When I first walked out of Green Book back in November, I never expected it would reach this point. And based off my notes from that day, I genuinely enjoyed my experience – I had the same tender loving takeaway that all sorts of audiences had throughout it’s run.
It’s truly a charming little film that you can’t help smiling through, and despite some of my initial issues with the film (stereotyped characters, lack of depth), I came away impressed. It was a film that I could look back on and smile at a unique relationship that speaks to accepting others outside our circles.
It also has a phenomenal score from Kris Bowers on the piano
The Start of Awards Season
But, once award season starts and it’s targeted as a potential winner, it immediately gets put under a microscope and every theme, scene, shot, character, creative choice, personal affiliation with the people who produced the film get obsessively examined. This alone craters lots of Oscar campaigns. And when I was forced to think critically about the ideas presented within Green Book is when the problems arose. This film is fine as a popcorn film, where we all leave with that warm feeling, but doesn’t exactly hold up when examined thoroughly.
And I’m not going to get into why it doesn’t do well with the microscope test – as I’ve laid out many times on twitter and Letterboxd – but why those completely legitimate issues were overlooked in a stubborn protest of Academy voters essentially going with “I like what I like and nobody is changing my mind.” There’s no problem with that approach, usually, but this year, voters spoke to it as their duty to show that their opinion can’t be swayed by think pieces and outrage. Directly defiant to the uproar its Golden Globe win raised that made fans of the film double down on their takes heading deeper into awards season.
And there’s plenty of complexities to why voters took a strong stance on the film – not only the outrage but industry factors that seemingly pinned voters against other films and hardened their initial views. For one thing, the movie itself was an easily digestible and decipherable film that presents plot points concisely and leaves nothing ambiguous, unlike say “Roma” or “The Favourite” that leaves aspects of the story open for interpretation. But, one of the biggest reasons was Netflix literally trying to buy a Best picture win and the resentment this undoubtedly left on Oscar voters.
Netflix, in the last two years, has made serious upgrades to their PR and campaign efforts, trying to be the first streaming service to break the best picture barrier, and in that process has strengthened traditionalists views on streaming and grouped together contractors who aren’t ready for the medium to change. Netflix reportedly spent anywhere from $50-60 million on the Roma campaign, showing them to be an influential powerhouse that has the means to push a film all the way to the finish line. But, again, the anti-Netflix contingency isn’t quite ready to accept them and thus, Roma goes from the sensible pick and odds-on favorite for Best Picture to the largest spending campaign to lose out.
And to some extent, this is on Netflix. A lesser campaign keeps Roma as the media darling, an indie film about a Mexican maid that minorities and underprivileged can relate to that no other motion picture studio would finance. Turning Roma into this powerhouse campaign trying to bowl over other films by using a massive media budget and desperately pursuing this Oscar gave it the perception of something it’s not. On its own, voters clearly loved it but once the second phase campaign started those good feelings turned into anger specifically targeted at a new part of the industry that isn’t fully accepted yet. And nobody likes a film being shoved down their throat.
Green Book winning mostly comes down to feeling, and voters remembered that smile they had at the end of the film. And unlike Roma, Green Book plays exceptionally on a screener. Roma needed a longer theatrical run with how long the first act takes to familiarize and settle into the narrative and with how stunning the visuals are on a 35mm projector. There will never be a definitive answer as to why Green Book won. We can speculate endlessly, and my final take is that it was an overall down year for best picture frontrunners and no film stood out enough to break away. At that point, it comes down to many uncontrollable factors, personal preference and emotion, and Green Book undoubtedly win in that regard.
In a year like this, Green Book was the safe choice because of its broad appeal to voters and audiences. A story that people can walk away from thinking they gained a new perspective on an important societal issue while not distracting from the heartwarming aspects of the story. It never directly challenges those ideas or principal’s and to some degree that helped its chances. In my own mind, I would’ve walked away from 2018 thinking Green Book was a nice little film, but when put up critically against the other films it leaves me speechless how this experience impacted them as much as something like “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Blindspotting” or “Blackkklansman.”
And that’s the biggest issue here, pundits want us to submit to the idea that these problems, that have been discussed since it’s release, are somehow not real or important to the overall story. The cinephile’s more critical thinking is being blocked out because Green Book appeals to most amount of people. The audiences that don’t want their experienced tarnished by outside factors. That feel that life is separated from entertainment and the critical thinking assigned to some of these films shouldn’t linger past the credits. It speaks to the ever-increasing divide between industry, fans, critics, and the insane cinephiles (like myself).
I come across as discouraging to people that enjoyed the film, but in reality, this is awards season and opinions during this time end up being definitive because that’s what award season does: rank the films comparatively. It’s sometimes a nasty business because of that. But again, I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of something and feel free to mock me endlessly with pictures of Viggo Mortensen holding the Oscar or Peter Farrelly grinning m