If 2019’s best pic­ture os­car win­ner could talk...

In a month these films will likely be vy­ing for Os­car’s big prize. Here’s what their wins would mean for the movie in­dus­try.

NOW Magazine - - COVER STORY - By RAD­HEYAN SI­MON­PIL­LAI [email protected]­toronto.com | @JustSayRad

An Os­car best pic­ture win can sig­nal boost a movie into the broader con­ver­sa­tion where even the least ac­tive screen-watch­ers (like my par­ents) make a point to check it out. The prize can feel like progress, as when the queer Black love in Moon­light sur­prised us all by eclips­ing the Academy-tai­lored La La Land to win. Or it can feel like we pre­fer safe, up­lift­ing takes on dis­crim­i­na­tion, like The Shape Of Wa­ter, as op­posed to a more prickly, con­fronta­tional con­ver­sa­tion like Get Out.

There’s no clear fron­trun­ner in this year’s best pic­ture race, but we nar­rowed it down to the main con­tenders and dis­cuss what it would mean if they won.

A STAR IS BORN

The Bradley Cooper-di­rected re­make star­ring Lady Gaga is al­ready a ma­jor hit with crit­ics and au­di­ences. For the record, I felt noth­ing af­ter that Shal­lows per­for­mance.

But Cooper’s gen­er­ous work with fel­low ac­tors can’t be de­nied and will likely over­shadow the film’s ques­tion­able dis­missal of pop mu­sic.

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN Per­haps it would sig­nal noth­ing more than the love of an old-fash­ioned ro­mance, es­pe­cially when it ac­ti­vates Hol­ly­wood’s nar­cis­sism by be­ing about show busi­ness.

A Star Is Born would also be a safe bet for Os­car vot­ers who would rather re­treat from the iden­tity pol­i­tics that come with the other con­tenders. That, too, would be telling.

GREEN BOOK

Green Book is com­fort food about racism, charm­ing and funny for sure, but yet an­other story about an ex­cep­tional Black man giv­ing a big­oted white man the op­por­tu­nity to prove he’s not all that bad.

Peter Far­relly’s odd cou­ple com­edy has al­ready picked up the Peo­ple’s Choice Award at TIFF and was named best pic­ture by the Na­tional Board of Re­view, which means so far it has scored more prizes than The Hate U Give, Wid­ows, If Beale Street Could Talk and Black Pan­ther.

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN That a white saviour nar­ra­tive has this much mileage just proves we haven’t come that far since the days of Driv­ing Miss Daisy.

ROMA

Crit­ics groups in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Fran­cisco and Toronto have all awarded Al­fonso Cuarón’s lat­est their top prize, nudg­ing Net­flix ever so closer to not only the in­dus­try-dis­rupt­ing streamer’s first best pic­ture Os­car nom­i­na­tion but per­haps a win. In the age of Trump, a black-and-white, for­eign­lan­guage film about an Indige­nous nanny is some­thing I’d love to get be­hind, but I have my reser­va­tions about Cuarón’s won­drous ode to his child­hood nanny.

The semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal film about Cuarón’s up­per-mid­dle-class child­hood stars Yal­itza Apari­cio. Her Cleo oc­cu­pies al­most ev­ery frame. And yet I felt noth­ing for her be­cause she’s re­duced to a silent, stoic, re­silient sym­bol who lacks in­te­ri­or­ity. Cleo bor­ders dan­ger­ously close to a Magic In­dian fig­ure, qui­etly weath­er­ing the el­e­ments (look for the earth­quake, for­est fire and tidal wave).

Mean­while, Cuarón’s showy tac­tics – his metic­u­lously chore­ographed long takes draw­ing our at­ten­tion to what’s in the back­ground – reg­u­larly dwarf Cleo, as if her main pur­pose in the film is to be a hanger to hold his epic vi­sion. Even now, she serves him well.

Crit­ics and vot­ing bod­ies have thus far in­di­cated they would rather re­ward Roma’s perched sym­pa­thy, tinged with white guilt, over If Beale Street Could Talk’s soul­ful, eye-level em­pa­thy for its sim­i­larly marginal­ized char­ac­ters.

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN It would say a lot about who votes for awards and the per­spec­tive they hold.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

If Beale Street Could Talk hasn’t won a sin­gle pre­cur­sor award this sea­son. The only thing I have to go on in call­ing it a best pic­ture con­tender is undy­ing hope that the right one wins.

An adap­ta­tion of James Bald­win’s novel, Barry Jenk­ins’s heartache of a movie about love en­dur­ing through op­pres­sion doesn’t dwell too hard on the try­ing cir­cum­stances fac­ing Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). In­stead, it de­mands an au­di­ence see past all of that and feel their strength, beauty and hu­man­ity.

Un­like Roma, which dis­tracts from its marginal­ized lead with a busy mise-en-scène, Beale Street’s sen­su­ously de­signed, Wong Kar-Wai-in­spired set pieces en­ve­lope Tish and Fonny, al­ways draw­ing us closer to them.

WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN It would con­vince me that Moon­light’s de­serv­ing vic­tory was not just some fluke or a knee-jerk re­sponse to #Os­carsSoWhite. Let’s hope the Academy is re­ally chang­ing, or at least widen­ing its per­spec­tive.

If A Star Is Born, star­ring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, wins the best pic­ture Os­car in 2019, it could mean the in­dus­try is re­treat­ing from iden­tity pol­i­tics.

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