Swamp Rabbit was booing the selection of Green Book for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “That movie sugarcoats racism,” he said. “They had to rewrite history so white peeps would like it.”
“You’re a white guy, but you don’t like it,” I countered. “I’ll bet you haven’t even seen it.”
This was a good year for diversity, I reminded him, even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is still mostly white and male. I told him to wise up — award shows are not so much about singling out works of art as about trying to guess which way the culture is trending and which films have pleased the most people.
Members of the academy voted to split the difference this year, I explained, running through the list of nominees:
Green Book and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman are both about racism. Both did well at the box office, but Lee’s film was deemed too didactic (one critic called it a “cinematic sermon”) and not the sort of feel-good movie that often wins the big prize. It had to settle for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Roma is about class issues, filmed artfully in black and white. It got a strong push from Netflix but it’s still an indie film, subtitled, made on a relatively small budget. But Alfonso Cuarón was named best director. (Five of the last six “best director” Oscars have gone to Mexicans!)
The Favourite features three strong women characters, but its humor is too subversive for middle-of-the-road audiences. It won for Best Actress, the very British Olivia Colman.
Black Panther made a ton of money and is visually stunning, but its characters are cartoonish. It’s a fashionably black variation on all the other Marvel movies.
Bohemian Rhapsody has a gay hero and an eerie performance by Rami Malek (Best Actor), but it’s essentially a corny musical biopic like Hollywood has been cranking out since The Glenn Miller Story (1954).
And so on. There were too many nominees, which is a reflection of the fact that tastes are becoming more diverse and Hollywood is struggling to please more and more audiences.
“I kind of like Bohemian Rhapsody,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”
“That’s what it was supposed to do,” I replied. “It follows a formula that was invented to make swamp rabbits cry.”
“I resent that, Odd Man. What was the best new movie you saw?”
I named Cold War, a masterfully directed, unsentimental Polish film about the fragility of romantic love and the inevitability of loss and misery.
“Well, ain’t you the sophisticated one,” the rabbit said. “Why don’t you move to Poland or somewhere else with subtitles? You could be miserable over there instead of here.”
“I can’t afford to,” I admitted. “I have to settle for being miserable on U.S. soil, at least for now.”
Footnote: It was another bad year for music at the awards show. The guys in Queen were/are good musicians, but I can’t think of two songs more obnoxiously stupid than “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lady Gaga is talented and hard-working but her song “Shallow” is overwrought. That’s the kindest adjective I can think of.