With Tuesday morning’s Oscar nominations still fresh, you’ve no doubt read a lot of quick tea-leaf takes about who and what was snubbed. To me, two of the biggest surprises were the omission of Peter Farrelly (Green Book) and Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born) in the Best Director category. But before we get too carried away about what…this…means, it might be worth pumping the brakes a bit on the gloom and doom it creates around Farrelly and Cooper’s film’s chances to win Best Picture. In a normal year, it might spell disaster. But this has hardly been a normal year.
I still think both films have a solid chance to win the top prize on Feb. 24. While neither film may be what anyone would call progressive or artistically experimental (no one would ever confuse them with Moonlight or The Shape of Water), they’re both, in their own separate ways, old-fashioned sentimental crowd-pleasers whose box-office receipts will now be goosed thanks to a post-nomination bump. But remember, this is also the same Academy (despite a long-overdue influx of younger, more diverse voters) who pulled the lever for The King’s Speech, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, and yes, Crash.
First, some history about those so-called snubs. If Green Book or A Star Is Born were to win Best Picture this year, it would be the fifth time in the Academy’s 90-year history that a film snagged the coveted award without its director being nominated (a group that includes William Wellman’s Wings in 1929, Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel in 1932, Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy in 1990, and Ben Affleck’s Argo in 2013). So yes, it’s rare. But there is precedent. Don’t count either one out yet.
More interesting is the question: Why didn’t Farrelly or Cooper get tapped? There’s a host of possible reasons. But let’s start with the most obvious one. With an expanded field of eight Best Picture nominees, someone had to get left off of the shorter, five-person director list. That’s just simple math…and the least thorny part of this.
Then, there’s the fact that while the entire pool of Academy members vote for the winner of Best Director, only the Directors’ group has a say in the nominees. And they can be a bit of a tough club to crack — hard to impress, especially if you’re a first-timer (as Cooper is) or if you’re perceived as essentially being a first-timer (which Farrelly, who until now has trafficked mostly in low-brow comedies such as There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, is). In other words, dues must be paid, nothing can come too easily.
Then there’s the gotcha-politics angle that always find its way into Oscar season. While these sorts of paper-trail revelations haven’t affected A Star Is Born, they’ve been an albatross weighing down Green Book over the last few weeks. The one-two punch of Green Book co-writer Nick Vallelonga’s past tweet in which he echoed the absurd and thoroughly debunked claim that Muslims in Jersey City could be seen celebrating the 9/11 terror attacks and the resurfacing of a 1998 Newsweek story which detailed Farrelly’s juvenile and reprehensibly offensive habit of exposing himself on his movie sets. Taken together, these incidents caused the sort of nightmare P.R. perfect storm that can be tough to ride out, even with the best spin doctoring money can buy. Both Vallelonga (who was still nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar) and Farrelly issued swift mea culpas, quickly jumping into damage-control mode. But we’ll never know if any of this led to Oscar voters scratching Farrelly’s name off of their ballot as punishment. It certainly didn’t help his cause.
Another reason why Green Book seems to be in some people’s crosshairs — and this is a far more complicated issue — is the perception that the tale of a white driver and a black musician on a road trip in the racist South in 1962, is too simplistic and patronizing in its views on race in America at a time when there’s nothing simple about race in America. In other words, that the film’s spoon-fed feel-good message is dishonest and retrograde, making it feel like another Driving Miss Daisy or Crash – past Best Picture winners that feel particularly unwoke in the identity politics whirlwind of 2019.
But, as someone who really liked Green Book (and included it as No. 9 in my Top 10 of 2018), this feels like an argument that exists more in the echo chamber of Film Twitter than in the real world, where Green Book has earned an A+ from CinemaScore. Someone — a lot of people, actually — clearly likes this movie. And they’re not wrong to like it or be moved by it. That sort of judgement smacks of condescension even if does makes a juicy subject for Op-Ed hot takes.
To take the whole Green Book tempest a step further, some are now arguing that a certain segment of older white film-industry types (the National Board of Review, the Golden Globes, the AFI Awards, etc.) have embraced Green Book precisely because it’s perceived white-savior storyline is under siege by the left. That it’s become a sort of last stand by Hollywood’s old guard, Republican, get-off-my-lawn, Make America Great Again blind ballot voting bloc afraid of losing their power. This feels like a huge stretch. Maybe, just maybe, people actually like Green Book for the movie that it is, not the movie some people are trying to turn it into.
Personally, I don’t think that Green Book or A Star Is Born was the best film of 2018. I’ll be rooting for The Favourite or Roma. But if either does win (Best Director nomination or not), I hope we can all keep things in perspective and realize that it’s not the end of the world, or a win for an insidious sort of soft racism, or anything other than it being the movie that the majority of Academy voters, rightly or wrongly, just happened to like the most last year.