Thoughts on the Oscars

February 23, 2019
Bob Devine

I start my thoughts about the best films of the year with a little rant. I think the Academy Awards are fundamentally flawed. Their emphasis has drifted away from actually choosing the best movies and performances of the year and entered into the culture of wanting to be popular and get good ratings. Of the 6,000 or so Academy members, many have admitted to not watching several of the nominated films, a practice that leads toward a popularity contest where people use their votes to follow the prevailing winds rather than watching and voting their own conscience.

This practice of choosing based on partial information or what everyone else is seeing leads toward choosing what’s popular in the moment and that benefits year-end movies. I felt like it stole the Best Actress Oscar away from Sally Hawkins last year by nominating her for end of year “The Shape of Water” over her portrayal of artist Maud Lewis in the mid-year “Maudie,” which was far and away the more convincing role.

So many stellar performances were overlooked again this year. In addition to the worthy Olivia Colman who was nominated for “The Favourite,” take Shinobu Terajima, who had rave reviews for her performance in “Oh Lucy!,” a movie released in March that had 100 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes and was completely ignored. Charlize Theron was equally fantastic in the May release “Tully,” as was Keira Knightley in late summer’s British period piece “Colette,” and Julianne Nicholson in “Who We Are Now.”

But I think Kelly MacDonald could very well have won for this summer’s movie “Puzzle” if the whole year was considered instead of a year-end half dozen or so movies. Instead we have Lady Gaga nominated for playing — wait for it — a rock star. Not a bad picture or performance, mind you, but come on — it’s not a stretch.

So that’s just one category. Perhaps I could write a thesis about the whole thing, but then I’d never get to the films I think were perhaps the best of 2018, and I did watch a lot of them, both those that were nominated, and those I nominate here. Honorable mentions go to “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Lean on Pete,” “Fahrenheit 11/9,” “The Rider,” “First Reformed” and “Who We Are Now.” If there are any glaring omissions from the following top 10 list, I would think it would be “Roma,” which I couldn’t finish watching on Netflix because of its slow pace, but I hope to sometime get a chance to see it more completely and see if it’s worth the hype.

Without further ado, my top films of the year are:

10. “Oh Lucy!”: This Asian American blended story about a Japanese woman’s infatuation with an American English teacher highlights the desire to find connection and to love and be loved.

9. “Leave No Trace”: Ben Foster was overlooked on the actor side for his performance as an ex-military father with post-traumatic stress disorder trying to raise his daughter the best he can off the grid, while his daughter yearns for community.

8. “A Star is Born”: A solid retelling of the fateful tale about the cost of fame. Both leads were great, the music was great, but the ending was a bit of a let down.

7. “Puzzle”: Kelly MacDonald astounds in a sort of modern parallel to the Ibsen play, “A Doll’s House,” where an unfulfilled housewife gets excited about her new found passion for doing jigsaw puzzles. Irrfan Khan is fantastic in a supporting role.

6. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Spending another hour and a half with Mr. Rogers leads one to yearn for more neighborhoods and neighbors who think and love like he did.

5. “Spiderman into the Spiderverse”: I didn’t think it was possible for me to be wowed or moved by a superhero movie again after some serious burnout in recent years, but somehow this one broke new ground and made me forget I was even watching a cartoon at times.

4. “BlacKkKlansman”: Spike Lee rises from the ashes to make his best film in decades, if not in his career, in a playful spin on a partially true story about an African American cop who infiltrates the KKK with the help of his white Jewish partner. Give the guy a director award, already. (He probably won’t win it, but maybe he should.)

3. “The Favourite”: The acting is absolutely impeccable by the three ladies Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in a period piece comedy/drama about a fading queen whose confidant is threatened by a new arrival to the court.

2. and 1.: I think the best film of 2018 is a toss up between the documentary “RBG” and the movie “Green Book,” so I’ll give it a tie. Truly well-told stories that broadened my appreciation of the subject matter. On the one hand, the struggles with gender equality and how much Ruth Bader Ginsburg influenced the changes as a lawyer before she became a Supreme Court Justice. Then the racial divisions which haunt America even today are touched upon in “Green Book” in a way that made me see that true cultural understanding comes when we listen to each other and spend time with people who are different from us.

Bob Devine has been the coordinator for the Pocatello Film Society since 2006. He also works for a local financial institution and has a degree in History from Idaho State University.