Academy of One: Best Picture 2018

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I remember when the 2018 Oscar season was young. The pundits were predicting Chazelle (First Man) v. Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) II with just a hint of the surge that crowd pleasing A Star is Born would have and the rumblings of a true streaming contender in Roma. Then the narrative shifted. It took a hard turn as more awards were nominated and more feelings known and suddenly the race took on a different narrative.

Many outside the film community, or film Twitter, took Green Book's meteoric rise to a true contender as and erasure of the past of the true struggles and hardships around race. The interpretation was that this contest was an answer to the current political and social climate.

Yet, the true contest between Green Book and Roma was much more simple. It was streaming. With streaming, a viewer gets access to a whole world of content and choice and they don't have to pay for the films individually. This removes the studios from the equation. So, you take money out of the pockets of the Executives Branch, the Producers Branch, and the Public Relations Branch of the Academy and they're likely to fight back. They're likely to put up gates, bar passage and vote for what keeps them in power.

And if you think this is a little far-fetched and I may read like a conspiracy theorist, just look at the film they chose to champion. They didn't pick the fourth remake of a classic film, nor the political satire, the incredible superhero blockbuster, the cheeky period piece, or the crowd-pleasing rock biopic. They picked a mediocre film, that while original, is exactly like a dozen films they've picked before and will pick again. They staged their controversy around the elements of the film so that the real rationale wouldn't be the biggest talking point until after their horse won its race. They defeated streaming in their rigged fight. They continued the precedent and tradition of tunnel vision when it comes to truly visionary works that expand the craft of storytelling.

So, all that to say that I'm ready to dive into these films and discuss merits and demerits for each of the nominees, so here they are as they were nominated.

  • BlackKklansman

  • Black Panther

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • The Favourite

  • Green Book

  • Roma

  • A Star is Born

  • Vice

As in years past, the Academy has failed with their bonkers weighted voting system to pick ten out of a possible ten nominees, which leaves me with two free spaces. Based on the list, and short essay, above, you know I have some strong opinions about the nominated films and not all of them are going to make it to the final list. With that room to play, here's my list of possible nominees for the final decision.

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Eighth Grade

  • First Man

  • First Reformed

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Leave No Trace

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

  • Widows

What can a writer do if she can't make money under her own name? She does what she does best and embodies her subject in voice and style. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is witty, acerbic, and affecting. It's pulled off as effectively as the prose depicted within.

Technology is expanding at a rapid pace, so rapid that those that create it likely don't think about what effect it has on the developing minds who will adapt it into their own world. Eighth Grade is a coming of age film that integrates that technology into the anxiety and awkwardness of growing up with hilarious, heart-breaking, and uplifting results.

First Man eschews the traditional pomposity of the NASA space program in favor of a quiet, contemplative film. Neil Armstrong may have been the first man on the moon, but as this film shows, he was more interested in getting there than in getting there first. It's a portrait carefully rendered.

What role does religion play in environmentalism? What activism are leaders of the church allowed to participate in? Is belief just an excuse for ignorance? First Reformed tackles deep questions as a reverend in a tiny parish grapples with one of his parishioners' activism and his waning faith in the church. The film's ideas are big and its emotional impact even bigger.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a lyrical, bright, heart-filled family drama. Its visuals are an antecedent to the ugliness of the criminal justice system and the systematic racism the main characters face. Above all it's a film about love and what it can feel like to give your whole heart to someone.

How can a person cope when the world ignores their needs in order to fit them into the mold society creates? Leave No Trace examines the nature of PTSD and the bonds between a father and daughter as they attempt to throw off the society that sends people to fight then ignores them when they survive.

Superhero films can be complicated and they're bogged down in their own mythology and language, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is able to use that to its advantage. It speaks to us and says it can be anyone under the mask. We all have the power to stop madness and evil as long as we fight it together. It also happens to be the best Spider-Man film yet made, so it's got that going for it too.

Widows is a sprawling, but compact crime film that is deftly handled. From the political fights to the intimidations, everyone in Chicago is looking to get a little piece of something for themselves. Even if that piece is the peace of knowing they don't have to look over their shoulder anymore.

O.K., I really had almost a half dozen more on tap. There were a lot of great movies ignored this year. They were ignored in favor of some questionable choices. I've got two free spots, but I also see four weak links on the original list of nominees. Here's the list again as a refresher.

  • BlackKklansman

  • Black Panther

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

  • The Favourite

  • Green Book

  • Roma

  • A Star is Born

  • Vice

The first three I'm going to remove are the easiest I've taken off a list since I began this blog series. Let's start with Green Book and rip the band-aid off now. This film is mediocre at best. There's nothing in it that's groundbreaking or revelatory. It's another white savior film that "fixes" racism in a neat little bow. It also follows the wrong subject. It's correct in its assumption that Dr. Don Shirley is an incredible and fascinating human, but Green Book is not about Dr. Shirley and rarely shows him without Tony Vallelonga, a name we would have never known, or cared about. In the grand scheme of things Tony Lip is a fly on the wall, the shadow to a far more interesting story that should be explored.

Something similar happens in Bohemian Rhapsody as focus is pulled from the most interesting person in the story at several pivotal moments to go to the opinions of the actors portraying the surviving members of Queen for reasons beyond me. Whereas Green Book is at least competently made if accepting its lackluster and rote screenplay, Bohemian Rhapsody is a mess of terrible pacing and editing. Not to mention it's hard to get beyond the central performance as nothing but imitation and not embodiment.

As is the case with Vice. The actors take on the characteristics of their subjects without diving into the depths of their souls because what Vice is, is a glib mess. A Facebook rant of a treatise on one of the most despicably vile capitalists to ever hold an elected office. When it's not mixing its metaphors, Vice is pounding you over the head with satirical smugness. It doesn't spoon feed you this story, it crams it down your throat as it has two voices shouting the same information into your ears at slightly different paces while a third voice reads you portions of law texts.

Now, the one you're going to hate me for, the one that you loved and cared about, and if there hadn't been at least two dozen better films I would have kept, A Star is Born. Yes, I'm going to be that person and say that this is not a great movie. It is intriguing in a lot of ways and Bradley Cooper being Bradley Cooper, he'll be just fine after my paragraph is finished, but the truth is it's a remake. It's a remake of a remake of a remake that posits nothing new and falls into the same traps despite its modern setting. It wasn't fourth time is the charm because it fails us where it counts most in making the film not only timely, but relevant and powerful in more than emotional reactions and response.

All right, now that you have been thoroughly upset by my cuts to the list, I have the six I want to plug in for consideration. Here's what I choose to add.

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Eighth Grade

  • First Man

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

  • Widows

With these six new nominees, here's what the race looks like now.

  • BlackKklansman

  • Black Panther

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • Eighth Grade

  • The Favourite

  • First Man

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

  • Roma

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

  • Widows

The original winner's out of the running. It's any film's race to win, right? Short answer: no.

For me there is no better picture from the year 2018 than Roma. It's a film that is so impeccably crafted, so well put together in every way, that it's simply superior to everything else of this year.

Roma transcends the politics of this last year. It leaps over the political fights happening on a national scale, the fight over what qualifications a film has to have in order to be given a pointless golden statue. It transcends even the concept of foreign language because Roma isn't foreign, it's human.

The story may take place in Mexico and it may be of a certain time, but its themes of family, love, heartbreak, uncertainty, inadequacy, anger, fear, and triumph all coalesce into an incredible portrait of life.

To watch this film is almost to watch a living, breathing being with a heart and a soul. The scenes are packed with movement, with action because life is. My absolute favorite scenes are in the crowds as Cleo takes to the streets or leaves the family house. There are events and happenings going on around her that we will never know the origin of and that's life. That's the existential happening In our lives we have to focus on so much of the micro that Roma lets us revel in the macro for just a few beats.

There are other films that can capture glimpses of magic like the scenes throughout Roma, but Roma is pure magic, heart, and humanity. It's a film that stays with you and gives you just a small glimpse at something close to narrative film perfection.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this edition. So, between now and next time you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit the links on this site to where you can buy my self-published works.

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