Culture

A night of upsets at the 91st Oscars

LOS ANGELES: When the segregation-era road-trip drama “Green Book” was crowned best picture at the 91st Academy Awards, it delighted those who see the film as a feel-good throwback and disappointed others who ridicule it as an outdated inversion of “Driving Miss Daisy.” In a year when Hollywood could have made history by bestowing its top award on Netflix (“Roma”) or Marvel (“Black Panther”) for the first time, the motion picture academy instead threw its fullest support behind a traditional interracial buddy tale that proved as popular as it was divisive.

Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” weathered criticism that it was retrograde and inauthentic to triumph over more acclaimed films and bigger box-office successes.

It was an unexpected finale to a brisk, hostless ceremony that was awash in historic wins for diversity, including Spike Lee’s first competitive Oscar. More women and more individual black nominees won than ever before.

The Oscars otherwise spread awards around for Ryan Coogler’s superhero sensation “Black Panther,” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white personal epic “Roma” and the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Lee, whose “Do the Right Thing” came out the same year “Driving Miss Daisy” won best picture, was among those most visibly upset by the award handed to “Green Book.” After presenter Julia Roberts announced it, Lee stood up, waved his hands in disgust and appeared to try to leave the Dolby Theatre before returning.

“Green Book” also won best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali and best original screenplay.

“The whole story is about love,” said Farrelly, a filmmaker best known for broad comedies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” “It’s about loving each other despite the differences and find out the truth about who we are. We’re the same people.”

Backstage, Lee clutched a glass of champagne while reflecting on the 30 years between “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Green Book.”

‘’I’m snake bit,” he said, laughing. “Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose!”

Lee’s win for best adapted screenplay for his white supremacist drama “BlacKkKlansman,” an award he shared with three co-writers, gave the ceremony its signature moment. The crowd rose in a standing ovation, Lee leapt into the arms of presenter Samuel L. Jackson.

Lee, whose film includes footage of President Donald Trump following the violent white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, urged mobilization for the upcoming election.

“Let’s be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love and hate,” Lee said, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015. “Let’s do the right thing! You knew I had to get that in there.”

One of the biggest surprises of the night was in the best actress category. Olivia Colman won for her Queen Anne in the royal romp “The Favourite,” denying Glenn Close her first Oscar. Close remains the most-nominated living actor never to win, with seven nominations.

“Oooh. It’s genuinely quite stressful,” said a staggered Colman, who later turned to Close to say she was her idol, “and this is not how I wanted it to be.”

The night’s co-lead nominee “Roma” won best director and best cinematography for Cuaron, whose film also notched Mexico’s first foreign language film Oscar.

Cuaron and his countrymen - Alejandro Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro - have had a stranglehold on the category, winning five of the last six years.

Cuaron, who becoming the first director to ever win for serving as his own director of photography, referenced an especially international crop of nominees in one of his three acceptance speeches.

“When asked about the New Wave, [French New Wave filmmaker] Claude Chabrol said there are no waves, there is only the ocean,” Cuaron said. “The nominees tonight have proven that we are a part of the same ocean.”

The wins for “Roma” gave Netflix its most significant awards yet, but “Green Book” denied the streaming giant the best picture win it dearly sought.

Netflix remains to some a contentious force in Hollywood, since it largely bypasses theaters. The wins for “Black Panther” - along with best animated film winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” - meant the first Academy Awards for Marvel, the most consistent blockbuster factory Hollywood has ever seen.

The lush, big-budget craft of “Black Panther” won for Ruth Carter’s costume design, Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart’s production design, and Ludwig G?ransson’s score. Beachler had been the first African-American to ever be nominated in the category.

Beachler and Carter became just the second and third black women to win non-acting Oscars.

Two years after winning for his role in “Moonlight,” Mahershala Ali won again for his supporting performance in “Green Book” - a role many said was really a lead. Ali is the second black actor to win two Oscars following Denzel Washington, who won for “Glory” and “Training Day.” Ali dedicated the award to his grandmother.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” which kicked off the ABC telecast with a performance by Queen, won four awards despite pans from many critics and sexual assault allegations against its director, Bryan Singer, who was fired in mid-production for not showing up.

Its star, Rami Malek, won best actor for his full-bodied and prosthetic teeth-aided performance, and the film was honored for editing, sound mixing and sound editing.

“We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant who lived his life unapologetically himself,” said Malek who after the ceremony fell and was checked out by medics before making the rounds at post-show festivities. “We’re longing for stories like this. I am the son of immigrants from Egypt. I’m a first-generation American, and part of my story is being written right now.”

The inclusivity of the winners Sunday stood in stark contrast to the #OscarsSoWhite backlash that marked the 2016 and 2015 Oscars. Since then, the academy has worked to diversify its largely white and male membership, adding several thousand new members and opening the academy up internationally. Still, this year’s nominations were criticized for not including a female best director nominee or a best-picture nominee directed by a woman.

Best documentary went to Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s “Free Solo,” which chronicles rock climber Alex Honnold’s famed, free solo ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer granite, without ropes or climbing equipment.

“Free Solo” was among a handful of hugely successful documentaries last year including the nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG” and the snubbed Fred Rogers doc “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”1200

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 26, 2019, on page 12.

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