A Review of the 91st Academy Awards

March 15, 2019 | By Nadia Naeem

The Oscars are no stranger to controversy, and this year, with no host, people were expecting a mess. The Academy had made some lofty claims before the show in an attempt to shake things up, but inevitably did not follow through on any of them, due to public outcry. Some of these claims included moving the Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories to commercial breaks, cutting the original song performances to two, “Shallow” from “A Star is Born”, and “All the Stars” from “Black Panther”, and breaking the tradition of having the previous year’s acting winners present their respective award to the opposite gender. All three of these claims were met with overwhelming disapproval from industry professionals and audiences alike. Speaking of the acting categories’ presenting snubs, Allison Janney posted in Instagram, saying, “It’s looking like they are not going to honor the tradition this year, it breaks my heart.”  


Photo Courtesy of ABC

Although the Academy stepped back on their initial claim to break the tradition, they still changed things. Rather than have the previous supporting actor winners present for their respective awards, Allison Janney, winner of Best Supporting Actress in 2018, accompanied Gary Oldman, Best Actor in 2018, in presenting the Best Actor Award. Similarly, Sam Rockwell, winner of Best Supporting Actor in 2018, accompanied Frances McDormand, Best Actress in 2018, in presenting the Best Actress Award. Despite expanding the Original Song performances, Kendrick Lamar and SZA did not perform their nominated song, “All the Stars” from “Black Panther”. And, in an attempt to win people over, the show snagged Bette Midler to perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”. In addition, Tyler Perry made a sarcastic comment about the controversy while presenting the award for Cinematography saying, “It is a true honor for me to present this award live on camera, not during the commercial break. Thank you, Academy.”

The Academy made a dramatic shift this year in its nominations. Rather than continuing the trend of nominating small, independent art house films, this year saw hugely popular nominees like “A Star is Born”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and “Black Panther”. “Black Panther” alone illustrates a big change in the Academy. Superhero movies almost never get nominated for Academy Awards, let alone Best Picture. Not only did the film rack up seven nominations, it also snagged three wins. Despite “Black Panther”’s critical and commercial success, some people still did not approve of its Best Picture nomination. Many people claimed that it was not as strong as fellow 2018 Marvel film “Avengers: Infinity War”; and many establishment Academy voters generally discriminate against genre films. The Academy has notoriously neglected genre films, but in 2018 two genre films, “Get Out”, a horror film, and “The Shape of Water”, a science fiction film, were nominated for Best Picture, with “The Shape of Water” taking away the big award of the night. It remains to be seen if the Academy’s recognition of “Black Panther” will be an isolated event, or if it will bring future recognition of not only superhero, but genre films as a whole.

Two other films nominated for Best Picture, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book”, were dealing with many controversies of their own. “Green Book” dealt with criticisms over inaccuracy, Viggo Mortensen’s use of the N word, producer Nick Vallelonga’s anti-Muslim tweets, and director Peter Farrelly’s flashing incidents. Both Vallelonga and Farrelly apologized for their missteps, but the exposed cracks in “Green Book” spoiled many people’s opinions of the film. Despite this, “Green Book” still managed to snag the most coveted award of the night. 

The production of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was chaotic from the beginning. After going through a number of different directors and actors, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Fox inevitably landed on Rami Malek to star and Bryan Singer to direct. In December 2017, Singer was fired from his directorial role for inappropriate behavior. Despite the fact that Dexter Fletcher took over directing after Singer’s departure, Singer is still credited as the director of the film. Right after his firing, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit accusing Singer of sexually assaulting him in 2003, when Sanchez-Guzman was 17. A number of other accusations were made following Sanchez-Guzman, all of which Singer has denied. Malek and others involved with“Bohemian Rhapsody” have been careful not to mention Singer in any speeches or interviews. In fact, Malek did not break his silence on Singer until early February, mere weeks before the Academy Awards. Malek addressed Singer’s sexual misconduct at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival saying, “In my situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all. And that’s about what I can say about it at this point.” Many expected Malek to address the issue in his acceptance speech for Best Actor if he won; although he did win, he did not speak of Singer. In terms of the film’s content, critics were not impressed with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, despite its popularity. Many people believed that the film glossed over the rough parts of Freddie Mercury’s life and feared his queerness to some extent. However, others pointed out that the film was not trying to make a super-accurate depiction of Mercury’s life, but a fun, celebratory, PG-13 version, which they did.

Typically most Best Picture nominees are adored by critics, but that was not necessarily the case for the 91st Oscars. For comparison the average Rotten Tomatoes score for the 2019 Best Picture Nominees is 84.9, where as the average score for the 2018 Best Picture Nominees was 92.1. In addition three of this year’s nominees for Best Picture scored below 80%, “Bohemian Rhapsody” with 61%, “Green Book” with 79%, and “Vice” with 66%. Despite its popularity, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was by far the biggest surprise in the Best Picture category, with its dismal critical reception. 

Another important discussion prompted by this year’s Oscars was that of streaming services. The 2018 Emmys illustrated how much pressure streaming has put onto the television industry, with Netflix beating out HBO for the first time with the most nominations. And now at the Oscars, we can see the same thing happening, albeit at a slower pace. There is no question that Netflix is a leader among streaming services, but they were not the first streaming service to produce a Best Picture nominee; that recognition goes to Amazon’s 2016 darling, “Manchester by the Sea”. While it did not claim Best Picture, it did have quite a good chance of doing so, and you could say the same for Netflix’s 2018 film “Roma”, the front runner for this year’s Oscars. “Roma’s” loss was one of the biggest upsets of the night, with many feeling that “Green Book” was undeserving of the award due to its many controversies. While Roma won many big awards for Directing, Cinematography, and Foreign Language Film, many believe that the Academy voters were hesitant to give the biggest award to a Netflix movie. “Roma’s” presence at the Oscars also caught the attention of multi-billion dollar filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Spielberg criticized Netflix for their release strategy, claiming that films released through streaming services with such a limited theatrical release should not be eligible for Oscars. Spielberg was reportedly even preparing to petition the Academy to ban Netflix films for Oscar consideration, unless they have at least a four week theatrical release; for reference, The Academy only requires a film to have a one-week theatrical release in Los Angeles for Oscar consideration. The rise of streaming has and will continue to shake up the entertainment industry, but there is no question that it won’t come without opposition from establishment filmmakers.