Time is a beautiful thing–two weeks’ worth of time, to be specific. Break is great because, more than anything else, it just gives us some time to breathe. But it can also make us forget some things—like the fact that the Oscars made one of the worst mistakes they have made since, well, since the whole “La La Land” fake-win thing. The Oscars messed up this time by snubbing the fantastic “Roma” in favor of the lukewarm “Green Book.”
More so than Spike Lee’s return to form, Bradley Cooper’s sensational film, Mr. Robot’s sing-along or Yorgos Lanthimos’ adequately bizzare new film (shoutout to Greek filmmakers), “Roma” was far and away the best film to be recognized by an Oscar nomination this year. And, more so than any other year, it was utterly devastating that such a film was snubbed by the Oscars (almost as devastating as watching the best editing award go to the janky cluster that was “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
This is a significant issue because it denotes the interests of the Oscars and is telling in how the Oscars operate. “Green Book,” as I see it, is essentially nothing more than just a feel-good movie. It is about racial reconciliation, and how two characters of different backgrounds can set aside their differences and come together to drive around and eat food.
The Oscars, and most apologists of poor opinions, have the bad habit of supporting something because it makes them feel good. You see this a lot with movies. And in my unsupported conjecture, I think that this desire for “feel-good” movies comes from Hollywood’s history of sing-alongs, comedies and Disney. And it is totally fine to like something because it makes you feel good, like do what you want, but it always feels a little fishy to me when someone personally attests to the value of a work of art purely because of how it made them feel warm. Like, yes, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is good because it is charming, but what is it about the movie that accomplishes this? Rest assured, there is much more to enjoy about “Ferris Bueller” than there is with the vapid “Green Book.”
But if you like it, that’s fine. This is all opinion. My opinion on this matter is that it is a complete sham that “Roma” lost to “Green Book” because “Roma” was the movie that exuded excellence from every single aspect of its being. First and foremost, this film is gorgeous, and it sounds gorgeous. This was a movie that I started to watch in my TH living room by myself. Every time someone strolled by the TV over the course of the evening, a new audience member joined me on my couch. I didn’t have to say anything to make them join, the screen was simply an invitation they couldn’t refuse.
Every scene in this movie practically begs you to stay and explore. From forest fires to lonesome kitchens, there is always some angle of approach that calls for the viewer’s engagement. Take, for instance, the movie’s hospital scene: Gargantuan architecture acts like wallpaper that makes you search for the actors you’re supposed to be watching (not an easy feat in the crowded waiting room).
When the scene transitions to the more intimate moments, we are bombarded with terrible, anxiety-inducing camera holds on some of the movie’s most tragic moments. Even in these excruciatingly awful moments, however, there is something about the framing, the staging and the movement that reminds us of the artificiality of the image and the call to find our own film on the screen.
Compare this with “Green Book” (or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or “Vice” or even “Black Panther”), and you can feel the difference. There is no overarching message to “Roma”—where “Green Book” demands that we take away an amiable feeling from the viewing, “Roma” is content to simply be a piece that absorbs our attention with its artful artificiality. “Roma” brims with nostalgia, and it is all the more enjoyable because of it.
It feels good to watch this movie not because of some passé social commentary, but because of the experience the film provides. And I would be remiss—I would be flat-out, objectively stupid—if I did not mention the great performances that were in this film. For a movie like “Roma” that is so precisely spiritual that the T.S. Eliot-ized “shantih shantih shantih” that appears at the very end of the runtime feels entirely adequate, it was necessary to have a solid base from the lead actress. And Yalitza Aparicio provided that foundation.
Understated, varied and completely masterful, Aparicio’s performance gave this film everything it asked for. Sure, each scene was a masterwork of form and visual sweetness, but it would fall to shambles if there wasn’t a powerful performance to bind it all together.
Again, compare this with the two actually pretty solid performances from “Green Book,” and you can see the difference in quality. Heir of Isildur Viggo Mortensen is fun to watch. His performance has layers like an onion, and you can see his character develop over the course of the film. But even with the chemistry between him and Mahershala Ali, I still don’t feel that intimate relationship between performance and form, that supreme connection where the lead performer is entirely inseparable from the other aspects of the film. Because, let’s be honest, we’ve all seen a movie like “Green Book” before. “Roma” is a film that is cool, powerful and new.