The Oscar race for Best Picture, and for a variety of other categories, is, as our friend Jazz Tangcay likes to say “horseshit all over the road.” And indeed, that is exactly what it is. No one knows what’s up because what’s up is down. Some films that did well throughout festival season turned out to be films that ticket-buyers didn’t go see. The buzz and hype and good reviews did nada, zip, niente to attract moviegoers. What did well with audiences were — wait for it — popular movies. Who’da thunk it? So Bohemian Rhapsody, rejected entirely by critics and bloggers, was and remains one of the massive box office hits of the year, driven by that classic soundtrack and a juicy A CinemaScore. It stands alongside A Star is Born as crowdpleaser — both films driven by word of mouth and their very popular stars. Black Panther rounds out the trifecta of popular movies, though you could add Crazy Rich Asians and A Quiet Place if you want.
The traditional Oscar trajectory is that much of a movie’s awards fate is already decided way before it hits theaters. If the movie does well with audiences, all the better. But if it doesn’t do well, awards watchers turn into that auditorium of onlookers that greets Glenn Close at the end of Dangerous Liaisons — looking on in horror. How can this be? How could audiences not show up to excellent films like First Man, Green Book, Widows, Can You Ever Forgive Me? These movies anchored the Oscar race before their disappointing box office sent shockwaves throughout the world of punditry.
Box office will matter or it won’t. I don’t expect anyone thinks Roma is going to earn anywhere near what A Star is Born has earned and yet they will face off for Best Picture. Totally balls out popular – so popular it made it onto John Oliver’s show last night as literally “the movie everyone likes.” How does a thing like that fail? And if it does, what movie is going to take it apart.
Shitstorm Watch 2019 hasn’t gotten anywhere A Star is Born yet, as far as I can see. It has hit Green Book hard. And somehow managed to even hit First Man from the right and from the left both. The right didn’t like that they didn’t plunge the flag into the surface of the moon as the film’s emotional high point. The left didn’t like it that the astronauts and NASA command room were all white — or that it was about white people or that… or that… is anyone even able to keep track anymore?
Remember when The Big Short was somehow written off on Twitter as being a “movie about asshole white guys,” where Spotlight – a movie that was literally 100% a white cast – got a break on that? They Boston Globe reporters were good white people doing good things. And it was a true story. Green Book is a true story but it’s a true story white filmmakers are not allowed to tell (not even if the co-lead is white, the man’s own son is not even allowed to tell a story that happened to his father). White filmmakers are now in a place where they either have to suffer the label of “films about white people only” or else risk something worse, not being able to do justice to the African American experience. They are a target either way, so that now there really is a very distinct dividing line. White people tell white stories. Women tell women stories. African Americans, or black filmmakers, tell African American or black stories. That’s pretty much how the lines are being drawn to be foolproof.
But I am not sure Shitstorm 2019 is over yet. We have to wait to see what films begins to win all of the awards. Roma is probably shitstorm proof. All people of color, focusing on women, Mexican-born director. No problems there. So far A Star is Born has escaped the shitstorms. It is sort of the ideal movie for now because even through it centers on white characters, it is inclusive in its casting, from trans actors to people of color. As long as it doesn’t try to tell their stories and sticks to the white people — seems to be no problem.
I am mostly being wry or arch here. I do know representation matters, and everyone who reads this site knows I’ve always pushed for diversity. I also know that we live in a time when someone can press a button, type a tweet, and ruin a film. I warned you all many months ago that Green Book was probably going to get hit with a Shitstorm. Why, because the white filmmakers tried to tell a story about race and racism. Had the director been black, and the story been exactly the same, would there still be a shitstorm? I don’t know. I just know that perception is everything and perception rules the Oscar race, as it does almost everything else involving human beings.
All of this is to say that, alas, Green Book has to take a step down from the top of the major predictions. First Man drops significantly as well. And so it is back to Roma vs. A Star is Born. But I will also add If Beale Street Could Talk, because the chatter around this movie is hardcore passion. It looks to be absolutely 100% shitstorm proof. People will feel good voting for it, as they will Roma. How does this thing eventually end up? My dudes, I have no clue. I just have to call the race as I see it — and right now I see horseshit all over the road.
Here are the latest Oscar squad predictions.