2018 was a great year to go to the movies. Whether you prefer huge, bombastic blockbusters like Mission: Impossible — Fallout or, even if you prefer to focus on indie films with small budgets and big hearts, like Jim Cummings’ masterpiece, Thunder Road, there were a ton of good films that came out last year. One would think, given the impressive quality of many 2018 releases, that the 2019 Oscars would be incredible (perhaps even the best show of the decade). Sadly, it’s becoming quite clear that while 2018 was an incredible year for film, 2019 is going to be an awful year for the Oscars.
There are a number of reasons for this, but there are three main ones we can hone in on right now.
I. “MEH” NOMINEES
I, like many folks who were anticipating award-season in late 2018, was appalled when the Oscar nominee list was revealed. Films with average or bad reviews, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book made it into the Best Picture categories while universally acclaimed films like Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were not.
The Best Director lineup was, yet again, all male despite two of the best films of the year — Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? — delivering indie box-office success and near-unanimous critical praise. Bradley Cooper was snubbed for a Best Director nomination, despite his (debut) film getting better reviews and pulling in more money than Adam McKay’s Vice. Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, If Beale Street Could Talk was snubbed in almost every category (including Best Director and Best Picture) despite having near universal acclaim and Jenkins’ personal status of already having an Oscar on his shelf (for his 2016 film, Moonlight).
Something is clearly off here, and while certain aspects of these nominations (like the Best Director lineup being all men) will feel like deja vu for most folks, films like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody give a lot of people (myself included) flashbacks to years when mediocre, problematic films like Crash beat out masterpieces like Brokeback Mountain and Munich.
While there are some bright spots this year, like Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece Roma, Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite all being up for Best Picture, it’s easy to notice that the nominations this year have been noticeably lackluster.
To illustrate what I’m talking about when I mention critical scores/reception and the disparity between the 2019 Oscars and previous years, check out the critical reception of the nominated films below for 2019 and 2018.
Critical Acclaim of 2019 Best Picture Nominees (Out of 100)
Critical Acclaim of 2018 Best Picture Nominees (Out of 100)
Not only are there fewer nominees in 2019 (8, as compared to last year’s 9), but also those nominees scored consistently lower with critics than last year’s nominees. Even 2018’s lowest-scored film — Darkest Hour, which received an average score of 75 from critics — was far better received than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book.
In fact, while the average critical score of each ceremony’s entire Best Picture lineup remains roughly the same (in the 75-78 range), Bohemian Rhapsody is the second-lowest reviewed Best Picture nominee in the past decade, only beat by the critically panned Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
It is a small comfort that the lowest-reviewed film has not won Best Picture in the past decade (which is fair; in a ceremony to award the “Best Film” one should not be awarding the worst of the bunch), but it’s interesting that critically panned films — like The Blind Side, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Bohemian Rhapsody — all suffer from essentially the same thing: tone-deaf storytelling and messy execution.
II. A LACK OF ORGANIZATION
The 2019 Oscars have felt surprisingly disorganized this year. With their lack of a host after the Kevin Hart scandal, their announcement to give out the Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Short Film Oscars during commercial breaks (an announcement that has received universal disdain from filmgoers and filmmakers alike) while also saying they will focus on musical numbers during their 3-hour runtime, it feels like the Academy doesn’t know what they’re doing this year.
This is further augmented by the consistent scandals that have followed some films — like the massive expose on Bryan Singer’s sexual assault allegations and Rami Malek’s consistently tone-deaf response to questions about working with the director on Bohemian Rhapsody, to revelations of Green Book director Peter Farrelly’s own sexual misconduct allegations and co-writer Nick Vallelonga’s Islamaphobia.
Most notable of all is the Academy’s decision to go without an Oscar host, something they haven’t done since 1989. It’s also important to note that, that year, the Academy pushed musical numbers and performances to fill time, leading to that year becoming known as one of the most embarrassing years for the Oscars in the history of the ceremony’s 89-year lifespan.
III. A LACK OF RESPECT FOR THE MEDIUM
While I already mentioned the Academy’s decision to give out the Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Short Film Oscars during commercial breaks, I think it deserves a larger spotlight. Not only is it disrespectful to the nominees this year, but it’s also disrespectful to the medium of filmmaking itself.
Alfonso Cuaron put it best in his recent tweet.
Couple this with the disingenuous claim that this move was done to save time (even though they could easily cut time in other places if they wanted to), and it seems that this claim is as silly as it is disrespectful. At an award ceremony that is dedicated to recognizing achievements in filmmaking, it seems astonishingly dumb not to award two of the most important aspects of filmmaking and the creators of the nominated short films, who worked hard on their films just like everyone else.
Ultimately, the 2019 Oscars feel like a trainwreck waiting to happen. Only time will tell whether any of these issues are fixed, or if the Academy decides to double-down on their awful decisions. Regardless, let’s not forget that 2018 was an incredible year for film. A bad award ceremony can’t take away that fact.