‘Green Book’ is a Modestly Enjoyable Movie, But It Shouldn’t Have Won Best Picture

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures/Participant Media

Of all the Best Picture winners since I’ve been closely following the Oscars (starting with Titanic 21 years ago), none besides Green Book has provoked a more diverse and contradictory set of reactions within myself. There have been better winners, and there have been worse winners, but none have given me more confusing emotions.

Upon my initial viewing of the (mis)adventures of Tony Lip and Don Shirley, I found myself as crowd-pleased as the film’s biggest proponents had promised. But the contingent of critics who considered Green Book antiquated or even regressive made some good points that I felt obligated to reckon with. But I had the nagging sense that they were missing the mark just a bit. It felt worth defending, but in a tricky way I was not quite sure how best to explain. And then I read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take in The Hollywood Reporter, and it started to click.

One particular point in that piece stood out, in which the former NBA great and astute cultural critic noted that black people “know that after viewing the movie, some white people will be self-congratulatory and dismissive by saying, ‘Well, at least it’s not like that anymore.’ But others will be moved to see how those events in history have shaped our current challenges.” Unsurprisingly enough, a common criticism of Green Book I’ve seen is that it caters to supposedly progressive white people who like to think that stories like this prove that racism has been more or less “solved.” And maybe there are people like that, but those missing the point shouldn’t strip the film of what merits it does have.

Where Green Book most excels is in its portrayal of a burgeoning friendship. This is a story setup that we as a species keep returning to because it has proven to be consistently fruitful. Tony and Don are two very different men who find themselves forced to spend long periods of time together in tight spaces. Even if you take away the racial component, their backgrounds are still miles apart (although, to be sure, the black/white divide does play a part in their other differences). Tony is family-oriented, vulgar, and unignorable, while Don is isolated, cultured, and preeminently even-keeled. Green Book does not in any way solve racism, but it is not trying to be so ambitious as to eradicate or even merely least tackle something so systemic. It is a modest movie: old-fashioned, but not regressive.

Amidst all the awards-season hubbub, I had forgotten what I had truly liked about Green Book, so I revisited my original review, where I was a little surprised to be reminded that what I most connected to was Tony Lip’s insatiable appetite. For my money, the best moments are when he wins a bet by eating a bunch of hot dogs and, of course, when he folds an entire pizza in half to bite into the whole thing. This was clearly a passion project for Tony Lip’s real life son, Nick Vallelonga, one of the screenwriters and producers. And as far as I can tell, his motivation was nothing so high-minded as to fix what ails society, but rather, merely to tell his dad’s story, and spread the joie de vivre inherent in that tale.

But as much as I enjoyed Green Book, it was a dispiriting Best Picture selection. As a film that succeeded at a modest goal, its win was like receiving an award for “best high school athlete” at the Olympics (or maybe the inverse of that). As an old-fashioned throwback, it does not really push cinema forward in any way. Academy voters are left to themselves to decide what criteria constitutes the best movie of the year, so I do not know how many of them are using the “push cinema forward” metric, but I would highly recommend that they use it. But that lack of cinematic innovation is not really why it didn’t deserve to win, and here we come to the other, perhaps more important, metric for determining the Best Picture, which is: which of the nominated films has the best message? According to its campaign, Green Book‘s message was a tribute to the power of coming together despite our differences in these divisive times, which understandably rang hollow to a lot of people. When it came to racial commentary, this was by no means the most astute film of 2018, or even the most astute Best Picture nominee of 2018.

But what if the narrative had been different? What if Green Book‘s team had instead been pushing its message of a man with a boundless appetite and a man with a more restrained appetite learning from each other? If each campaign stop had focused around the hot dogs and the pizza and and the fried chicken, I doubt that its Oscar chances would have been as strong as they were, but its merits would have been advertised more accurately. And thus a more delicious sort of chaos would have reigned. So to all you Oscar campaigners, I say: embrace the crudeness now and forevermore!

The 2018 Jeff Malone Academy Awards

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures/Skydance

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be selected. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
Annihilation
The Endless
First Reformed
Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Best Director
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, The Endless
Alex Garland, Annihilation
Steve McQueen, Widows
Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You
Paul Schrader, First Reformed

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91st Oscar Predictions/Preferences

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CREDIT: Carlos Somonte/Netflix

Here’s my final rundown of who I will think will be taking home the little gold men on Sunday, February 24, 2019, and whom I would vote for if I had a ballot.

Best Picture

Prediction: Roma is tied for the most nominations, and it’s won the most noteworthy precursor awards.
Preference: BlacKkKlansman is absolutely electric, a quality that is all too rare in Best Picture winners.

Best Director

Prediction: Expect Alfonso Cuarón to continue the recent Mexican dominance in this category.
Preference: A win for Spike Lee would have lifetime achievement oomph, and it would also be deserved in particular for BlacKkKlansman.

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Kevin Hart Doesn’t Know How the Internet Works

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After watching Kevin Hart’s appearance on Ellen on Friday, I’m not sure if he should host the Oscars, but I am sure about one thing: for someone who uses social media as prolifically as he does, he really doesn’t know how the Internet works. He is astounded by how much effort someone put in to dig up something he tweeted eight years ago. But if you know what tweet you’re looking for, it takes about five seconds to locate it. Hart seems to think it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but when you can ask your favorite digital assistant to find that needle for you, it’s not as difficult as it’s historically been.

I’ll be generous and give Kevin Hart the benefit of the doubt and believe that he really has changed and that he is sincerely sorry for his past homophobic remarks. His apologies have perhaps left something to be desired, but maybe he is having trouble expressing himself (otherwise-decent people often do when asked to atone for their mistakes). The trouble is that he is misunderstanding the context. He has framed himself the victim, thinking that trolls are out to ruin his career. But most of the coverage I’ve seen in response to him being offered the Oscar hosting gig has been LGBTQ people and their allies expressing concern, not vindictiveness. Hart may be frustrated that he is being asked to apologize for something he’s already apologized for, but there are probably people who never heard his original apology in the first place (or found it lacking).

Hart is encouraging people to move on, which is a good idea, so long as the correct lessons have been learned. It looks likely that Hart has decided for good not to host.He is worried that his presence will be a distraction, but there could’ve been (and still could be!) an opportunity for him to change the narrative. Don’t ignore the controversy: address it, and then move into a more celebratory, more inclusive direction. If Hart somehow changes his mind again, he could spend part of his opening monologue spotlighting notable queer films of the past year, invite up-and-coming queer filmmakers to be presenters, and donate part of the money he makes from the gig to LGBTQ-focused charities. Marginalized people could always use more allies and cheerleaders.

The 2017 Jeff Malone Academy Awards

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be selected. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
The Big Sick
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director
Darren Aronofsky, mother!
Luc Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
William Oldroyd, Lady Macbeth
Michael Showalter, The Big Sick

Lead Actor
Michael Fassbender, Alien: Covenant
Hugh Jackman, Logan
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
James McAvoy, Split
Algee Smith, Detroit

Lead Actress
Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman
Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West
Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Taylor Schilling, Take Me

Supporting Actor
Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja
Caleb Landry Jones, Get Out
Ray Romano, The Big Sick
Adam Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Patrick Stewart, Logan

Supporting Actress
Betty Gabriel, Get Out
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!
Allison Williams, Get Out

Adapted Screenplay
Dante Harper, Michael Green, John Logan, Jack Paglen, Alien: Covenant
Alice Birch, Lady Macbeth
Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold, Logan
Luc Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Jason Fuchs, Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Wonder Woman

Original Screenplay
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick
Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney, Brigsby Bear
Steven Rogers, I, Tonya
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Animated Feature
Coco
The LEGO Batman Movie
The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Cinematography
Bojan Bazelli, A Cure for Wellness
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Ari Wegner, Lady Macbeth
Darius Khondji, The Lost City of Z
Steve Yedlin, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Costume Design
Natalie O’Brien, The Bad Batch
Stacey Battat, The Beguiled
Jennifer Johnson, I, Tonya
Holly Waddington, Lady Macbeth
Olivier Bériot, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Film Editing
Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, Baby Driver
Lee Smith, Dunkirk
Gregory Plotkin, Happy Death Day
Tatiana S. Riegel, I, Tonya
Jennifer Lame, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Makeup and Hairstyling
Alien: Covenant
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder

Original Score
Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk
Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Original Song
“Cut to the Feeling,” written by Carly Rae Jepsen, Leap!
“Mystery of Love,” written by Sufjan Stevens, Call Me by Your Name
“Remember Me,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Coco
“Tuff Love,” written by Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$

Production Design
Alien: Covenant
Blade Runner 2049
Okja
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Wonderstruck

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
mother!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
mother!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Okja
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
War for the Planet of the Apes

Documentary
I didn’t watch enough documentaries this year.

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman
Foxtrot
Loveless
Raw
The Square

Animated Short
Garden Party

Live Action Short
The Eleven O’Clock

Documentary Short Subject
Heroin(e)

The 2016 Jeff Malone Academy Awards

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witch-oscar-collage

If I were in charge of unilaterally selecting the Oscars, here is who would be recognized. Nominees are listed alphabetically, winners in bold.

Best Picture
Arrival
Midnight Special
The Neon Demon
The Witch
Zootopia

Best Director
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Pablo Larraín, Jackie
Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon

Lead Actor
Paul Dano, Swiss Army Man
John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals
Sam Neill, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man

Lead Actress
Mackenzie Davis, Always Shine
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch

Supporting Actor
Lucas Dawson, The Witch
Oscar Isaac, X-Men: Apocalypse
Keanu Reeves, The Neon Demon
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Alex Wolff, Patriots Day

Supporting Actress
Khandi Alexander, Patriots Day
Ellie Grainger, The Witch
Greta Gerwig, Jackie
Alison Sudol, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Lulu Wilson, Ouija: Origin of Evil

Original Screenplay
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster
Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Jared Bush and Phil Johnston, Zootopia

Adapted Screenplay
Eric Heiserrer, Arrival
Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill, Doctor Strange
Luke Davies, Lion
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals

Animated Feature
Zootopia

Cinematography
Bradford Young, Arrival
Stéphane Fontaine, Jackie
Seamus McGarvey, Nocturnal Animals
Flavio Martínez Labiano, The Shallows
Newton Thomas Sigel, X-Men: Apocalypse

Costume Design
Courtney Hoffman, Captain Fantastic
Sang-gyeong Jo, The Handmaiden
Erin Benach, The Neon Demon
Kym Barrett, The Nice Guys
Arianne Phillips, Nocturnal Animals

Film Editing
Joe Walker, Arrival
Michael Aller and Kirk M. Morri, Lights Out
Jennifer Lame, Manchester by the Sea
Joan Sobel, Nocturnal Animals
Louise Ford, The Witch

Makeup and Hairstyling
Doctor Strange
The Neon Demon
Nocturnal Animals
Star Trek: Beyond
X-Men: Apocalypse

Original Score
Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival
Michael Giacchino, Doctor Strange
Mica Levi, Jackie
Cliff Martinez, The Neon Demon
Abel Korzeniowski, Nocturnal Animals

Original Song
“Another Day of Sun,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, La La Land
“City of Stars,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, La La Land
“Drive It Like You Stole It,” written by Gary Clark, Sing Street
“Start a Fire,” written by Justin Hurwitz and John Legend, La La Land
“Waving Goodbye,” written by Sia Furler, The Neon Demon

Production Design
Arrival
Don’t Breathe
The Handmaiden
La La Land
X-Men: Apocalypse

Sound Editing
Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival
Christopher Bonis, Don’t Breathe
Robert MacKenzie and Andy Wright, Hacksaw Ridge
Matthew Wood, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Alan Robert Murray and Bob Asman, Sully

Sound Mixing
Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye, Arrival
Csaba Major, Don’t Breathe
Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow, La La Land
Scott Harber, Nocturnal Animals
Michael B. Koff, Patriots Day

Visual Effects
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Swiss Army Man
X-Men: Apocalypse

Documentary
Amanda Knox
I Am Not Your Negro
OJ: Made in America
Tower

Animated Short/Documentary Short/Live Action Short
I wish that shorts were more readily viewable theatrically or that these categories be seriously reconsidered.

Foreign Language Film
Elle
The Handmaiden
Toni Erdmann

Early Oscars 2016 Wishlist

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BaaBaaBaa

Lead Actress
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch

Lead Actor
Ralph Ineson, The Witch

Supporting Actress
Ellie Grainger, The Witch

Supporting Actor
Lucas Dawson, The Witch

Film Editing
Louise Ford, The Witch

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Witch

Director
Robert Eggers, The Witch

Best Picture
The Witch

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