My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: BlacKkKlansman

Every year, the day before the Oscars, I present my favorite moments from the Best Picture nominees. I do this because things get so subjective and because lines get drawn during the Oscar race. People pick favorites, people start to have negative feelings toward certain films because they’d prefer something else have won or have been nominated. I do this to clear the air of all that. I try to remind us of what this is all about — a celebration of film and of the great films that have come out this year.

I take this day to look at all the nominees as great pieces of cinema. Forget what will win or won’t win — let’s celebrate the films themselves. The point is, when you take away the competition, the awards, the completely arbitrary nature of how no one can truly pick which film is better than another, what we’re left with are great movies. That’s what today is about.

Our next nominee is BlacKkKlansman. All power to all the people.

5. The 70s influence

I love how Spike shot this, with all the long shots and split screens. If there’s any decade I want more people to take visual influence from, it’s the 70s. (And then take narrative influence from the 40s, but that’s a topic for another day.) There’s something so comfortable about the way he shoots this that gives it a bit of a timeless feel. And there’s also something nice about the fact that he made a movie about a black cop in the vein of the cop thrillers of the 70s like Serpico (as much as one can make it look like that in 2018), which all came out in an era where black movie stars were typically playing pimps.

4. A musical number

This is the moment I fell in love with the film. Spike put a musical number in there. Which is nuts. It’s not a straight musical number, but it’s a musical interlude. It’s like when you watch Band of Outsiders and they stop the movie to just dance for no reason. Or, the one you all know that took influence from that moment, Pulp Fiction, where there’s just that dance contest in the middle. This movie just stops to have people dance, and it’s wonderful. It furthers the characters’ relationship along completely visually and through the song choice, it gives you a fun moment you can groove along to, and, perhaps the most underrated part of the whole moment — it reminds you just how great 70s soul music is.

3. Entertainment with a message

Most of the time I feel like Spike’s movies tend to come across to people as being too overly preachy, or being too heavy handed with the message they want to get across. This one is so big in terms of its story, that he can get away with moments like that, and here, they totally work. But aside from the bigger moments, there’s also some really nice small stuff in there too that you just kind of accept and go along with because it’s so ingrained in us as a society. Like this moment. The white woman has just planted a bomb and he’s tackled her to try to stop it from going off and then when white cops show up, she says he tried to rape her. So they respond, despite him saying he’s a cop, by immediately throwing him to the ground and beating him. And Adam Driver has to show up and tell them he’s a cop for them to stop. I saw that and could not believe how we all just accepted that moment as, “Yes, that is how that would go.” THAT’S the kind of shit Spike is talking about. That’s the stuff that should not be. And as much as the bigger moments are carrying the way, it’s all part of this larger institutionalized system of racial inequality in this country that this movie does a good job of reminding you is there, was always there, and likely will continue being there until we can start providing a means for change.

2. Spike’s direction

Of course this is all building toward the same stuff. But I was so impressed with how Spike directed this. To me, the three most important directorial efforts of Spike’s career are this, Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour. Malcolm X is fourth. But I think those other three are his three most signature directorial efforts. This one in particular is just so incredible. No one else would have made this film, and it’s to Spike’s credit that he made this a quintessential Spike Lee Joint from top to bottom. And I have more I can say about the direction in specific, but let’s face it, we all know where this is going…

1. The ending

Holy shit though, right? You get your wish fulfillment ending, where the bomb threat is averted, the bad guys get their comeuppance, the main characters get their promotion, the idiot is made to look foolish and the racist cop gets caught. And then Spike gives you the moment at the end, which is somewhat obscured by the double dolly shot. But he’s basically saying… this shit isn’t over, just because they’ve moved on from the case. They now have to worry about these racists knocking on their door every day. And these racists are still out there, doing their things in secret, just waiting. And then he cuts right to today, where they’re able to come back out in the open and spew hate, and he just gives you that montage of stuff from Charlottesville and shows you just how prevalent this still is within the country, and he completely takes all the air out of that seemingly “happy” ending, and ends the movie on the note it should. “Yeah, that was fun and all, but this shit is serious, and it’s still happening.” And that is probably the most powerful cinematic moment I saw in 2018.

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