‘Green Book’ wins best picture in an upset at multiracial Oscars
Peter Farrelly (center) and the cast and crew of "Green Book" accepted the Academy Award for best picture. | Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

LOS ANGELES (AP)—The segregation-era road-trip drama Green Book was crowned best picture at the 91st Academy Awards, delighting those who see the film as a feel-good throwback but disappointing others who ridicule it as an outdated inversion of Driving Miss Daisy.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 Sunday behind a traditional interracial buddy tale that proved as popular as it was divisive. But 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 Cuarón’s black-and-white personal epic “Roma” and the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Early indications from big-city markets were that the Oscars audience would be bigger than last year’s record-low viewership of 26.5 million, which would be a significant relief to ABC and show organizers. According to the Nielsen company, Sunday’s 29.6 million beat last year’s audience by 12 percent, but it still represents the second-smallest audience in the award show’s history.

Lee, whose Do the Right Thing came out the same year Driving Miss Daisy won best picture (1989), 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.

An image of Freddie Mercury appears on screen as Brian May, left, and Adam Lambert of Queen perform at the Oscars. | Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

“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, and even the backstage press room burst into applause.

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,” said Lee, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015. “Let’s do the right thing! You knew I had to get that in there.” Lee wore jewelry the entire breadth of his hands spelling out HATE on his right and LOVE and his left.

Hours after the Oscars concluded, Pres. Trump tweeted, “Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans…than almost any other Pres!”

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. First-time actor, the indigenous Mixtec Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, was also in the running.

“Ooo. 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 Cuarón, whose film also notched Mexico’s first foreign language film Oscar. Cuarón and his “Three Amigos” countrymen—Alejandro Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, who presented Cuarón with best picture—have had a dominant hold on the category, winning five of the last six years.

Cuarón, who became 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, Claude Chabrol said there are no waves, there is only the ocean,” said Cuarón, referring to the French filmmaker. “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 Göransson’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.

“It just means that we’ve opened the door,” Carter, a veteran costume designer, said backstage. “Finally, the door is wide open.

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, who told him never to give up on his dreams.

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.”

Queen launched Sunday’s ceremony with a medley of hits that gave the awards a distinctly Grammy-like flavor, as Hollywood’s most prestigious ceremony sought to prove that it’s still “champion of the world” after last year’s record-low ratings.

To compensate for a lack of host, the motion picture academy leaned on its presenters, including an ornately outfitted Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry and a Keegan-Michael Key who floated down with an umbrella like Mary Poppins. Following Queen, Tina Fey—alongside Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph—welcomed the Dolby Theatre audience to “the one-millionth Academy Awards.”

Rudolph summarized a rocky Oscar preamble that featured numerous missteps and backtracks by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: “There is no host, there won’t be a popular movie category, and Mexico is not paying for the wall.”

The trio then presented best supporting actress to Regina King for her pained matriarch in Barry Jenkins’s James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk. The crowd gave King a standing ovation for her first Oscar.

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.

Melissa McCarthy, left, and Brian Tyree Henry present the award for best costume design. | Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Though the once presumed front-runner A Star Is Born saw its chances flame out, it won, as expected, for the song “Shallow,” which Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed during the ceremony. As she came off the stage, Cooper had his arm around Gaga as she asked, “Did I nail it?”

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.

“Thank you, Alex Honnold, for teaching us to believe in the impossible,” said Vasarhelyi. “This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible.”

Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic Vice won makeup and hairstyling for its extensive physical transformations. The category was one of the four that the academy initially planned to present during a commercial break. As its winners—Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney—dragged on in a litany of thank-yous, they were the first to have their microphone cut off.

Period. End of Sentence. was the early favorite to win for best documentary short subject, and it did.

To turn around ratings, Oscar producers pledged a shorter show. In the academy’s favor was a popular crop of nominees: Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born and, most of all, Black Panther, all amassed huge sums in ticket sales. Typically, when there are box-office hits (like Titanic), more people watch the Oscars.

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Associated Press writers Kristin M. Hall, Andrew Dalton, David Lauder and Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report. People’s World writer Eric A. Gordon provided additional information.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jake Coyle
Jake Coyle

Jake Coyle is film writer and critic for the Associated Press.

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