Kicking off with a tribute to a band that hasn’t been good since 1991 and ending with Green Book taking home the top prize, the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday night offered plenty of meme-worthy moments and questionable decision-making. Before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decides to reverse course once again and rescind every moment of the ceremony, The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz presents the highs, lows, and many weird things that left us all scratching our heads.
Diversity in numbers: While the issue of #OscarsSoWhite isn’t going away any time soon, it was refreshing to see artists of colour dominate the night, as award-winners (including Black Panther’s Ruth Carter, who noted she was “honouring African royalty” during her acceptance speech for best costume design), presenters (Serena Williams, Brian Tyree Henry, Michelle Yeoh, Chadwick Boseman) and performers (Jennifer Hudson, though not, alas, Kendrick Lamar, who did not perform his nominated song from Black Panther).
The Favourite’s underdog: In perhaps one of the biggest upsets in recent Oscars history, Olivia Colman took home the best actress trophy for her work as Queen Anne in The Favourite over The Wife’s Glenn Close, who seemingly had the award sewn up. “You’ve been my idol and this is not how I wanted it to be,” Colman told Close from the stage as she delivered a genuinely shocked acceptance speech.
I just wanted to take another look at you: Forgoing a formal introduction, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga dived into a live rendition of Shallow late into the ceremony, and instantly made the entire audience reconsider their votes for best actor, best actress and best picture (all of which ended up bypassing A Star Is Born). Captured in an intimate and gently swooping single-camera take, the performance generated more goosebumps and heart palpitations than anything else during the broadcast, and may have resulted in a few eventual pregnancies. If Cooper’s Jackson Maine was in the audience watching, he would surely have wet his pants once more. (This is a compliment.)
Another brick: Political references were scant during the ceremony, but someone should give a special award to Javier Bardem for his eloquent, Trump-baiting introduction for the best foreign-language film category, in which he said the following in Spanish: “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent, and tonight we celebrate the excellence and importance of all the cultures and languages.”
Sentence structure: Easily winning the award for best soundbite of the night is director Rayka Zehtabchi upon winning the award for best documentary short for Period. End of Sentence: “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Runner-up is her producer Melissa Berton, who added, “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”
Bao down: Canadian animator Domee Shi, easily the odds-on favourite to win best animated short for her Pixar-produced, Toronto-set tale Bao, delivered a speech both inspiring and grateful, telling the audience, “To all the nerdy girls out there hiding behind your sketchbooks: Don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world.”
Spike TV: After too long, Spike Lee finally got his Oscar (aside from his honorary award in 2016, presented in a ceremony he boycotted because of a lack of diverse nominees). “Do not turn that [expletive] clock on!” the BlacKkKlansman filmmaker said at the beginning of his acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay. “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner,” he added, before referencing his breakthough: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing!” The victory was all the sweeter given it was handed to him by presenter and longtime collaborator Samuel L. Jackson.
Feeling Green: Somehow, the lightweight and offensively un-challenging race-relations drama Green Book (mostly about a white guy’s journey toward tolerance, and courtesy of three white writers and a white director known for Dumb and Dumber) bested the likes of Roma, The Favourite, and really every other nominated film. This will go down as the Crash of 2019, in more ways than one.
The show should not go on: ABC has confirmed that it is no longer capable of producing a competent production. From the opening most-of-Queen performance to the sameness of each awards presentation, this year’s telecast was a bore. So a modest proposal to evening champion Netflix: save this show. The streaming giant, which operates as though it has unlimited pockets, could easily buy out the Academy’s contract to ABC, and then live-stream the awards to all its 100 million global subscribers. With no need to worry about advertising, and thus ratings, the ceremony could go as long as it wants, hand out as many awards as it desires, and feel confident in knowing that the people who care are paying close attention. The Stranger Things kids could host! It is almost too perfect an idea.
A night at the museum: Actress Laura Dern, who serves on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s board of governors, came on-stage to deliver a commercial for the institution’s forthcoming L.A. museum. “The dream is a reality,” Dern said, eliding the fact that the opening has been long delayed after cost overruns. Given the current state of Academy momentum, expect the building to open some time in 2029, if they don’t suddenly decide to reverse-course and not open a museum after all.
He who shall not be named: Despite Bohemian Rhapsody having a substantial presence at the Oscars, no one – not Brian May or Adam Lambert during the opening performance, not the two teams which won for the film’s sound mixing and sound editing, not John Ottman, who won for best editing, and certainly not best-actor-winner Rami Malek – dared to utter the name of the man who directed, or is at least credited with directing, the Queen biopic: Bryan Singer. Perhaps that’s because the filmmaker was fired close to the end of production for being absent on-set. Perhaps that’s because of the sexual-assault allegations surrounding the filmmaker. Perhaps because Hollywood is a toxic factory that values fame above all else. But hey, who wants to live forever?
Paging Ron Burgundy: In the Academy’s frenzy to find a host, drop a host, then concede that hosts aren’t that important any way, no one on the producing team seems to have noticed what the set designers were doing. Thus, we got a stage, dubbed “Crystal Cloud,” that felt like a cross between Donald Trump’s hair, the innards of a beached whale, and the rose-drenched fever dreams of American Beauty’s Kevin Spacey.
Feeling really Green: There is surely an entertainingly wacky movie to be written about Green Book co-writer Nick Vallelonga. Nick, son of Green Book’s main character, Tony (Lip) Vallelonga, has spent his filmmaking career thus far making genre efforts with titles such as Choked, I Am Wrath, and In the Kingdom of the Blind, the Man with the One Eye Is King. (When he wasn’t busy retweeting an anti-Muslim conspiracy theory.) Somehow, Vallelonga has parlayed his low-tier filmography into winning an Oscar for best original screenplay, recalling the ambitions of The Sopranos’ wannabe Hollywood player Carmine (Cleaver) Lupertazzi Jr., and not only because Carmine Jr.'s father was played by none other than ... Tony (Lip) Vallelonga.