For me, watching the Oscars has always been about rivalries.
Which revolutionary and genre-defining film is going to go down in history as the best of the best? Maybe that’s a juvenile approach, maybe it’s sacrilegious. Who knows.
All I know is that this year, I’m going to be sitting down to watch a four-hour fight not between the greatest films of the last 12 months, but between the predictable disappointment the Oscars currently are and the innovative awards show it wants to become. And that’s a huge bummer.
It’s not that I think none of the nominated films deserve to win.
Any category that features either a ROMA or BlacKkKlansman victory will be a happy mark in my book.
Likewise, a Best Actress win for Lady Gaga will please the little monster inside of me, and though both of their films have been deeply criticised, it would be nice to see the deserving Mahershala Ali or Rami Malek take home a top award. But that’s the problem.
This year, more than most, the Academy Awards haven’t felt like a competition between the best Hollywood has to offer. It feels like a battle between truly revolutionary filmmaking and the same stories old Oscar voters have chosen for us a dozen times before.
A heartwarming and oversimplified story about why racism is bad, primarily told through a white lead (Green Book)? A music biopic that favours squeaky predictability over a more complicated discussion of homophobia and the AIDs crisis (Bohemian Rhapsody)? Hell, even a rambling political film starring a big-name actor (Vice)?
I’m not the first person to point out that these are movies we’ve all seen before. They’re all different versions of vanilla, and that’s the last thing I want in my Oscar mashup.
I want to see a touching romantic drama about a fish monster go toe-to-toe with a gut-wrenching examination of racial horror. I want gorgeous and complicated films about sexuality to compete against quiet — yet powerful — stage adaptations, and movies about linguistics-but-with-sci-fi.
I want to aggressively scream for the movie where Leonardo DiCaprio fights a bear. I want weird, ambitious cinematic risks throwing bows at other cinematic risks, dammit. That’s just about the last thing this Oscars season is promising.
If the 91st Oscars follows the same route as the Golden Globes, it will give us a slew of problematic and predictable winners we can all hate-tweet about.
On the problematic side, there’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book. Bohemian Rhapsody was directed by Bryan Singer, who is currently in the middle of a disturbing sex scandal involving underage boys. Green Book has a race representation problem so large it’s impossible to ignore it, and that was without accounting for the fact the family it’s based on has criticised the film, and writer Nick Vallelonga’s (since deleted) anti-Muslim tweet.
And on the other side we have two movies that are fine, but not particularly groundbreaking. Aside from angering Dick Cheney’s family, Vice is scandal-free, though it’s not particularly well-reviewed.
There’s even reason to side-eye Oscar early favourite A Star Is Born, a three-times made romantic drama about something the Oscars love most: white people singing. Even as someone rooting for Gaga, it’s a bit tiresome to see this trope appear yet again.
The Oscars should be a time to honour the best, most ambitious, and often most overlooked movies of the year. It’s a time for moving art to finally receive its due.
There are certainly movies that feel like they belong in the 2019 Oscars, culturally important movies like BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, ROMA, If Beale Street Can Talk, and Black Panther.
However, the deck has been stacked with so many so-so entries we’ve seen before, even if they do win it won’t feel satisfying. It’ll feel like a relief. Thank god the thing that was supposed to happen, happened. Who is that fun for?
More than most years, the narrative around this Oscars race doesn’t feel like an overly politicised competition over the best in Hollywood. It feels like the internal manifestation of the outdated being the Academy Awards once were and what it wants to be, and it’s exhausting.
The last thing America in 2019 needs is to hold its breath while waiting to see if a popularity contest adequately reflects our modern day life.