One of the great disappointments of this awards season has been the ascendency of the deeply mediocre Green Book (2018) above so many worthier, more interesting contenders. It started out with such momentum on the festival circuit – winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (basically that festival’s equivalent of Best Picture) – that it has been able to inexplicably weather through countless controversies, criticisms and revelations about its cast and crew.
Viggo Mortenson used racial slurs during a round-table interview, and still the movie stayed on track. The family of Don Shirley, one of the two men at the heart of the film, came out about how the film was unfair toward Shirley, lied about his relationship with Driver Tony Vallelonga, and still it landed on the American Film Institute’s top 10 list for the year. Critics pointed out how the film’s White lead subsumed the story of a Black man, made innumerable false comparisons between their racial struggles and essentially took credit for ‘solving’ racism in the 1960s, and it still went on to be acclaimed by the National Board of Review. Its scribe, Nick Vallelonga (son of subject Tony Vallelonga), was revealed to be a racist Trumper who championed the president’s lies about New Jersey Muslims cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the towers fell, and yet it claimed top prizes at the Golden Globes.
Yes, the movie’s trajectory has suffered tremendously due to these setbacks in its “why can’t we all just get along” awards season narrative, but not as much as, by rights, it should have. Although no longer fated to win big at the Oscars, it will certainly be listed among a lot of the big categories, likely including Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Picture (with some suggesting it could get in for Director and any number of craft-based awards). Despite everything, Green Book will still take the Oscars by storm.
Some might point to its failure to capture a lot of the critics awards as indicative of its further derailment, maybe even enough so to keep it out the Oscars (or that Vallelonga’s racist remarks resurfaced just before voting opened for the Academy), but those are moot points. Critics awards, though they can help keep certain movies in the conversation that might otherwise have fallen by the wayside, are poor predictors of what those in the industry will deem worthy to pay tribute to. Given that the Oscars are an industry awards show, the various industry awards – coming from the various industry guilds – are what we should be looking at, and they’ve been nominating (if not outright awarding) Green Book every change they get.
Furthermore, Green Book’s odds of being hurt by Vallelonga – at least in terms of more than just a potential screenplay nomination – are fairly low. The demographic that the movie appeals to (older, whiter, more masculine) want to award a movie like Green Book, of which there really aren’t many these days. Vice (2018) is far too angry and divisive, The Favourite (2018) is far too weird, Roma (2018) is far too foreign, Black Panther (2018) is far too populist, BlacKkKlansman (2018) is far too Black, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) is far too subtle. These are people who want to recognize a middle-of-the-road “issues” movie that they can see themselves in (via Vallelonga) and that makes them feel good about being so “progressive.” They’re the people who voted for The Shape of Water (2017) over Get Out (2017) because the former made them feel more progressive than their conservative parents and the latter called them out for being part of the problem.
What else is there for this voting block to turn to? First Man (2018) is a monochrome biopic about a great American hero at the time when these people were idealistic youngsters. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) is a toe-tapping biopic about one of the greatest rock bands in the business (and another movie that lets them feel like their progressive rebels sticking it to the man rather than just some old fuddy-duddies that are more ideologically similar to their parents than they’d care to admit). The problem is, though, that neither addresses social issues (and, in Bohemian Rhapsody’s case, is marred by the presence of director Bryan Singer), meaning that they wouldn’t be supporting the one specific type of movie that they’re looking to bring some attention to.
So you better start getting used to Green Book. Like it or not, it’s here to stay.