The 2019 Oscars threw in a couple surprises and snubs in what was expected to be a very predictable year. This year’s Oscars started in a flurry of controversy and unease. With the Academy having made so many questionable decisions that they quickly U-turned on, and the lack of a host remaining a major elephant in the room, many worried that the evening would be a disaster in waiting.
So, it was surprising for many people that the Oscars 2019 ceremony managed to be both enjoyable and efficient. It did not justify the bad choices of the Academy (the event still featured the Best Original Song performances and no awards were handed out in the breaks), but a host-free show was not the mess most had thought it would be. Indeed, for the most part, the Oscars was very entertaining without one.
This was an Oscars in flux, a show caught between tradition and innovation, and it was evident throughout the evening. However, that doesn't mean that the Oscars didn't feature their own fair share of twists and turns, with some people and movies winning in categories that most people didn't expect - or thought was too good to be true.
Bohemian Rhapsody Wins Best Editing
Watching Bohemian Rhapsody become an Oscars front-runner was one of the more surreal aspects of this awards season. The Queen biopic made a lot of money but it was still the recipient of much controversy and bad reviews over its re-writing of history, its questionable craft, and the ever present Bryan Singer problem. Yet it went on to win no fewer than four awards, the biggest surprise of which was its Oscar for Best Editing.
John Ottman, Singer’s long-time collaborator, was nowhere near the best reviewed editor of the year, but it was tough to avoid what his win meant. It was a reward for an editor who had to work under difficult circumstances and piece together a narrative built from a tumultuous shoot, not to mention sequences from two different directors. It has often been said that the Oscars like to reward the most work over the best work, and no editor had to do more this year than Ottman.
Mahershala Ali’s Conflicted Win For Best Supporting Actor
Watching Mahershala Ali win his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor was hardly a surprise. Indeed, he had been the front-runner for the award pretty much since Green Book premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. His closest competition was Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but even then, Grant's chances were slim compared to Ali. It was a deserving win for one of the generation’s most charismatic actors, but it was tough to escape how genuinely uncomfortable Ali seemed by the win.
Ali became the second black actor in history to win two acting Oscars (the first being Denzel Washington) but seemed solemn and awkward from the moment his name was announced. Green Book has been mired in controversy since its premiere, with various questions asked over its historical accuracy, the various misdeeds of its director and screenwriter, and its depiction of Dr. Don Shirley. Nobody seemed to bear that weight more this awards season than Ali. He should certainly be proud of his ground-breaking achievement, but he also seemed to be keenly aware of how badly this win is likely to age in the future.
Women Held the Winner’s Spotlight
It remains an industry-wide shame that this year's Oscars saw zero women once again nominated for Best Director. No women helmed films were nominated for Best Picture either. There's still a massive amount of progress that needs to be made but one of the surprising glimmers of hope for the industry came from how many women won Oscars across the board.
It was an especially exciting night for women of color. Ruth E. Carter, the legendary costume designer, deservedly won for her work on Black Panther. Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton brought one of the evening's best speeches when their film Period. End of Sentence. won Best Documentary Short. Pixar's Bao, by Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb, took home Best Animated Short Film. Free Solo was the Best Documentary Feature of the year, helmed in part by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney were two-thirds of the make-up and hairstyling team that won Vice its Oscar. Hannah Beachler of Black Panther made history as the first African-American to be nominated - and win - the Academy Award for Best Production Design. It was an important moment to see accomplished women across the spectrum of the film industry getting their dues, particularly in fields where they remain vastly outnumbered by men.
First Man Wins for Best Visual Effects
Before its premiere, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man was considered the front-runner of awards season. Yet, despite being loved by the critics, it never found an audience and sank out of the narrative. However, the Academy still saw fit to reward it where it deserved it the most: in its astounding visual effects. In comparison to its flashier blockbuster competition, First Man’s effects are relatively restrained, especially when put up against nominees like Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One. It was refreshing to see Oscar voters come out in favor of the film, one that truly deserved better this season.