. There's that optimism and anticipation that you'll never know unless you're there minutes before uncertainty becomes certainty. Future audiences will never know how fun/obnoxious it was to speculate on what the Best Popular Film category was (and how I think Bohemian Rhapsody's presence was some kind of holdover). Most of all, they won't understand why we were so worked up about the host thing since we all seemed to love it. While I'm wondering how much of the personality is missing that I'll eventually miss, for now it makes sense.

To my readers, I want to say thank you once again for making my sixth year doing this another fruitful one. I recognize that it's become harder for me to keep this updated regularly, and I apologize. I am currently in my final semesters of college before graduating and it's extremely time consuming. But I hope the one thing that comes through in all of these posts is that I still love writing about film. It's not only present in my Oscar coverage, but my work on covering every A24 film as well as screen-to-stage musical adaptations. I know the latter is esoteric by this website's standards, but it has opened me up to interesting forms of criticism. I'm unsure if the future will find me able to post daily content or return my much beloved Theory Thursday column, but as long as I keep going and produce where I can, I will be proud to have The Oscar Buzz as an outlet.

In closing, I suppose that I should share what the next few months will look like. As is customary, The Oscar Buzz is going on "hiatus" for the next month. This means that I will not be doing regular coverage of anything. Any movie trailer that grabs my interest will be written about over at Optigrab. I will also be writing a review for the film How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World sometime in the days to come. You can also check out my Listmania Decades series, released on the 19th of every month that is attempting to highlight the best of cinema from the past decade (2010-2019). It's a bit sketchy right now, but I like what the two entries so far have produced. As for The Oscar Buzz, I will still do my customary Best Song column this upcoming Sunday to commemorate A Star is Born's Best Original Song win. After that, I will take a break and that means that Legitimate Theater will be taking the month off as well. I will try to stay on top of A24 A-to-Z, which I've fallen behind on. As for Composing Greatness, I intend to bring that back before the summer starts up, though I am not sure on a specific date or subject.

This season has been a whirlwind of excitement and disappointment. While the latter may sound like a bad thing, it's something to be expected every year. You can't have everything that you want, and it's important to understand the bigger cultural context for why something won. I see The Oscars as a form of cultural preservation through cinema, and I think there's something to understanding why something like On the Waterfront or Amadeus won in their respective years. What was the culture like during that time, and how did they perceive themselves? Green Book, like Crash, is probably going to have a crowd that's infuriated with this achievement. Trust me, I feel that way about Chariots of Fire. It's a part of life. I'm just glad that everything else reflects a changing voting body and is so wonderfully diverse. It's something that is being taken for granted, and I hope it isn't in the future. This was a great year, even if the selections weren't always that way. 

So until April, I say so long and thanks for all the comments. 

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