Oscars – showbiz at its best and worst

Unexpected win: Farrelly holding up the Oscar as he makes his speech on stage after ‘Green Book’ won the Best Picture award. Looking on are Mortensen (left) and Ali (centre) with other cast members of the film.— Reuters

Unexpected win: Farrelly holding up the Oscar as he makes his speech on stage after ‘Green Book’ won the Best Picture award. Looking on are Mortensen (left) and Ali (centre) with other cast members of the film.— Reuters

WHO would have imagined Green Book being named Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards? Before this, probably 85% of moviegoers had never heard of the film directed by Peter Farrelly.

Starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, it tells the story of Black American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and his driver and bodyguard touring the Deep South in 1962.

His performance in this movie earned Ali his second Oscar in the category of Actor in a Supporting Role. He got the same honour in 2017 for playing a drug dealer in Moonlight, making him the first Muslim actor to win in the history of the Academy Awards.

Back in 1998, Titanic was Best Picture and won 10 other awards, including Best Director. It was the first film that breached the US$1bil mark in ticket sales and is said to be the most commercially successful film in the history of cinema.

The truth is, Titanic is in a class of its own. It is a hugely successful film financially and artistically.

In 2004, the film that won Best Picture was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

It was the last hugely successful film in terms of takings that won in that category.

After that, most of the Best Picture winners are cinematic feasts but have fared dismally at the box office.

Slumdog Millionaire (winner in 2009), The King’s Speech (2011) and 12 Years A Slave (2014) have reported decent ticket sales, but the rest had been almost unknown to the public before getting their Oscars.

Probably the Academy Awards have gone “arty”.

Crash won in 2006, followed by The Departed (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2008).

Then there were Birdman (2015), Spotlight (2016), Moonlight (2017), The Shape of Water (2018) and of course, Green Book.

Movie buffs like me wouldn’t mind even the most “obscure” of films winning the Best Picture Oscar.

In fact, if you ask me, I would add a few more titles from the last few years that deserved the Academy Awards’ attention.

But then beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder.

No one can agree on the best film. As they also say, everyone has two professions – his own job and that of a film critic.

Since Wings became the first movie to win the Best Picture Oscar in 1928/29, movie lovers have been debating the selections for this category by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Take the case of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

Many would argue it won because it was a big-budget film that was commercially successful and well-promoted, although there were “better” films that year, such as The Mutiny on the Bounty and To Kill a Mocking Bird.

There has been criticism that the Academy is influenced more by marketing and commercialism than by quality. But there is also the argument that the quality of a film is inversely proportional to the size of its audience. That kind of generalisation, too, can be misleading.

In 1976, Rocky won Best Picture.

It was labelled by some as the worst decision ever in the history of the Academy.

There were other worthy films that year, most notably All The President’s Men and Taxi Driver.

But Rocky is a feel-good movie about a nobody making it big.

It didn’t win the hearts of movie critics but it became a fixture in popular culture – Rocky Balboa the boxer is everyone’s idea of a little man’s win over the system.

This year’s nominees for Best Picture are more diverse and certainly more interesting.

Black Panther is the first film with an all-black cast that made it big at the box office. Roma is a black-and-white film in Spanish.

A Star is Born is the third remake of the 1937 film of the same name, this time directed by Bradley Cooper, who also played the lead role alongside Lady Gaga. It created quite a buzz when it came out.

But Bohemian Rhapsody silenced it all. The movie about the legendary rock group Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury is phenomenal.

Rami Malek, who plays Mercury, is a sensation, capturing the essence of one of the most exciting rock frontmen the world has seen.

He deservedly won Best Actor for his performance, edging out Chris­tian Bale (for his work in Vice), Cooper (A Star Is Born), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) and Mortensen (Green Book).

This year, veteran actress Glenn Close was a nominee for the Best Actress Oscar but was again denied.

She has had seven nominations since 1982, a record for actresses.

She has won almost all the major awards for her stage, TV and film work, except for the Academy Award. Then again, who could blame the Academy for instead choosing Olivia Colman, who was outstanding in The Favourite.

Close is not alone.

There are many fine performers who have been repeatedly snubbed by the Oscars. Amy Adams has six nominations but still awaits a win.

Sigourney Weaver has been nominated three times.

But that’s the Oscars. It can be as unpredictable as the weather in KL.

But it is showbiz at its best and worst!

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years, chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.