My Review of the 93rd Academy Awards

Well, I am surely not the only person to use this pun to describe last night’s Academy Awards, but for a ceremony that primarily took place at Los Angeles Union Station, it certainly went off the rails at the end. This ceremony was never going to be perfect or look the way we’ve grown accustomed to as an audience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I could never have imagined just how crazy this year’s Oscars, which was for the most part fairly uneventful throughout, would end up. The show still had some great moments, hilarious parts, and inspirational speeches, albeit along with some very miscalculated bits—here’s my review of the 93rd Academy Awards.

It’s probably necessary to get to the show’s twist ending first. At every Oscars since 1948 (with the 1971 ceremony being the lone deviation), the Best Picture award has been announced last. Clearly, if you dig into Oscars history, you’ll find that most early ceremonies didn’t utilize this setup, but nearly every film fan, for the most part, has grown up watching the biggest award in world cinema deservedly announced last. This year, things got weird when Rita Moreno stepped onto the stage and started reading off nominees for Best Picture—I was quite confused, wondering if I had somehow blacked out for the two lead acting categories, rewinding my TV a bit to make sure. The nominees also looked a bit stunned by the reorganization of the show’s homestretch. At that point, it felt like the Oscars producers (which this year included previous Best Director winner Steven Soderbergh) mixed things up to deliberately set up a massive emotional climax for the night—Chadwick Boseman becoming the third actor to win a posthumous acting award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. My goodness, was that a mistake. The Academy famously doesn’t know the results of any category until the envelopes are opened during the live broadcast, as its longtime accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the ballots and keeps the results entirely confidential—that couldn’t have been clearer in light of how this show ended up.

After Renée Zellweger presented the Best Actress award to Nomadland’s Frances McDormand (a win which made her only the second woman to win three career Best Actress Oscars, behind only Katharine Hepburn who won four) last year’s Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix strutted out and, in trademark fashion, stumbled through an intro about acting. Eventually, after reading the nominees, Phoenix opened the envelope and the rest is history. Instead of Boseman winning the Oscar, the award went to legendary actor Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father, who, at the age of 83, became the oldest actor to win an Oscar. However, Anthony Hopkins didn’t show up this year, either in Los Angeles or at any satellite location (including London). Via Phoenix, the Academy accepted the award on Hopkins’s behalf, and then the camera cut back to in-house DJ Questlove, who thanked everyone for watching and ended the show. It was mind-boggling—truly the epitome of the term anticlimactic.

This year, I personally (and I recognize that it’s all subjective) had Riz Ahmed, Anthony Hopkins, and Steven Yeun ahead of Chadwick Boseman on my Best Actor rankings. Ahmed gave such a powerful performance in my favorite movie of the year (Sound of Metal), Hopkins delivered arguably the best performance of his career in The Father, behind only his Oscar-winning role in Silence of the Lambs, and Yeun was beautifully poignant in the wonderful Minari—although Boseman was certainly stunning in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I personally felt other performers in far-better movies were more deserving of being declared the year’s best actor. With that said, I was certainly on board and excited for Boseman to win this year—in his final film performance, while in the final stages of his cancer, he gave an impassioned portrayal of Levee Green, and the Oscar here would have felt like a fitting tribute to an incredibly talented actor who impacted the world in so many incredible ways through films like Black Panther and whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The betting odds heavily favored Boseman at -1667 and other than the BAFTA (which went to Hopkins), Boseman swept the other major pre-Oscars awards. The world certainly expected to see Boseman winning this award.

If you ventured to Twitter after the show, it was full of Oscars slander for Boseman’s surprise loss. And understandably so, as literally everything pointed to Boseman’s posthumous win. The Academy built the entire close of the show around the possibility for a heartwarming emotional high point based on an expected Boseman victory, and instead, we ended the show on an award without its winner anywhere to be found to deliver an acceptance speech. Steven Soderbergh and the producers gambled big on that setup…and ultimately, they lost big.

Aside from the Oscars’ twist ending, there were a number of other noteworthy moments from this year’s ceremony. First, last night was a major step in the right direction for the Academy as it works to overcome the infamous #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years ago and be more inclusive. This year’s class of nominees was the most diverse in Oscars history, and a number of historic moments followed. Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao became only the second woman (and first woman of color) to win the coveted Best Director award. Both the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress winners (Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung, respectively) were people of color. Emerald Fennell won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the first woman to do so since Diablo Cody won for Juno in 2008). And for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first black women to ever win for Makeup and Hairstyling. It was a great night for inclusion and diversity.

Additionally, per usual, there were some great speeches, ranging from inspirational to hilarious. In particular, I enjoyed watching Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor for my favorite acting performance of the year in Judas and the Black Messiah, deliver a wonderful tribute to Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. (He also referenced his parents having sex, which turned out to be particularly hysterical as the camera then cut to a live shot of his mother, who was watching from the British Film Institute in London.) I was also nearly brought to tears listening to Thomas Vinterberg, who won Best International Film for his brilliant Another Round, dedicate the Oscar to his late daughter, Ida, who was supposed to appear in the film but died in a tragic traffic accident just days into production. On the lighter side, it was a joy to watch Youn Yuh-jung give her acceptance speech after winning Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing performance in Minari. Youn was just as adorably funny in real life as she was in Minari, especially as she gushed over her presenter, Brad Pitt.

Lastly, I couldn’t do a proper review of the show last night without mentioning the funniest moment of the evening. During the middle of the show, there was a musical bit where actor/comedian Lil Rel Howery picked actors in the audience to listen to past movie songs (played by Questlove) and guess whether those songs won an Oscar for Best Original Song, were just nominated in the category, or none of the above. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy this bit almost in its entirety—it was a bit choppy and didn’t land the way the producers probably thought it would. However, this “game” provided us with the night’s most gif-worthy moment—acting legend Glenn Close dancing to “Da Butt,” the song featured in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze. I sure didn’t see that one coming, but it was very, very funny!

 

Top 10 Films of 2019 – Honorable Mentions

Soon I will finally reveal the list of my ten favorite films from 2019. But before I do, it’s worth mentioning a handful of others that just missed out on cracking that list.

Honorable Mentions

No. 15 – High Flying Bird

High Flying Bird, director Steven Soderbergh’s second consecutive film shot on an iPhone, is a small movie with big ideas. The film, which stars Moonlight’s André Holland as professional basketball agent Ray Burke, takes place during the middle of an NBA lockout and focuses on Burke’s unique business plans to benefit his firm and his prized client Erick Scott during this tumultuous time. High Flying Bird is a scant 91 minutes in duration, but I assure you, that entire hour and a half is packed full of snappy dialogue that will suck you into the story. The movie is beautifully shot and depicts the incredibly important intersection of sports/entertainment and race/politics. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iL1K_l8Jyo.

No. 14 – Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga” and serves as the closing chapter of this particular story of the Avengers. This particular saga is the most commercially and critically successful superhero movie franchise of all time, and thus, Endgame had a massive challenge to wrap up this story in a way that satisfied fans. It went above and beyond that challenge and succeeded spectacularly. The film was complex at times and the story was intricate, but Endgame stayed true to the essence of its Marvel predecessors and provided the perfect cocktail of laughs, tears, action, and entertainment to make this final ride worth it for the audience. (In fact, the 182-minute runtime never felt like a chore for a single second.) Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c.

No. 13 – Dolemite Is My Name

In Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy returns to his raunchy comedy sweet spot (his first Rated-R film since Life in 1999) in his portrayal of the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Eddie Murphy is one of the greatest comedians of all time, but from the perspective of cinema, his career has been off track since his Oscar-nominated performance in Dreamgirls. In Dolemite, Murphy has absolutely gotten his swagger back. I also loved the supporting performance by Wesley Snipes as the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin—Snipes’s hysterical depiction of Martin completed a noteworthy comeback of his own. This film is equal parts hilarious and charming, and I reveled in the core themes of hope and perseverance. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws1YIKsuTjQ.

No. 12 – Joker

Joker serves as an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. This film has obviously been fodder for people wanting to debate the ethics of depicting gun violence and mental illness. But although I felt a bit uncomfortable during some of Arthur’s emotional outbursts and episodes, I can’t imagine watching a movie about someone struggling with mental illness and feeling anything other than a sense of uncomfortableness. Todd Phillips’s story is raw and unrestricted, and I appreciated the social and political commentary on society’s consistent rejection of those that are different, especially in light of the present times. The film is beautiful in terms of costumes, production design, musical score, and cinematography, but the single greatest strength of Joker is Phoenix’s acting performance—a true tour de force. The storyline is eerily reminiscent of two Martin Scorsese films, The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, and Phoenix channels those brilliant Robert De Niro performances in crafting his one-of-a-kind character. (The fact that De Niro plays a role in Jokeris almost poetic.) Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t433PEQGErc.

No. 11 – Apollo 11

In a year filled with many great documentaries, my favorite was Apollo 11. The film documents the famous Apollo 11 space mission in 1969 that resulted in the first spacewalk. Some of my favorite documentaries in recent memory (such as Senna and Amy) create gripping narratives utilizing only archival footage. Apollo 11 does the same here, but it goes a step further, refusing to use even interviews—the entire story is told through glorious archival footage, much of which was previously unreleased. The whole world knows this story and how it ends, and yet, the breathtaking footage and unique storytelling devices create a mesmerizing sense of adventure and suspense. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Co8Z8BQgWc.