I have no taste in movies, apparently - Keith Roulston editorial
Well, the Academy Awards have come and gone for another year and once again I’ve been reminded that I have no artistic taste.
Every year before and after the Oscars are handed out, the critics and talking heads on television (probably on social media too, but I’m anti-social) speculate as to whether the awards are still relevant, pointing to declining numbers of people watching the awards extravaganza on TV. For the movie critics, the problem is that the pictures they regard as the very best aren’t rewarded when the prizes are handed out. I suspect regular people are simply worn out by being endlessly told that the movies they really like aren’t worthy of consideration.
The movies that keep the movie studios humming and the movie theatres in business are spectacular portrayals of comic-book superheroes that attract primarily young men. This is not the sort of audience that serious critics and movie afficionados deem worthy of consideration. They want audience members who are discerning about the sort of motion picture that would bore these young people to death and have them stay home watching Netflix.
Many producers who have created movies they think have a shot at winning an Oscar choose to debut their picture at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. Quite a number of movies that have won the Audience Award for the movie best-liked by the Toronto audience have gone on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
So last September, when Green Book was picked as the audience favourite at TIFF, it automatically became the favourite to win the Oscar.
Green Book takes place in 1962 and is based on a true story. Black pianist Dr. Don Shirley is booked by his recording company on an extended tour of towns and cities across the southern U.S. at a time when there were regular attacks by local bigots on both blacks and whites who were campaigning for civil rights for blacks. To protect Dr. Shirley, a driver is hired, a former nightclub bouncer named Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. The “Green Book” of the title is a listing of accommodations and restaurants across the south that black travellers could use.
The movie is an odd-couple road story, based on a book Vallelonga wrote years later. Dr. Shirley is a cultivated man, although a bit of a stuffed shirt at times. Tony is racist, crude and rude, always filling his face with junk food. Dr. Shirley tries to refine Tony. Tony tries to get Dr. Shirley to loosen up.
Because blacks and whites must stay separated, often Tony would drop his boss off at an inferior hotel, then travel to a much better “white” hotel where he stayed the night. That’s the minor racism involved. Elsewhere Dr. Shirley is greeted with delight by the whites who booked him to perform, but as a black man is not allowed to eat at the same venue.
On one occasion the two men are arrested and thrown in a southern jail. Dr. Shirley demands his right to make a phone call and one somewhat decent cop among those present allows him to make it. Rather than call a lawyer, he calls Robert F. Kennedy who he knows personally and who was U.S. Attorney General at the time. One of the highlights of the movie is when the local sheriff gets a phone call from the state governor, (whom Kennedy has called), telling him to release the prisoners.
By the time the trip is over, Tony and Dr. Shirley become life-long friends.
Movies today are not just entertainment. In the age of “Oscars So White” and the “Me Too” movement, each movie carries a political burden too. So when some expert writing in the New York Times late last year questioned Green Book’s worthiness and wondered if the world really needed another movie where a white person learned tolerance from a black person, other critics jumped on board. Soon Green Book had gone from being the expected best picture winner, to having an outside chance.
So when the Academy Awards were actually handed out last week and Green Book took the prize for best picture, all those critics who thought they had shamed people into voting for more worthy movies were appalled. There were several more days of abuse being heaped on the movie and all the morally-deficient Academy members who had voted for it.
So I admit to being morally-deficient, too, because of the nominated pictures I’ve seen, Green Book is my favourite. Some of the other more artistically superior movies seemed to challenge you to be able to sit through them until the end to prove your worthiness. I just wasn’t up to it.
Does the world really need one more movie of a white man learning racial tolerance? Hey, it seems to me that in this age of Donald Trump we can use all the tolerance we can get.