"Everything is as it should be."

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Post Oscar Musings

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 47 seconds

The Oscars are over and it was a bit of a surprising night. Yes, Green Book won in an upset and Olivia Colman shocked the world by beating out Glenn Close for Best Actress, but the biggest shock of the night was that my Oscar picks were so dreadful (15 out of 24). But in a striking sign that this years award’s were so incoherent was that even with my awful picks I still won my Oscar pool…again…which in the big picture is really all that matters.

In terms of the Oscar show, I have to say the lack of a host was perfectly fine with me. Not having to suffer through some hackneyed bit or contrived comedy made the evening much more bearable. Some of the presenters were mildly amusing, some were not. Some of the winners had decent speeches, some of them not. Melissa McCarthy was funny, Awkwafina was not. Mahershala Ali’s speech was good, Spike Lee’s was not.

The trio who won Best Hair and Makeup and tried to choreograph their shared speech were an embarrassment to humanity. This speech made me want to have a new rule at Oscars going forward…whoever gives the worst speech of the night is executed live on stage at the end of the show. This would accomplish two things, first it would make people really prepare a speech and practice it so they don’t mess it up, and secondly the ratings for the show would go through the roof because America likes nothing more than competition and violence.

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I dvr’d the show and watched it later sans commercials and it still felt oppressively long. My solution to the Oscar show problem is to declare that there is no problem. The show is once a year and if it runs long who cares? Also, the Academy is concerned about dropping ratings, well, tough luck, ratings across the board are down. People simply don’t watch anything for more than 30 minute intervals at the most anymore.

That said, if you want to cut time off the show you could drop the short film categories and put them at the technical Oscar awards that are held at another time. I think the show should focus more on the craft of filmmaking and less on celebrity, which puts me in a very miniscule minority, so I don’t want the show to jettison the technical and behind the camera awards like editing or cinematography or even hair and makeup. But not televising the short film awards seems alright even to a cinephile like me.

Another thing would be to cut the musical numbers…or at least some of them. I know some dopes loved the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper song last night, but good lord I thought it was just awful. And I did not need to see Jennifer Hudson and Bette Midler of all people sing totally forgettable songs. If you cut the song performances down to two you cut approximately 15 minutes off the show. Non-problem problem solved.

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As for the actual awards, the thing that sticks out to me is that Green Book winning Best Picture is a perfect encapsulation of the shit show that is our culture. Green Book is a good movie, it isn’t a great movie, but that said there was only one great movie nominated this year and that was Roma. Green Book is better than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Black Panther but it definitely wasn’t better than Roma (or The Favourite). Green Book is a finely crafted, well acted and well-made film, it just isn’t an artistically made film. Roma is both an exceedingly well made film and an artistic vision made manifest.

Roma is a complicated potential Best Picture winner though because it is a Foreign Film, which have never won Best Picture, it is a black and white film, and it is a Netflix film, which makes it controversial in the movie industry that hasn’t quite come to grips with Netflix. For these reasons, Roma losing is at least understandable according to industry logic. I loved Roma with a passion, but I don’t think that the voters who chose Green Book over Roma did so because they hate Mexicans…I think they have their reasons that makes sense even if I disagree with them.

Unlike me, the elite pundit class is less nuanced in their feelings about Green Book’s win. The LA Times declared in its headline this morning that Green Book is the worst Best Picture winner of the last decade…and equal in its awfulness to Crash, which is the meanest thing you can say to a Best Picture winner.

The other and more insidious talking point making the rounds is that Green Book won because older White male voters in the Academy are racist. The reasoning behind this is that Green Book, because it is a story about racism told from a White man’s perspective and allegedly propagates the “White savior complex”, is “regressive” on race issues and anyone who likes it is racist. Therefore, Green Book winning Best Picture means that the Academy is racist.

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Of course, what this talking point fails to take into account is that the same allegedly racist Academy nominated BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther for Best Picture (and gave Best Picture to Moonlight 3 years ago), gave awards to people of color in 3 of the 4 acting awards, and gave awards to minorities in Adapted Screenplay, Director and Cinematography. The “Oscars Are Racist” people seem to think that these “good” outcomes only happened because of the non-old White Male voters and that the “bad” outcome of Green Book winning happened only because of the old White male voters.

This sort of twisted illogic, which is simply a short cut to thinking, is similar to the politics of declaring America a racist cesspool after electing a Black man as president in two straight elections. After Obama’s eight years in office, the cries of racism following Trump’s win were still deafening, with many saying bluntly that anyone who voted for Trump was a deplorable racist, even those who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections. This goalpost moving by the super woke in our culture does little more than lead people to throw up their hands and tune out any discussion related to race in America.

The New York Times ran an op-ed by philosopher Crispin Sartwell on Monday titled, “The Oscars and the Illusion of Perfect Representation” that made similar arguments to what I have been writing for the last few years, and that is using awards shows as a referendum on racial equality is a fool’s errand that actually undermines the genuine struggle for racial equality in America.

Mr. Sartwell makes the case that the issue of “representation” in films is a band-aid on a bullet wound that is little more than a distraction.

“Whatever the Grammys or Oscars looks like in the long run will have little actual impact on social justice. Perhaps, over all, the emphasis on what sort of person is on television has been a distraction from much more urgent matters. Imagine an America that gets the awards shows exactly right but in which, for example, mass incarceration or the internment of asylum seekers just ticks right along, or in which income inequality grows or residential segregation remains unchanged. It’s easy if you try: That’s liable to be the reality of 2020. And 2030, and beyond.”

As I have written in the past, my addition to Mr. Sartwell’s criticism is that not only are the award show representation battles a distraction but they actively undermine legitimate issues because award show “under-representation” is a myth that is provably false. When liberals decide to die on the hill of awards show representation they are not only striking a blow against their cause elsewhere but also fighting for an observable lie, thus decimating their credibility on other more important issues.

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I find these race based awards arguments to be so frivolous as to be absurd but I readily admit this sort of nonsense is going to get much much worse before it ever gets better, if it ever gets better. Major awards shows like the Grammys and Oscars have already been reduced to mostly affirmative action/quota competitions that have very little at all to do with merit and everything to do with virtue signaling.

As for as Green Book being a racist film, this carries with it a very uncomfortable side effect, namely that those calling Green Book racist are in essence calling the Black people associated with the film, like its star, Mahershela Ali (who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar last night), its producer, Octavia Spencer, and Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who passionately introduced and advocated for the film, Uncle Toms.

This is the problem that arises in woke culture, no one is ever pure enough, and the White people who are calling Green Book racist are actually calling the Black people associated with the film self-loathing racists as well.

Green Book is considered racist mostly because it is a story about racism told from the perspective of a White man. I also find this argument specious at best, for as Hall of Fame basketball player and extremely insightful cultural critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so astutely noted in his defense of the film in the Hollywood Reporter,

“The film is much more effective from Tony’s point of view because the audience that might be most changed by watching it is the White audience.”

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To Green Book’s credit, it at the very least attempts to try and grapple with racism, and yet just by taking on that issue from a White perspective is declared “not woke enough” by the woke gatekeepers who then quickly label anyone who likes it irredeemably racist. What woke culture tends to forget is the obvious, that America is a majority White country, and if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, connecting to that White majority through perspective is a rational maneuver for a film maker.

There is some talk that Green Book’s win is a result of a backlash against the backlash to the film. This makes total sense to me. Green Book was singled out as this “unwoke” abomination and I think voters who liked it simply kept their feelings to themselves and may have ended up voting for it out of spite just as a way to tell the politically correct brigade to fuck off. I understand the sentiments.

As I am fond of saying, “wokeness kills art”, and eventually it will kill commerce too, which is when Hollywood will really see a backlash to the backlash. In our current “woke” moment no one is ever woke enough, and so minorities winning 3 of the 4 acting awards and a plethora of the other prestigious awards is not enough, and Green Book winning is an apostasy because it doesn’t fit entirely into current rigid racial orthodoxy and sensitivities.

In my review for Green Book I said that if it came out twenty years ago it was a shoe in for Best Picture, but that it stood no chance nowadays. Obviously I was wrong, and in my defense the reason I was wrong is that I constantly under estimate my fellow man and woman. In the case of Green Book winning over Roma, I was wrong in thinking that Green Book had no chance, but right in underestimating the people in the Academy, who failed to give Roma Best Picture, not because they are racists, but because they have simple tastes.

©2019

Green Book: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A finely crafted, classic Hollywood, feel good tale that is worth seeing either in the theatre or on Netflix or cable.

Green Book, written by Nick Vallelonga, Bryan Curry and Peter Farrelly and directed by Farrelly, is the true story of the relationship between African-American Jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard Tony Vallelonga during a concert tour of the deep south in 1962. The film stars Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Tony.

If I am being honest, I have to admit that I had little interest in Green Book prior to going to see it. The film looked like a slight twist on the stale Driving Miss Daisy idea and seemed a bit too mainstream and, dare I say it, simple and saccharine, for my tastes. Even after I heard from a few people that it was good, I was still hesitant. But, since I have MoviePass, I figured what the hell, so I rolled the dice and went to the theatre with low expectations.

As is often the case in life, my low expectations were greatly exceeded. To be clear, Green Book is not a great or original film, but it is a good one, mostly because it is well crafted, which as a film critic, I can tell you is a rare thing nowadays.

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Green Book is a traditional Hollywood film in its structure and genre. It is at once a road picture, a relationship/friendship comedy and a Christmas movie all at once, that touches upon a deeper social issue…in this case, racism. If Green Book came out ten or twenty years ago, it would be pure Oscar-bait, and would no doubt win a handful of prizes and maybe even the big prize, Best Picture, because of its classical structure, “social consciousness” and optimism. But those days where nice movies about coming together across racial lines can bring home Oscar gold are long gone. Green Book will not win any Oscars in 2018, in fact, as our politics and racial politics have become more and more tribal, even liking Green Book somehow leaves you open to charges of being racist.

In our current age where “Diversity and Inclusivity” are the most holy of religions, and racism the most common and scurrilous of charges, Green Book makes for an easy target. The biggest issue some people have with the film is that it is a story about American racism told through the eyes of a “White” man (White is in quotes because depending on the severity of your racism, some folks do not consider Italians to be White. Personally, not only do I not consider Italians to be White, I don’t even consider them to be human…of course, I’m kidding…sort of). White men are currently atop the Most Unwanted list among the cultural elite at the moment, and when the topic of racism is involved, then White Men’s perspectives are most definitely anathema. To some people, telling a story about racism from a White man’s perspective in this day and age is akin to making Schindler’s List from Amon Goth’s (Ralph Fiennes Nazi character) point of view.

Green Book, to its credit, doesn’t shamelessly pander on issues of prejudice and race as some of the most interesting scenes in the film are when Tony argues that Dr. Shirley is just as bad as he is because Dr. Shirley holds the same prejudices against Italians (or other Whites) as Tony does against Blacks. These scenes are pretty uncomfortable on one level because Tony is saying aloud what you aren’t allowed to say anymore, and also because they are logically and rationally right on the money and cut through the subjective experience/ victimhood identity that so skews and soils the politics and racial politics of today.

What makes the film interesting to me though are not the racial dynamics, which have been examined ad nauseum in other films over the years, but rather the class dynamics. To me, Dr. Shirley is less a symbol of the Black man than he is the rich, effete intellectual while Tony is less a symbol of the White man than the poor/working class brute. As the film shows, the two men have a much easier time overcoming their racial differences than their class differences, and that to me, makes Green Book an interesting film.

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Regardless of how you feel about the politics of the film, Peter Farrelly does a solid job of walking the line between comedy and drama. Farrelly wisely goes the Odd Couple route and makes Tony the slovenly fool and Dr. Shirley the prim and proper, tight-assed snob. This contrast works for laughs and also helps to build a genuine relationship between the two men.

Farrely’s greatest achievement is in the pacing as he keeps the film tight, and there are no wasted scenes just for comedic effect. The narrative drives efficiently through the entire story, and while it is all pretty predictable, it is never done predictably.

Mahershala Ali does simply stellar work as Dr. Don Shirley, the uptight musical genius in need of protection from the more nefarious elements of White America in the South. There is a speech Dr. Shirley gives early in the film where he speaks on the need to always maintain dignity, and that speech very clearly elucidates Dr. Shirley’s cosmology and character and his survival mechanism in a hostile world.

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Ali masterfully inhabits Dr. Shirley, most notably with his commitment to the character’s distinct physicality. Ali’s Shirley maintains his dignity and decorum under all circumstances and it is reflected in his impeccable posture. It is when Dr. Shirley starts to lose his grip though, where Ali really shines, letting the turmoil that boils just beneath the veneer of controlled perfection break through the surface to reveal the conflicted and tormented storm raging inside him.

Viggo Mortensen deftly brings the Tony character to life with a combination of grounded humanity and comedic aplomb. Mortensen does a lot of heavy lifting with this role and he runs the great risk of falling into empty caricature (the big-hearted, Italian lug), but he uses his craft and skill wisely to avoid that trap by making Tony both earnest and wily, and rigid yet flexible. While Tony is certainly a simple character on one level, Mortensen never fails to make him morally and ethically complex and compelling.

Maybe I liked the film because Tony, the Italian meathead from the Bronx, reminded me of my Irish working class uncles from Brooklyn. My uncles all had the same prejudices and all threw around the same casual racism as Tony, but they too were still decent human beings….not perfect by any stretch…but very decent. My uncles, and Tony, are, like all people of all races and ethnicities, complicated in that way.

Linda Cardellini plays Tony’s wife Dolores, and she reminded me of some of my Irish uncle’s wonderful Italian wives (I know…the scandal!!…an Irishman marrying an Italian!! Talk about a mixed marriage!!) from Brooklyn. Cardellini turns what could have been a throwaway role into a real gem, giving Dolores multiple dimensions and palpable intentions that enhance the film a great deal.

In conclusion, Green Book is a classic, traditional, mainstream Hollywood film that in an earlier age, rightly or wrongly, would be much more highly regarded than it is now. The film boasts two winning performances from its leads and a terrific supporting performance from Cardellini, and is at times genuinely funny and profoundly moving. Green Book is not the greatest piece of cinema you’ll ever see, but even a cynical cinephile like me found it thoroughly entertaining and at times even insightful, and that is why I recommend you check it out, either in the theatre or on Netflix/cable when available.

If in our current tumultuous and contentious age, you find yourself feeling nostalgic, not for the early 1960’s when Black people were invisible and discrimination was rampant and violent, but rather for a time when finding common humanity wasn’t seen as weakness or betrayal of your tribe but rather as a sign of enlightened evolution, then Green Book is definitely for you…and you and I have a lot in common.

©2018