The first Oscars without a host since 1989 managed to wrap up on time and deliver a major shocker in its final minutes. Peter Farrelly’s Green Book won the Best Picture award at the 91st Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday. This was a major upset in a year in which Roma and The Favourite were considered frontrunners with 10 nominations each. The Favourite scored only in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category, for Olivia Colman.
There was a moment of pride for India too. Rayka Zehtabchi’s Period. End of Sentence won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category. Bankrolled by Indian producer Guneet Monga, among others, the film looks at how the women of Hapur district near Delhi outgrew the stigma attached to menstruation in their community, thanks to a sanitary pad-making machine. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” Zehtabchi exclaimed, while producer Mellissa Berton added, “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education”.
The majority of the key awards were split between Green Book, Roma and Black Panther, all winning three Oscars each. The Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, tainted by sexual harassment charges against its director Bryan Singer, won four Oscars. Singer’s nomination in the Best Picture category was rescinded by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in February.
Among the highlights of the evening were passionate speeches by Spike Lee and Olivia Colman, both of whom won their first Oscars, and a splendid performance of the Oscar-winning song Shallow by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
Green Book emerged as the unlikely winner for Best Picture. The movie tells the story of classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) travelling to the racially volatile Southern region in the United States of America in the 1960s with his Italian-American driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). The two men forge an unlikely bond and friendship beyond their racial differences.
Green Book also won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which went to Farelly, Brian Currie, and Nick Vallelonga (Tony Vallelonga’s son). Ali won his second Best Supporting Actor award for the film after Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight in 2017.
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron made history by becoming the first person to win both the Best Directing and the Best Cinematography award for his semi-autobiographical film, Roma. Set in Mexico in the early-1970s, Roma revolves around Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the housemaid of a middle-class family. In 2014, Cuaron had won the Academy Awards in both Best Directing and Best Editing categories for the science-fiction film Gravity.
Before handing out the Best Directing award, Guillermo Del Toro, Cuaron’s friend and collaborator, joked, “This name I can pronounce.”
Cuaron thanked the film’s actors, Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, saying, “they are the film”. He also thanked the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences “for recognising a film centred around an immigrant woman – one of the 70 million people around the world without workers’ rights”.
Roma also won the Best Foreign Language Film award, becoming the first Mexican film to do so. Cuaron quoted French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, saying, “When asked about the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol said, ‘There are no waves, there is only the ocean.’”
Bohemian Rhapsody’s four Oscar wins came from five nominations. Rami Malek won the Best Actor award for playing Freddie Mercury. He had earlier swept the awards season bagging a Golden Globe award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a BAFTA award for his performance. “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant who lived his life unapologetically as himself,” noted Malek, born to Egyptian immigrants who migrated to the US in 1978. “We’re longing for stories like this.”
Another major upset was the Best Actress in a Leading Role for Olivia Colman for The Favourite over Glenn Close for The Wife. Colman plays 18th-century British queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’s satirical drama. The Favourite looks at the ups and downs of triangular relationship between Anne and the two women trying to be her favourites, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone). Both Stone and Weisz were nominated in the best supporting actress category.
The ceremony was kicked off by Regina King’s win in the Best Supporting Actress category. In Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the James Baldwin novel King plays Sharon Rivers, who helps her pregnant daughter fight for justice after her husband who has been falsely arrested on charges of rape. “To be standing here, representing one of the greatest artists of our time, James Baldwin, is a little surreal,” King said after receiving her first Oscar from her first nomination. “I am an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone.”
Marvel’s Black Panther, the first superhero film to be nominated in the Best Picture category, got three Oscars. Ryan Coogler’s film, based on the comics of the same name, is the story of the rise of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda. The film won in the Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design categories.
Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson, who won two Grammy awards for producing Childish Gambino’s This is America, took home the Best Original Score award. Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart won the award for Production Design. Ruth E Carter, won the Costume Design award. She said in her speech, “Marvel may have made the first Black superhero, but through costume design we turned him into an African king.”
Besides the Best Actor award, Bohemian Rhapsody scored wins in the Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Editing categories. Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali won the award in the Best Sound Mixing Category. In the film, Malek and Mercury’s singing voices were mixed for the live performances. The opening ceremony included Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, along with former American Idol contestant Adam Lambert, performing We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.
The Best Sound Editing award went to John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone. Warhust, in his speech, quipped, “We got to work with Queen for our day job, which is wonderful.” John Ottman won the award in the Best Editing category. In a category where films like BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Vice and Green Book were also nominated, Ottman’s win found some detractors on Twitter.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman won the Best Adapted Screenplay award. After 33 years of making films and five nominations, this was Lee’s first ever Oscar win. (He won an Honorary Oscar in 2016).
BlacKkKlansmnan follows the true story of the first African-American detective of the Colorado Springs police department. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Adam Driver plays his colleague who pretends to be Stallworth while mingling with the Ku Klux Klan members. Introducing the film, actress Barbara Streisand shared a warm moment with Lee, who was sitting among the audience, noting that they are both from Brooklyn and wear hats. Lee acknowledged the shout-out.
Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Lee took home the award for their script, based on Stallworth’s memoir, Black Klansman. Lee made the first directly political speech of the night: “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilise, let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right the thing! You know I had to get that in there.”
Lee was reportedly visibly upset over the Oscar for Green Book, and later recalled losing a Best Original Screenplay award for Do the Right Thing in 1990 to Driving Miss Daisy.
The crowd favourite, Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse, won the Academy Award in the Best Animated Feature film category. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the film re-imagines several versions of the Marvel superhero Spider-Man existing in multiple timelines. The film’s biracial hero, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), is one of many versions who teams up with others of his kind to protect New York City from the villain, Kingpin.
While accepting the award, the film’s writer and producer, Phil Lord (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) noted it was inspiring that audiences had acknowledged the filmmakers’ commitment towards racial diversity. “So when we hear that somebody’s kid was watching the movie and turned to them and said, ‘He looks like me’ or ‘They speak Spanish like us’ we feel like we already won,” Lord said.
Shallow from A Star is Born bagged the award for Best Original Song, which went to Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt. An emotional Gaga, upon winning the award, said, “If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion, and it’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down, or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up, and are brave, and you keep going.”
Directed by Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born is the third Hollywood remake of the 1937 film of the same name. The story follows the relationship between a famous alcoholic musician (Cooper) and his protege, a talented singer (Gaga). Cooper and Gaga’s performance of Shallow found many fans.
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Free Solo won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film takes a look at professional rock climber Alex Honnold attempting a solo climb of the 3,000-feet tall El Capitan rock formation in California. Vasarhelyi thanked the producers, National Geographic, for “hiring women and people of colour” for their projects.
Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and JD Schwalm won the Best Visual Effects award for Damien Chazelle’s First Man. The film follows the events leading to astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) and his Apollo 11 team landing on the moon in 1969.
Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for their work in Adam McKay’s Vice. The political drama stars Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, Republican politician and the powerful former Vice President of America.
The award for Best Live Action Short Film went to Guy Nattiv’s Skin, which examines racial tensions. The award for Best Animated Short Film was won by Domee Shi’s Bao, which is about a lonely woman whose life changes when a dumpling made by her turns into a boy.