Green Book won the highly coveted Best Picture prize at the 91st Academy Awards which honour achievement in American film. This follows its win for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the recent Golden Globe Awards.
This decision immediately resulted in backlash from critics who argue that the film encourages the “white saviour” narrative given that it frames the story around chauffeur Tony Vallelonga instead of musician Don Shirley. Shirley passed away in 2013, but his family have voiced their strong criticism of the film, deeming it a “symphony of lies”. Green Book’s win also came over #ownvoices opponents BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther.
The ceremony finished in record time, with the announcement of Best Picture arriving 40 minutes earlier in the broadcast than usual. This is rather ironic considering the Academy previously announced that they were relegating four categories to the ad breaks, including Best Cinematography and Best Editing, out of determination to shorten the ceremony. However, just like with their announcement of the Best Popular Film category, the Academy quickly went back on this decision after significant outcry from the film community. It seems as though the reduction in time is instead the result of the ceremony going without a host for the first time since 1989.
Superhero films were a big winner of the evening, with Marvel’s Black Panther picking up three awards for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Score. This marks the first Oscar win for any film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following producer Kevin Feige’s first Oscar campaign which argued for Black Panther’s importance not only as a film but as a cultural movement. The concept of Oscar campaigning has been a hotly debated topic since the shock win of Shakespeare in Love in 1999 following a fierce campaign by infamous producer Harvey Weinstein.
Fellow superhero film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also won for Best Animated Film. This is a historic win in two ways: Spider-Verse is only the second non-Disney/Pixar film to win the category in the last decade and its co-director Peter Ramsey is the first African-American winner of the award. Some superheroes still lost out, as Avengers: Infinity War lost its only nomination for Best Visual Effects to Damien Chazelle’s space biopic First Man. It is still promises a much brighter future for superhero films following The Dark Knight’s Best Picture snub in 2009.
Several records were broken throughout the evening, including most female winners in a single ceremony (up to 15 from a previous 12), Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter became the first African-American women to win for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design respectively for their work on Black Panther and Lady Gaga became the first person to win an Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy and BAFTA in the same year (she’s now only a Tony Award away from her EGOT).
The ceremony also marked the first time that Netflix films were up for awards, including Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. However, the Academy’s criteria for cinematic release still remains as Roma was required to hold a limited run before debuting the film on Netflix on December 14 in order to qualify. Director Steven Spielberg added more fuel to the fire by suggesting that Netflix films should qualify for Emmys, not Oscars, as they are more similar to made-for-TV movies and limited specials.
Rami Malek surprised no one by winning yet another award for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody but Olivia Colman stunned when she won for her work in The Favourite. While Colman’s performance has garnered rave reviews, her victory came at the cost of relegating Glenn Close to a seventh nomination without a win. Colman paid tribute to Close in her acceptance speech, speaking directly to her, “You’ve been my idol for so long and this is not how I wanted it to be” in a truly bittersweet moment.
Colman’s speech was one of the best of the night, from her opening where she laughed “This is hilarious!” to ending with a cry of “Lady Gaga!” as she spotted her fellow Best Actress nominee in the front row. It was only rivalled by film veteran Spike Lee who won his first competitive Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman after five nominations and one honorary award. He barrelled up to the stage and proceeded to jump straight into presenter Samuel L. Jackson’s arms.
The ceremony was a rather dramatic finish to the American awards season for 2018 in film. Even if the audience doesn’t always agree with the Best Picture winner, the Oscars will still remain relevant for their social value and as a celebration of film.