In the end, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters couldn’t avoid another surprising, controversial finale for the Oscars ceremony.
Two years after an infamous envelope mix-up in the prestigious Best Picture category brought the wrong winners to the stage in the show’s final moments, the Academy surprised everyone again by giving the ceremony’s top prize to Green Book, a controversy-plagued film few pundits expected to win.
Directed by Dumb and Dumber filmmaker Peter Farrelly, Green Book was inspired by the real-life story of a friendship that develops between a white man and the Black musician he is hired to transport around the Deep South in 1962 for a concert tour. The film ended the night with wins in three of the five categories it was nominated in, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali.
Controversy has surrounded the film since the early days of its run, with Farrelly defending the film against allegations that it was a “white savior” story, and the family of Don Shirley — the Black musician portrayed by Ali in the film — insisting that the pair’s friendship was exaggerated for the movie. Trouble continued to follow the film, with news that Farrelly was accused of sexual misconduct years earlier, and screenwriter Nick Vallelonga — whose father was Shirley’s driver, the character played by Viggo Mortensen in the film — pushed to apologize for anti-Muslim statements he made on Twitter. Mortensen also found himself in the spotlight after using a racial slur during a press event for the film.
The win for Green Book prompted no small amount of shock on social media and among those in attendance at the Oscars ceremony, with filmmaker Spike Lee — who had just won his first Oscar moments earlier — attempting to angrily exit the ceremony when the winner was announced. Despite Lee’s win in the screenplay category, the scenario has drawn comparisons to the filmmaker’s last nomination in a major category, when his acclaimed 1990 film Do the Right Thing was snubbed for a Best Picture nomination and Driving Miss Daisy (which features a similar plot to Green Book) won the show’s top prize.
“I’m snakebit. Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose – but they changed the seating arrangement!” said Lee backstage.
Going into the ceremony, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma was expected to win the Best Picture category, but ended the night with wins in three of the 10 categories in which it was nominated. A win in the top category would have made Oscar history on various fronts, as it would have been the first Best Picture award won by a Netflix movie (or any streaming platform, for that matter), and the first foreign-language film to win the top prize, among other noteworthy potential achievements.
In the end, though, the Academy appeared to fall back on its more traditional view of Best Picture winners, despite the controversy surrounding Green Book.
Prior to the Best Picture announcement, the show’s biggest surprise up to that point happened moments earlier when The Favourite actress Olivia Colman won the Best Lead Actress category, beating presumed winner and seven-time nominee Glenn Close. In her acceptance speech, Colman acknowledged the unexpectedness of her win and the misfortune of being the person to deny Close a win for the seventh time.
“This is not how I wanted it to be,” said Colman, with Close offering a smile and a shrug in return from the audience.
Although there were some big surprises in the show’s final act, the rest of the ceremony unfolded much as expected, with the favorites going into the show winning their respective categories and few, if any, major upsets.
The show’s host-less format also generated some positive buzz as the ceremony went on, with critics and audiences praising the more streamlined version of the event, which ran for just over three hours. The trio of Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler were the night’s first set of presenters for an award, and the show then rolled out a colorful combination of actors, sports figures, and familiar faces from other areas of pop culture throughout the night.
Unlike past years, there was no single film that dominated the night’s awards and ran away with a large majority of Oscars.
The night’s biggest winner was Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which took home four Oscars — including the expected win for star Rami Malek in the prestigious Best Lead Actor category. The film also took home awards for editing, sound mixing, and sound editing. Like Green Book and Roma, Marvel Studios’ Black Panther took home three Oscars — the first Oscars won by a Marvel movie. In doing so, Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler became the first Black winners for their respective categories in the ceremony’s history. (The film also won the Best Original Score category.)
The show’s decision to broadcast musical performances from each of the Best Song nominees also earned praise in the end, with all five segments offering memorable renditions of the nominated songs — including a particularly memorable performance of Shallow by A Star is Born co-stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The song went on to win the category later in the evening.
The full list of 2019’s Oscar winners can be found at the official Academy Awards website.
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