The 91 st Academy Awards ceremony ran on automatic pilot (sans presenter, after Kevin Hart’s resignation) and without deviating practically one iota from the script, at least as far the distribution of golden statuettes in the main categories was concerned: everybody’s money was on “Green Book”, the producers favourite, and let’s face it, they rule the roost in Hollywood, and so it struck the jackpot, besides crowning Mahershala Ali for the second time, as planned, and taking home another Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in a category that was nevertheless one of the few without a clear winner. As expected, “Roma” earned Cuarón his second Oscar for Best Director (after winning one for “Gravity”), in addition to the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (beating the film that deserved to win this category: “Cold War”). It was practically impossible for it to steal the top spot, that Netflix on its maiden voyage in terms of its first major appearance at the gala, could dethrone the major studios with a film that wasn’t even in the English language, the Esperanto of our imperial times. The absolute triumph of “Roma” would have meant a double historical milestone that the Academy, which let’s not forget is a conservative body, was not willing to assume.
Less surprising still was Rami Malek taking the stage, a favourite for his denture-wearing depiction of Freddie Mercury throughout the behemothic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, or Regina King, winning Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk” in a category in which we hung on to our, albeit vain, hope that the work of the six-time nominee Amy Adams, would finally receive the recognition she deserves as the Best Actress in Hollywood today. But with the Oscars we have grown accustomed to poetic injustice, and we didn’t come here to seethe. It’ll be better when the much-adored Amy takes the Oscar in the future for Best Actress. We could continue with the absolute predictability of certain awards by noting how “Black Panther”, the first ever superhero movie in the running for Best Picture, was destined to sweep up on technical awards, and that it was also predictable that Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga would not only revalidate the Grammy and Golden Globe awards, but that they would also provide the most emotional moment of the evening, with a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Shallow’. But I shouldn’t go in. Everything seemed scripted in advance except for the Best Actress Oscar going to Olivia Colman, for “The Favourite”, instead of the bookie’s, and everybody else’s choice, Glenn Close, for “The Wife”, and that, in addition to being a (relative) surprise, it is also the (best) news from the 2019 Oscars. So, allow me to explain why it is a surprise, and why also is it such good news.
Olivia Colman left the Venice Festival carried shoulder-high and exalted after winning the most coveted award for her portrayal of the fragile and unbalanced Queen Anne in “The Favourite“, the magnificent black comedy by Yorgos Lanthimos, which, in the opinion of this critic, was the best film on the night. Yes, even better than “Roma.” It would take quite a few lines to provide a detailed explanation, but let’s just say that, as a dark comedy, deliciously frivolous and cruelly intelligent, Lanthimos’ film fulfils all its objectives, while the sacrosanct “Roma“, despite planetary-wide consensus (based on the fact that everyone has seen it) halting any critical approach in its tracks, is much less well-rounded when, at the risk of crucifixion via Twitter, one were to dare place it under the critical microscope. The social reading is its most debatable feature, the formal exhibitionism might appear to be just that, exhibitionism (something akin to ‘doing a Mizoguchi’), and not even the famous beach scene that everybody was talking about contains nearly as much tension as was attributed to it (it is nowhere near “Jaws“). These are only three examples that don’t take away from “Roma” being a remarkable film, which it undoubtedly is (in many aspects), but that help us to add a sane and healthy pair of inverted commas to the word masterpiece. Therefore, the Oscar for Olivia Colman is major news, because it provides a seat among the winners for “The Favourite“, and also, of course, because the performance of the British actress ran rings around that of Close, apart from the fact that “The Wife” is no masterpiece either.
“The Wife“, is a regular film made by Swedish director Björn Runge, almost a TV movie of yesteryear, which revolves around one single idea, no spoilers here I’m afraid, in the same way that Close’s interpretation sticks to a single wincing of the self-sacrificing and (presumably) mysterious woman, for whom she hardly has to move her facial muscles. On the other hand, Colman’s interpretation is infinitely richer. In nuances, in registers, in originality, in audacity, in everything. We already feel badly about the fact that Glenn Close, undoubtedly a great actress, has been nominated on seven occasions, and has as yet, never taken home the long-awaited statuette (quite the opposite of her rival Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress, although she has only won three Oscars), but Colman’s award, which didn’t even feature on the bookie’s list after “The Wife” scored at the Golden Globes and the Actors Guild Awards, is the greatest news from this year’s Oscars, both for Colman and for the Academy Awards on a night that for everything else concerned, didn’t leave much room for the imagination.