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Op-ed: Can any film topple “Roma” for Best Picture?

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Op-ed: Can any film topple “Roma” for Best Picture?

Every year, we watch the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, in anticipation of the final award: Best Picture.

Every year, we watch the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, in anticipation of the final award: Best Picture.

Photo Courtesy Martin Vorel

Every year, we watch the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, in anticipation of the final award: Best Picture.

Photo Courtesy Martin Vorel

Photo Courtesy Martin Vorel

Every year, we watch the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, in anticipation of the final award: Best Picture.

Lal Birali

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The Oscars are reaching a slow but inevitable demise. Viewership declines every year. This year, the show struggles to maintain legitimacy after losing Kevin Hart as a host due to the revelation of past homophobic comments as well as awarding several nominations to films with problematic racial implications  (like “Green Book”) and directors facing #MeToo allegations – “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

However, we still watch the awards show every year in anticipation of the final award. We hope the Academy will finally reward a film not only narratively and technically brilliant, but culturally significant. Instead, we see the self-indulgent voting body rewarding feel-good stories assuaging white guilt (see “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Crash” and this year’s “Green Book”) or homages about Hollywood (“Chicago,” “Argo” and “Birdman”).

Only recently do we see film dichotomies favor small-budget, critical darlings over beloved box-office hits. In 2010, “Avatar” lost to “The Hurt Locker” and in 2017, “Moonlight” edged out “La La Land.” But every year we expect the Academy to improve, it regresses, as was the case when a pedantic, forgettable “The Artist” won in 2011 and a simplistic movie centered around bestiality, “The Shape of Water,” won last year.

What will the Academy choose this year? The traditionalist “Old Hollywood” voter bloc has its conduits in the feel-good film “Green Book” and the clichéd, tragic rise and fall of two celebrities in “A Star is Born.” The newer, diversified voting members may favor the multi-layered subtle politics of “Black Panther” or the unflinching parallelism of the KKK rhetoric to the current administration in “BlacKkKlansman.”

However, the film that has won the most critical awards in the Oscars run-up is the Netflix triumph “Roma” directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón.

On the surface, it is the perfect film to blend the two voting blocs together. “Roma” centers around a housekeeper for a wealthy family during times of civil unrest in Mexico. The film is technically brilliant, shot in black and white, and possesses poignant, well-acted emotional scenes. Cuarón found the recipe to reach all members of the voting body with this combination of factors, in addition to focusing on a young female protagonist.

But therein lies my frustration with “Roma.” It ticked just enough boxes for liberal film critics and traditionalist, older members, seemingly avoiding any major criticism. The film also ends with a rather simplistic viewpoint of class tensions, with everyone embracing on the beach as if to say: “As long as we love each other despite suffering, we will triumph together.” Yet, the film ends as it begins — with the protagonist still a domestic worker.

Films with two main characters of different socioeconomic statuses tend to find one thing they can bond over that glosses over real issues at hand. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali bond over anti-racism in “Green Book” without any real depth or nuance. This alone makes “Green Book” problematic, in addition to the controversy surrounding director Peter Farrelly’s misconduct on past movie sets.

Hollywood continues to move toward showcasing stories with non-traditional protagonists. This year showed some of this shift with talented ensembles in “The Favourite,” “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman.”  

Ironically, between the black star power in both “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman,” I’d prefer the snubbed “If Beale Street Could Talk” as the best expression of black love and determination. Despite the historical significance of “Black Panther,” I didn’t find it the most exciting Marvel film in 2018. Though the parallelisms highlighted in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” are alarming and poignant, the Academy didn’t reward his magnum opus, “Do The Right Thing.”

The fairy-tale ending is consistently rewarded in Hollywood. This is probably why “A Star is Born” will not win Best Picture, even though it lived up to the hype.

The fate of Cooper’s Jackson Maine was predetermined, but the eventual suicide is still almost too much to bear. Although the film doesn’t end right after, the defeated look on his face is the film’s last impression. The ending is too depressing. This same issue plagued “Manchester by the Sea,” “Up in the Air” and “Brokeback Mountain.”

However, at the of the day, the Oscars are predictably unpredictable. We observe larger trends over years, but the year-to-year vacillation makes each year uniquely exciting. I want to say the Academy will award Best Picture to the quirky “The Favourite,” the culturally significant “Black Panther” or the classic love story of “A Star is Born.” But since I am a betting man, I believe the Academy will go with “Roma.”

 

Lal Birali is a third-year computer science and finance major.

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