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The 2019 Oscar Upsets and why they upset me


Alfonso Cuarón took home 3 Oscars for his 2018 film, Roma. (Getty Images)

The 2019 Academy Awards occurred last week. It was a celebration of the best motion pictures to grace the silver screens throughout 2018. I was pleased to see some of my favorite artists like Alfonso Cuarón and Rami Malek earn awards for their talents. However, there were also some artists that I believe were unfairly overlooked.


As someone who is completely removed from the Academy and the nominated films, I have no dogs in this fight. I spent my money to watch these movies so I actually have negative dogs in this fight (just doing my part to counteract dogfighting). But as someone who spends so much time and money watching these films, I can't sit by while these "tastemakers" alter the landscape of quality cinema towards a direction that I do not appreciate or enjoy. So here is a brief list of winners that I disagree with and some suggestions for films that should have won instead.

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice


I’m going to start off with the film that I was rooting for most this year: Border. Border was my favorite film of 2018 and I feel like it was severely overlooked. But I was pleased to see that it at least got a much-deserved nomination for makeup and hairstyling. If you need further convincing, here is an image of the two main characters, with and without their full makeup.


Movies like this take risks - the entire success of their film rides on the makeup. Because if they end up looking fake or silly, the audience doesn’t buy into the rest of the film no matter how good the writing, acting, or direction is. And — as someone who firmly does NOT believe in trolls — I was committed all-in to this world from the first shot of "Tina." That’s what great makeup does and that’s why this film deserved to win its sole nomination.


Lastly, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the great work with hair and makeup in Vice. Christian Bale and Adam McKay are 100% dedicated to authenticity and their film definitely brought that in the makeup and hairy styling department. The only reason why I think Border is more-deserving is because a film like Vice works even without the makeup. Make him blonde or give him a six-pack; it wouldn’t have that big of an impact on the theme or mood of the film. Biopics have a creative license to play with reality — which is why you can get away with casting heartthrobs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Chadwick Boseman, and Tom Hanks.


(Petty side note: it’s not that impressive to make one handsome white guy look like another handsome white guy. There are YouTube videos of Asian women being made up to look like white men and even Asian men being made up to look like Asian women.)


Best Animated Short: Bao


This is not really an upset. Bao was posed to win from the very start. Disney/Pixar historically has a 50-50 shot at winning this award. And it ticks off all of the checkboxes of a great short film. But I feel conflicted about this win because I have to compare it to other nominees. And with that in mind, I can’t say that I truly think Bao is better than/the best of the other shorts... Let’s take a second to look at all of the nominees.

Bao: A Chinese woman in San Francisco is baking baos and one of them becomes sentient. We later discover that this bao was just a surrogate for her son, with whom she has lost touch. No dialogue - food is the way they communicate love and affection.


One Small Step: A Chinese cobbler in San Francisco supports his daughter’s dream of becoming an astronaut. Her father’s hard work motivates her to never give up. No dialogue - perseverance is the way they communicate love and affection.


Weekends: A young child of divorce spends weekdays in the suburbs with his frail and submissive mother and weekends in the city with his impassioned and high-cultured Japanophile father. No dialogue - juxtaposed idyllic/nightmarish vignettes are the way they communicate contrast and chaos.


Animal Behavior: A support group for animals who seek acceptance and understand for their natural and animalistic behaviors.


Late Afternoon: A elderly woman suffering from dementia is getting ready to move. Each artifact drums up fragments from her life as she tries to hold on to her lucidity.


I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions in the similarities and differences. But when considering all FIVE nominees, I personally would rather see a more original story with a universal theme. If you have the opportunity of watching of these other shorts, I recommend it.


(Petty side note: As a Chinese American, I personally find the characterization of the Chinese features in Bao to be offensive. Never you mind that a large number of the people involved are also of Chinese descent. Google “Chinese person” and Google “racist Chinese cartoon” and tell me which results look more similar to the character design of Bao?


Finally, the theme of immigrant parents being unable to directly show affection is played out. When I was in college, it was the subject of every student film made by an Asian American student. We get it - Asians of an older generation are emotionally distant. But isn't it time to elevate our narrative relevance in the zeitgeist? How about you show us how that interaction can play out successfully? No? You would rather just have them make Chinese food together at the dinner table? Problem solved!)


Best Actress: Olivia Colman


I’ve been following Olivia Colman’s career for 15 years and I didn’t even know it. From Mitchel and Webb to Hot Fuzz to Broadchurch. She is casted in countless quality British films and shows and it all speaks to her talent and hard work. So I’m actually excited to see her win.


And here’s why: Colman is a foreign, middle-aged, and (mostly) comedic character actress. And that is significant because (I don’t know how to say this without sounding mildly superficial or sexist, but here goes…) actresses like Colman are often relegated to supporting roles. So an artist of her talents would rarely have the chance to shine as the leading lady and compete against the covergirls that usually win this award. There are, of course, always exceptions to this pattern (I see you Melissa McCarthy, Yalitza Aparicio, Frances McDormand, Sally Hawkins, etc.) but it doesn’t happen enough. So that’s why I’m glad to see it happen this year…


But Glenn Close is a m*****f*****g queen and that statue means nothing if she doesn’t have one.


(Petty side note: The film for which Glenn Close was nominated, The Wife, is about a woman who ghostwrites for her disloyal husband. She has sit by and silently witness her husband win the Nobel Prize for Literature that she deserved for a body of work that she created. If that isn’t poetic injustice, then someone please explain irony to me)



Best Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody


Bohemian Rhapsody won most Academy Awards of the year, but it did not win Best Picture. Which can only mean that the votes were... uneven. And if you’ve seen the "Live Aid" sequence of the film, you’d agree that the Best Actor and Sound Mixing awards are very much-deserved. But to give it Best Film Editing and Sound Editing against great films like Vice and A Quiet Place proves that the unevenness is evident.


Editing is a blend of science and art: cut too early and it’s jarring, cut too late and it’s boring. I’m not going to tell you what I think of the editing. But even if you know nothing about editing, please just watch this sequence that everyone keeps bringing up and decide for yourself. (And if you want to judge the sound editing, watch it again with headphones and close your eyes.)

(Petty side note: In case you are unable to see/hear it, the editing is. not. good.)


Best Picture & Best Original Screenplay: Green Book


Just like the real awards show, I’ve saved the best for last. This one is going to be ALL petty. Green Book won three Academy Awards, but it only deserved one! Why? Let me start by recounting my experience watching Green Book:


I decided to watch Green Book basically knowing NOTHING. All I knew is that Mahersala Ali and Viggo Mortensen were sitting in a car. Why is it called Green Book? Doesn’t matter — I’m sold — ticket purchased.


Right before the movie, I watched the trailer. Here’s what I got from it:

Oh okay, it’s a story of an unlikely friendship. Dang, I guess I never thought about how hard it was for a Black man to travel through the racist south. Looks like Ali is going to an uptight and professional model minority and Viggo is going to be a real fish out of water. They are totally going to relate to one another and help each other grow! Also, why is it called Green Book? Oh well — time to watch this movie.

After I finally watched the movie, I didn’t really see what was so great about this movie; it definitely didn’t deliver on what was promised in the trailer. This wasn’t an unlikely friendship or an experience that changed their lives for the better. Tony "Lip" isn't that much of an outsider (because he's white). The racism isn't *that* bad compared to the things you see in BlacKkKlansman, Hidden Figures, or the nightly news. Most of the conflict is between the two of them. This was just a job in which two polar opposites tolerated each other for a few months. And the most glaring flaw, they don’t even explain what the Green Book is!


You might have already read countless articles about how this movie perpetuates the white savior complex. But even leaving that aside, this is NOT a feel-good movie and the story is very, at face-value, bad. And I’m going to spell out why.

 

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll try to keep things in relation to the trailer above. But be warned that there are minor spoilers ahead.

 
  • The characters are flat - Viggo Mortensen plays Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian American nightclub bouncer who is more stereotypical than Super Mario. He throws out Italian expletives every other line to really sell the point, he can knock out any guy with a single punch, and boy does he have a big appetite. But you know what’s the most important thing to this big lug? Were you going to say “family” because of course it’s family! Mahersala Ali plays Don Shirley, an anti-social, world-renowned pianist who plays for audiences like Carnegie Hall and the President. He is introduced wearing a papal robe and sitting on a throne in his luxurious New York penthouse. Must be your typical eccentric artist, right? Not really because none of this extravagance or gratuity is ever brought up again.

  • The protagonist is flat-out racist - In the trailer, you saw Shirley ask Lip if he has a problem working for a Black man — and he does! But he takes the job anyway! HE LIES! FOR MONEY! Throughout the film, he continues harbor racist feelings against Shirley. He doesn’t carry Shirley’s luggage or pick up his dry cleaning. (Because can you imagine how demeaning it would be to serve a Black man?!) Anyway, the film has no problem with or is blind to the fact that they depicting their protagonist as a racist.

  • The writer also LIES FOR MONEY - Screenwriter Nick Vallelonga based this script on his father and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. That's all I am willing to believe about this movie because everything else is most likely made up. And it's OKAY to lie! I know that Wakanda is not a real country and Bradley Cooper isn't a real country singer and Lady Gaga isn't in love with him... But these filmmakers made BIG choices to tell BIG stories. Vallelonga doesn't make any bold choices; this is the story of his racist father being a little less racist for a month. Why didn't lie bigger about his father being a good person by the end of it? Why didn't he lie bigger about the unlikely friendship of two fictional people? Why didn't he just include one simple scene in which they explain what the heck the Green Book is?! Probably because he never saw one in real life.

  • Don Shirley is a "Mary Sue" - Don Shirley, on the other hand, is spotless. He is the smartest, politest, most talented Black man in the world. Which is great and all, but there is no where for him to go as a character. His presence in the film is only to be an accessory to Lip. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, think Bruce Lee in the Green Hornet or Cameron Diaz in the Mask (a lot of accidental green symbolism here). Shirley’s only purpose is to be a magnet for discrimination and confrontation for Lip to deal with. With no Shirley, there is no conflict. Basically, Shirley is the interesting person — he’s the real hero of the story. But in this film, he’s merely a plot device.

  • The Vallelonga family has been working in Hollywood for over 40 years - Bruh, this the most reprehensible part of this whole story. This guy isn't some hapless first-time writer that stumbled onto the script of a lifetime. Nick Vallelonga has DIRECTED 8 D-List movies! And that's not a knock at his career - that's 8 more movies than I'll ever direct. But what's the lesson here? If you need a boost in your career, exploit the story of the time your racist dad was nice to a Black guy?

I'm just ranting at this point... The award for best original screenplay should have gone to Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade. If you want to talk a movie that speaks truth about a generation, then this is the Abraham Lincoln of films.


What an amazing feat to be able to write a story that is simultaneously nostalgic and current. That takes talent, wisdom, and honesty, all of which Burnham has exhibited after a 13-year career of Internet fame. But unfortunately, it didn't even get nominated because Hollywood isn't quite ready for Internet fame just yet.


Which is probably also why Netflix's Roma didn't win. What we saw this year was a fear of change. A fear of newness and outsiders trying to get in. All of the winners were safe bets (except for Glenn Close) which is frightening to me because it is a small indication that the arts are scared of change.


Thank you for reading.

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