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Librarians Discuss the Oscar Nominees
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Posted On February 5, 2019
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Bohemian Rhapsody

As he seeks to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous singer, art student Freddie rebels against his traditional Parsi family and joins the band that will become Queen. Adopting the surname Mercury, Freddie becomes a superstar as he and his bandmates create the exuberant music that electrifies audiences in the 1970s and 1980s.

Armond White writes in National Review, “The film goes for kitsch and ignores everything interesting about Freddie Mercury. … Bohemian Rhapsody hands us the puzzle of Mercury’s showbiz persona but shies away from insight about the man born Farrokh Bulsara. … His ethnicity and sexuality should be more than simple tokens of diversity.”

Moody says, “I don’t think Bohemian Rhapsody is the greatest film, but I love how Freddie Mercury’s story is really resonating with people.”

Sheri Linden writes for The Hollywood Reporter that the movie is a “conventional, PG-13 portrait of an unconventional band.” It balances “the tale’s darker facets” with the “sweet and upbeat” aspects of the story. “[T]his is a biopic that favors sensory experience over exposition. It understands what pure, electrifying fun rock ’n’ roll can be,” she notes. “The rough edges of Freddie Mercury’s story might be smoothed over in this telling, the indulgences and debauchery sugarcoated. … But, caught in a landslide of dispiriting headlines, at a moment when connection, curiosity and openheartedness feel like endangered species, the lingering exhilaration of that [final] concert scene is pretty darn magnifico.”

Lee says, “I’m kind of shocked at how well Bohemian Rhapsody is doing at award shows and regarding Oscar nominations. And I can’t believe [director] Bryan Singer got to make another movie, especially during a year known by the #MeToo movement.”

The Favourite

In the early 1700s, Queen Anne, in poor health and emotionally unstable, allows her most trusted confidante, Lady Sarah, to act as the de facto ruler of Great Britain during its war with France. Sarah’s control slips, however, when her cousin Abigail arrives at court and charms the queen.

David Rooney calls The Favourite a “wicked delight” and a “fabulously entertaining tragicomedy” in The Hollywood Reporter. The main characters are “played by a divine trio that bounces off one another with obvious relish. … Without a trace of didactic protofeminism, their roles speak volumes about the savvy required of women to use their influence in a bitterly divided political landscape, not to mention pursue their personal agendas.”

National Review’s Kyle Smith writes that director Yorgos Lanthimos “is not only a prodigious talent but a strikingly original one”—The Favourite is “bizarre” and “merely a revenge comedy,” yet “an amusing revisionist take on history.” He praises the script as “a delightful war of wits” and the performances as “top-notch.”

Lee agrees: “The Favourite is queer and equally about the three complicated women who star in it.” And Moody says, “I love that a stylized film about a slightly obscure time in history has done so well. Women that we don’t know a lot about [are] taking center stage and being complex characters.”

Green Book

Dr. Donald Shirley, an accomplished concert pianist, hires Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip to drive him during his 1962 tour of the South as protection against the racism that he, as an African American, is certain to encounter. Despite their differences, Dr. Shirley and Tony discover that they enjoy spending time together and have much to learn from each other.

National Review’s Kyle Smith notes that Green Book “combines Hallmark Channel-style humor with a homily about racial tolerance carefully designed to appeal to awards-show voters, to whom no message movie can be too blunt as long as it is sending one of the five or so messages of which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never tires (boo racism, yay showbiz).” Additionally, he writes, “[T]his is a movie that wags its finger about prejudice while depicting Italian-Americans as walking meatballs. The point of tolerance, liberals sometimes seem to forget, is not to swing the cannons of derision around and fire broadsides at some other disfavored group.”

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes that Green Book “is an utterly ignominious nomination, replicating the racially condescending sentiments that brought ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ to the podium twenty-nine years ago.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy agrees that it isn’t breaking any new ground, writing, “Arriving in the wake of any number of edgy cinematic takes on racial issues, this [movie] represents a very middle-of-the-road liberal approach to a story that pretty much could have been told anytime since the 1960s. Distinctive and amusing turns by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali make Peter Farrelly’s first solo feature outing a lively and likable diversion.”

In contrast to Smith, McCarthy notes that Mortensen’s Italian-American accent is “perfect” and that he has “beautifully sunk himself into the role of a capable, don’t-mess-with-me wise guy.”

“I think this year’s Best Picture nominees aren’t offering the gripping, life-altering, or life-affirming experiences that we used to get in movies. These stories are lacking heart,” says Aloia. “Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book have been called out for their lack of honesty and integrity of storytelling. Green Book neglected to contact the living relatives to corroborate the story,” she notes—which may hurt its Oscar chances.

Roma

In Mexico City in the early 1970s, Cleo is a maid in the household of a middle-class doctor. She takes on increasing responsibility caring for the family’s four children during a time of personal and political upheaval.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy writes, “Blessed with an exceptionally acute sensitivity to the things of life, Roma is a memory film of unusual beauty that pushes to the foreground what is commonly left in the background. Alfonso Cuarón’s long-aborning, autobiographically inspired drama impressionistically re-creates the titular Mexico City neighborhood. … An immersive bath in some of the most luxuriantly beautiful black-and-white images you’ve ever seen, this is the work of a great filmmaker who exhibits absolute control and confidence in what he’s doing.”

Kyle Smith at National Review writes, “Roma is very much a critics’ picture, slow to develop and so subtle. …” When the main characters are both abandoned by men, “here the most salient of several themes … clicks into place, the one that is going to most deeply impress Oscar voters: These women (and to a lesser extent the kids) are victims of perfidious, violent, toxic masculinity.”

Deadline Hollywood writer Michael Cieply predicts, “In the heat of a border battle, [the Academy] can easily signal virtue by endorsing a film … about the travails of a Mexican maid and the family for whom she works.” Richard Brody echoes this in The New Yorker: “[T]he first Netflix movie to earn a Best Picture nomination … gives Hollywood a chance to pay homage to domestic workers without actually having to listen to what they have to say.”

“I do love it when films take chances,” says Cygnar. “Here’s a director who could pretty much make any film he wants. And what does he do following his Oscar win [for Gravity]? He makes a film set in his native Mexico, in Spanish, in black and white, telling the story of a housekeeper to a middle-class family. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that Hollywood is not only about green screens and car chases and explosions. Sometimes we need an unmarried, pregnant Mexican maid to remind us that Hollywood is about all kinds of filmmaking.”

Moody agrees: “Are we seeing a creeping acknowledgement that a white, western, English-language point of view isn’t the default?”

“I think the Best Picture should always be a reflection of the times,” says Justin Hoenke, director of Benson Memorial Library in Pennsylvania. “Netflix is the wave of the future as far as entertainment goes. This film [earning a nomination] clearly shows the shift happening.”

Hilburn agrees: “Netflix and Amazon Prime offer visually stunning, impeccably acted original series and films that are finally getting their due,” she says. “The Academy has been reluctant to recognize these films because of their nontraditional release, and many theaters have flat-out refused to show them. The internet is no longer in its infancy. The train is leaving the station, and the Academy can either take a seat or wave as it leaves them behind.”

Cobine notes that Roma’s “release by Netflix and its inclusion in the category is incredibly problematic to vast segments of the motion picture industry. There is no doubt that it is a resonant story, beautifully made, and the fact that it is a Mexican film set in Mexico is all the more surprising that it is included in the Best Picture category. It’s fascinating that there is a possibility that a non-American film could be nominated and even possibly win Best Picture for the first time in the history of the Oscars. If it wins, it will symbolize a rebuke to xenophobic American border policies and serve as a testament to the convergence of talent that is multi-national film production.”

Roma brings up another important issue for Cobine: “Academic libraries already find it challenging to acquire films for their collections. It’s alarming to think that some of the most celebrated films in the world will be left hanging in a sort of rights limbo in the years to come, as things currently stand. … As distributors of content, [Netflix, Amazon, and other] giant companies need to step forward and recognize that they have a role to play in cultural stewardship, not just access. We need a realistic solution for institutional access to films for educational use, and this year the Academy Awards, with the high-profile inclusion of Roma, makes that absolutely plain.”

A Star Is Born

When rock star Jackson Maine meets struggling singer Ally, he is impressed by her talent and encourages her to perform her own material despite her insecurities. Ally’s career quickly blossoms, as does her romance with Jack, although his alcoholism and ambivalence over her success jeopardize their relationship.

National Review’s Kyle Smith calls the movie “amazingly shallow, trite, and soapy” (and that is presumably not a pun on Best Original Song nominee “Shallow”). Smith does note that Lady Gaga’s performance is “stellar,” but that the character’s “arc is simplistic” and “a thing of cliché.” Aloia says, “While A Star Is Born is an emotional rollercoaster, I just wasn’t attached to these characters.”

David Rooney writes in The Hollywood Reporter, “There’s a lot to love in Bradley Cooper’s entertaining remake of A Star is Born, including his convincing portrayal of a hard-drinking country rocker in some electrifying concert scenes. … The first-time director’s grasp of pacing could be improved and the overlong movie can’t quite sustain the energy and charm of its sensational start. But this is a durable tale of romance, heady fame and crushing tragedy, retold for a new generation with heart and grit.” He acknowledges a missed opportunity in the movie’s failure to explore “the constricting ways in which women are packaged for success in the music industry and the narrow reality of what sells in contemporary pop.”

Vice

Dick Cheney rises from humble beginnings to the heights of politics, serving in cabinet positions, in the White House and in the House of Representatives, before becoming George W. Bush’s vice president. While wielding unprecedented influence in his new role, Cheney seeks to be the power behind the throne.

Director Adam “McKay’s movie is a classic case of Hollywoodsplaining, and it gratifies the industry’s self-image in a variety of ways,” writes The New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “It reduces a history of ideology—a tale of people working to advance repugnant principles—to a criticism of those people for being unprincipled; it’s a political movie for movie people who, when they hear the word ‘politics,’ think of office politics.”

Kyle Smith writes for National Review that “the film is a spastic mess, an angry upchuck. … It fails on all grounds except one: Christian Bale really is something as Dick Cheney.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy liked it, calling the movie “scorchingly audacious.” It has “merciless humor” and is “so buoyant, its general mood so exhilarating, that it rarely seems like it’s resorting to cheap shots or gags for effect. It’s the work of a great, mordant tragi-comedian, someone whose primary skills lie in humor but, as he’s grown as an artist, has learned to plant his satiric skills in fertile dramatic soil.”

Lee says, “Vice left me feeling emotionally manipulated, but maybe in a good way? I thought the performances would be over the top, but they were incredible and campy in a way that moved the story forward.”

“I think Vice is a film with subject matter that is a bit out of sync with its time,” says Cobine. “I don’t know if it will receive kudos or see any immediate popularity right now, amid the fraught cultural moment we are experiencing, but it is a story that audiences, popular and academic alike, may very well be able to use to revisit to get a sense of the political and cultural climate in the 2000s.”


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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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