As the Oscars approached the big reveal for Best Picture, I thought things had gone remarkably well. There had been excellent musical numbers by major artists: Queen, Bette Midler, Gillian Welch, Lady Gaga. The presenters had largely acquitted themselves just fine without a host, and we had been spared the embarrassingly condescending and time-wasting bits involving “regular people.” Unusually, there had been surprise winners to my liking: Free Solo, which I had been touting for months, edged the favored RBG, perhaps a worthier subject but an inferior movie; and my choice for Best Actress, Olivia Colman, upset the unanimously-predicted Glenn Close. I had no skin in the game for the craft awards, but it was refreshing to see such diversity among the winners. All of the eight Best Picture nominees had received awards, so I wouldn’t have to feel sorry for a movie’s being “snubbed.” (Why I should feel sorry for any movie nominated for an Oscar is another matter.) Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Panther had each received multiple awards, fueling my speculation as to which way the Academy was “leaning.”
Then Green Book happened. It was not quite as confusing as Moonlight’s win over La-La-Land, and it did already have a Golden Globe under its belt. Nevertheless, the surprise was palpable and the controversy immediate. You will note from my personal Top Ten, which clocks Green Book in at #5, just behind BlacKkKlansman and Bohemian Rhapsody, that I am a fan. Viggo Mortenson was my Best Actor choice, Mahershala Ali clearly deserved his Oscar – unless, like me, you don’t consider his role to be “supporting” – and I fell in love with Linda Cardellini; so in terms of acting it’s hard to complain. But complain the critics did. The depiction of race relations was simplistic. Italians were stereotyped and demeaned. Dr. Shirley’s heirs objected to his portrayal. Blacks were somehow not appropriately presented. I don’t quite get any of the objections, but an aura of Political Correctness was applied and found the film retrograde and wanting. But hey, this wasn’t a documentary. What movie “based on a true story” doesn’t take liberties, often immense? To my mind, all the characters came out of the story looking good, kinder and smarter than they started. The only characters that took a hit were the Southern racists, and I haven’t heard complaints there. Almost everyone I know loved Green Book and recommended it. It was the “feel-good” movie of the year. Should that disqualify it?
There was a real split among moviegoers I talk to. Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody were “really fun.” Roma and The Favourite – the critical darlings – were “disappointing.” The Times mentioned today that the audience rating for Green Book on Rotten Tomatoes was A+, while the Metacritics score was near a historical low. What’s wrong with having a movie that everyone loved, with great acting and a story with substance – it doesn’t hurt to remember the open bigotry that existed in our country not so long ago – get the Best Picture Award? It’s ironic that in the year the Academy tried to institute a Best Popular Picture Award and had to back away, the Best Picture Oscar went, after all, to the best popular picture.