On the Academy Awards: Turn your celebration of filmmaking elsewhere

Pranaya Pahwa | Film Editor

The anticipation preceding the Academy Awards last night was unprecedented—in that it was nonexistent. Never before has an Academy Awards ceremony been so unpredictable, unconventional and completely unnecessary—a shame, because the Academy Awards serve an important purpose in recognizing excellence in filmmaking. At its best, the Academy Awards can encourage the public to acknowledge the artistry of filmmaking and watch great, if underappreciated, films. Last night, the Academy Awards, on rare occasion, lived up to its nobler objectives. More frequently than not, however, it failed to. Therefore, why discuss the Academy Awards any further? If the Academy is not truly committed to celebrating great films, if it considers not airing categories as essential to cinema as cinematography, editing and makeup, if it prioritizes viewership over craftsmanship and if it refuses to sincerely recognize the contributions of women and people of color, then it becomes necessary to ignore the Academy Awards and appreciate excellence in filmmaking on new terms.

This started as a review of the Academy Awards, it should be evident now that this is assuredly not a review of the Academy Awards. Last night, there were sweet speeches, short speeches and perplexing speeches. There were deserving and undeserving winners. If you want to, you should look into what happened last night…at another publication. Here instead are five films—and the artists who made them—that were not recognized last night despite their invaluable contributions to film.

“The Rider”

Profound and sacred, “The Rider” is 2018’s quietest and most underappreciated masterpiece. Director Chloe Zhao’s film depicts a Lakota Sioux rodeo rider, devastated by injury, discovering he can never ride again. Zhao’s “The Rider” is an ode to a dying way of life sung with amazing grace. Her restrained direction, the moving cinematography by Joshua James Richards and the powerful editing of Alex O’Flinn merit attention and appreciation. “The Rider” is screen poetry and prayer at its finest.

“Eighth Grade”

“Eighth Grade”’s aching authenticity makes the film difficult to watch, but also insightful and impactful. Bo Burnham’s screenplay is revelatory, nuanced and honest, reflecting his deep affection for his characters. Exceptional dialogue requires exceptional performances and Josh Hamilton and especially Elsie Fischer deliver. In his feature length directorial debut, Burnham captures the final week of eight grade and all its misery, cruelty and heart.

“Hereditary”

The meticulously made “Hereditary” disturbs and devastates. Director Ari Aster places a rich family drama in a complicated horror narrative to explore grief, mental illness and selfishness. No film in 2018 was more ambitious than “Hereditary.” Hereditary succeeds because of its superb direction, impeccable production design from Grace Yun, haunting sound design and Toni Collette’s stunning acting. Collette delivers a layered performance that requires her to demonstrate the extremes of human selfishness and selflessness. “Hereditary” is the pinnacle of horror filmmaking.

“Leave No Trace”

Director Debra Granik’s lovely “Leave No Trace” is an extraordinary film of limitless empathy and kindness. “Leave No Trace” explores a family’s transition as a veteran and his daughter living in a public park are forced to re-enter society and move into a house. Granik’s outstanding direction places the audience with the family, depicting their love, pain and growing distance. Thomas Harcourt McKenzie is magnificent as the daughter, demonstrating her character’s great curiosity, care and maturity. “Leave No Trace” is an absolute stunner.

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is the best film of 2018. It has the best direction, best ensemble, best screenwriting, best cinematography, best production design and best costume design. It is at once 2018’s most life-affirming and heartbreaking film. James Baldwin’s narrative about love and injustice is adapted by the most careful and empathetic filmmaking team. While Regina King did win the Oscar for best supporting actress last night for her role in the film, director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, supporting actor Brian Tyree Henry, cinematographer James Laxton, editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, costume designer Caroline Eselin and production designer Mark Friedberg also deserve special recognition for their outstanding efforts. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a reflection of all the beauty and ugliness that defines the United States.

In addition to these five films, “Private Life,” “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mission Impossible: Fallout,” “First Reformed,” “Searching,” “First Man” and “Annihilation” all demonstrate the best of filmmaking in 2018. These films were not duly recognized last night either.

Films in 2018 were excellent. The Academy Awards were not. Skip the Academy Awards and watch the films that defined 2018. Oh, and also, “Green Book” sucks. Don’t watch it.

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