Roma v.s. Green Book: The Meritless Oscar

The Oscars no longer value artistic merit, best exemplified by this year’s Best Picture, Green Book. Last year, the Oscars had the lowest viewership for their main ceremony in 44 years. There are many possible reasons for this: the decline of cable, the perceived “rich people patting themselves on the back” sentiment, but the most likely is the lack of interest and investment in the films being nominated.

The process for a film to be nominated is fairly complicated. The Academy is made up of 6,000 members in 17 different specialties, such as writing, production design, sound, or directing, who either currently work in or are retired from the film industry. The members vote on their favorite films to be nominated for awards within their specialty. There are two rounds of voting. In the first round, members write in the films that they want to be nominated and the films that  secure a certain amount of votes are automatically nominated. Those that don’t get nominated initially, get put into the second round where the members vote again and the nominees are finalized. Each category can have up to five nominees, except for Best Picture, which can have up to 10, a rule added in 2010.

2018’s Best Picture category was awarded to Green Book directed by Peter Farrelly, from a group including A Star is Born dir. Bradley Cooper, Bohemian Rhapsody dir. Bryan Singer, Black Panther dir. Ryan Coogler, BlacKkKlansman dir. Spike Lee, The Favourite dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Vice dir. Adam McKay, and Roma dir. Alfonso Cuarón. While I have issues with some films on this list and issues with some films not being on this list, my biggest problem is with the outcome of the award: Cuarón’s Roma did not win.

Green Book is a flawed film but it is nowhere near a bad one. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen give great performances and there is a great chemistry between both actors and their characters. Roma however, had all of this and more. Much more.

Roma is a near perfect film. Surprisingly, it is a Netflix original and their first academy award nomination. When I first saw it I was sure it was going to be their first win as well. This is Cuarón’s eighth feature-length film and the fourth film he has directed, written, produced and edited. Though some directors take this auteurist approach, it is extremely rare for this to be done in a film with this large of a world, and scale is one of this movie’s most impressive attributes. Although this film is just about a family’s life and it only had a budget of 15 million dollars (for comparison, Green Book had a budget of 23 million dollars), it is the only film I have ever seen that feels like it takes place in a living breathing world. The world this film takes place in— the world of 1970’s Mexico City— feels bigger and more alive than The Lord of the Rings Middle Earth, which had a collective budget of 281 million dollars. Cuarón does this by using an incredible amount of extras and long sweeping shots that often do not cut for several minutes. It is an artistic, cinematic and technical achievement, and to me Green Book feels like none of those things. Green Book looks like a student film in comparison. But Green Book is something that Roma isn’t: accessible.

Roma is a black and white film where all of the dialogue is in Spanish. As someone who only speaks English this means I had to watch this movie with subtitles. While I don’t mind this, many people do. To quote one of my friends, “If I’m watching something, I want to watch it, you know.” This is why the Oscars no longer value artistic merit. They need to appeal to a much larger audience, as opposed to film nerds, like me! Not that this appeal is a bad thing: the more people that watch these great movies the better. When it comes to awards however, a film like Cuarón’s Roma should beat a film like Green Book every time.
Photo via Flixter