Heading into the Dolby last night, I had no idea what to expect. It felt like the worst Oscar year in memory, because it was clear we’ve built an outrage machine and it’s clear we’re using it, with reckless abandon. On everything. It also felt like the most unpredictable. I’d jotted down my predictions as I do every year. I put on a dress and heels like I do every year. I go up to the second mezzanine, like I do every year since I’ve been invited to the Oscars, where I get a good stiff drink and wait for it all to wash over me.
What I didn’t expect last night, what I could not have known until got there, was that the feeling in the Dolby was warm, affectionate, loving. It felt like a communal experience unlike any I’ve ever before felt at the Oscars. I can’t really explain it other than to say there wasn’t the usual tension one feels in the theater itself, when jokes are told to break the ice, when a host must try to unite everyone. By accident, the Academy had decided to abandon the idea of a host. Perhaps because of that, or because there were a lot of contented people there, the mood in the room was upbeat, congratulatory, celebratory. Could it be that the people in Whoville are had found a way to sing even though the Grinch stole their presents? Maybe.
I saw the stars of the Minding the Gap documentary dressed up in tuxedos, with dates, seeming to be having a wonderful time. Last time I saw them, they were struggling paycheck to paycheck, trying to eke out lives in the bitter indifference of the American dream that leaves so many like them behind. Here they were, enjoying a different kind of dream altogether, at least for one evening.
I saw a guy who looked just like Rami Malek and when I said “It’s Rami Malek!” I was corrected. No, that’s his twin brother. This has been happening to him all night.” When the show opened and Queen performed with Adam Lambert, it brought down the house. There was so much love for Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, and BlacKkKlansman — so many of the films were beloved because they were popular. People had seem them and were rooting for them. That was a unique experience compared to years where it seems most people haven’t seen most of the films and are less than impressed with some they see. Both Roma and Green Book were met with applause and cheers every time someone referred to them.
Last night’s hostless Oscars were a little rough at first, but once the show hit its stride it was a welcome change from having to endure jokes in the middle of it all. Sometimes the jokes and bits can be a fun boost — the best of them can liven up a boring show. But the misfires run the risk of bringing things to a screeching halt. But this show was anything but boring. The presenters were all unusual out-of-the-box choices and because of that, they were compelling.
This entire Oscar year has felt pretty awful to so many of us because we interface with it online. But step out of the online bubble, where the people actually have conversations? You find a whole different vibe about the movies and the Oscars.
Spike Lee’s win brought the house down. I’ve never heard so much screaming and excitement over a win. It was long overdue. By contrast, Glenn Close’s loss was like a gut punch. I didn’t think enough voters had it in them to do that to her again, for the seventh time. I think she deserved to win, and that Olivia Colman, as good as she was, was nonetheless a supporting player in The Favourite. She was the film’s only win, and for ardent fans of The Favourite, their happiness is understandable. I am sorry for Glenn Close. She deserved better than she got. It was the night’s only real disappointment… for me.
Others found other reasons to feel betrayed. The internet is having a predictable fit over Green Book’s Best Picture win, partly because some just don’t see the Best Picture race for what it was, partly because some don’t see the film as acceptable, and partly because others had invested so much energy in demonizing Green Book and its filmmakers as tantamount to the devil himself. For some, it was seen as the rot and evil corrupting the shining city on the hill. How did we ever get to a place where the good intentions of filmmakers telling a story about friendship between two men can inflame its detractors to such a degree that their heated condemnation is almost on par with Trump’s style of slander? Read Film Twitter this morning and that is what you’ll see.
No self-respecting left-leaning tweeter could let the Green Book win pass. Comments ranged from casual jokes like “Oh I see Hollywood cured racism last night, cool!”, to much more dramatic and extreme reactions. It was so bad that you wondered where everyone was when Green Book won at Toronto, at the Globes, and then at the PGA. Where were the lengthy melodramatic think pieces then? Oh, they all thought that it was a film that could be destroyed because they scream and throw a fit and Hollywood complies. That’s the way it’s always gone, so why should last night have been different. THEY MADE THEIR POINT! And yet, that isn’t how it went. The problem was — people LIKE Green Book. Lots of different kinds of people like Green Book. Black, white, male, female, young, and old.
And in case you were wondering? A lot of Academy members probably felt protective of Green Book — a film they liked that was being branded as racist at the hands of the angry mob attacking it from all sides. This branding worked against La La Land and Three Billboards (again, films made by people who had nothing but good intentions to make the world a better place), but it did not work with Green Book. From my perspective, this push-back is a good thing. I don’t think we’re headed into very good territory if we seek to police art or artists with litmus tests. Criticism and discussion is healthy. When it morphs into accusing people of a lack of integrity, forming a mob, attacking them, vetting them, vilifying them? Not good.
The Oscars of 2019 that I will choose to remember is not the fight(s) Film Twitter tried to instigate, continually pushing the red button of alarm that the world is coming to an end because they didn’t get their way. Instead, I’ll remember a night that made history for people of color among the nominees and winners, especially the Black Panther crew, but also Regina King, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Carter, Alfonso Cuaron, and Spike Lee. Period. End of Sentence was one of the few shorts made entirely by women about women and it won. Moments like that were thrilling to watch — all of them.
The Academy spread the wealth, handing each of the Best Picture nominees at least one Oscar. It was a great night, with outcomes to please fans of every film. It was easily the best Oscars I’ve ever attended. For its part, Netflix moved the needle significantly. No, they didn’t win Best Picture, but they’ve become a major player in the Oscar race all the same. Ditto Marvel. In honoring Roma and Black Panther, the Academy has opened itself up to a bigger, more interesting, more diverse range of films — more vibrant and immediate type of films that reflect new kinds of moviegoers. Even if the voters did, in the end, go with something more traditional, the show felt all the more alive because the nominees hailed from such a wide variety of films.
For the Oscars to have pushed back on the hivemind hysteria that has grown around Green Book was perhaps a sign that it’s maybe going to become a more sane and conciliatory atmosphere out there? Or will the attacks just get more and more severe? What I don’t get is why we continually attack ourselves, as we reach for some kind of unattainable perfection, punishing people who must serve as a stand-in for those who can’t be punished. It was better to listen to the cheers in the Dolby, and watch the winners take the stage. Even Green Book’s win was met with applause. It was, for a time, a good night.