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Ty Burr

‘Green Book’ leads a night of surprises at the Oscars

Peter Farrelly (center) and the cast and crew of “Green Book” accept the award for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday.Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Invision/AP

Green Book,” a crowd-pleasing road movie about an interracial friendship in the civil rights-era Deep South, was named best picture of 2018 at the 91st Academy Awards Sunday night. The film, a labor of love for co-producer and writer Nick Vallelonga — son of the character played by Viggo Mortensen in the film — also won Oscars for best original screenplay and for Mahershala Ali’s performance as classical and jazz musician/composer Don Shirley.

“The whole story is about love,” said “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly, a son of Cumberland, R.I., onstage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles after the award was announced. “It’s about loving each other despite our differences.” “This is like a dream,” added the film’s producer Jim Burke, who addressed some of the controversies leveled at the film by saying “We made this film with respect.”


Writer-director Alfonso Cuarón was awarded his second best director trophy (he won in 2014 for “Gravity) for “Roma,” a meticulously crafted memory play of 1970s Mexico. The movie also netted an award for Cuarón’s black-and-white cinematography, which applied the epic style of classic Mexican murals to a domestic servant’s life. “Roma” became the first Mexican winner in the foreign language film category.

Said a deadpan Cuarón upon accepting the foreign language award, “I grew up watching foreign language films and learning so much from them. Films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘Jaws,’ ‘The Godfather’ . . .”

Rami Malek won best actor for his performance as Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the classic rock group Queen, in the hit musical biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I may not have been the obvious choice,” Malek said in his acceptance speech, “but I guess it worked out.” He also thanked the surviving members of Queen “for allowing me to be the tiniest part of your phenomenal, extraordinary legacy” and emotionally addressed his personal journey. “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt; I’m a first-generation American. Part of my story is being written now and I could not be more grateful to each and every one of you.”


Rami Malek.Kevin Winter/Getty Images/Getty Images

Britain’s Olivia Colman took the best actress prize for her turn as a gouty, pouty, megalomaniacal Queen Anne in the darkly farcical period piece “The Favourite.” “Ooh, it’s genuinely quite stressful,” an overwhelmed Colman said before apologetically addressing her “idol” and category rival (the presumed front-runner) Glenn Close — “this is not how I wanted it to be” — and winning over the crowd with a delightfully flustered speech.

Regina King won best supporting actress for her portrayal of a weary but wise mother to a young girl in love in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the Barry Jenkins adaptation of the novel by James Baldwin, who King acknowledged before anyone else in her acceptance speech. “I’m an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone,” King said before thanking her mother, who was present in the auditorium.

Regina King posed with the award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role for "If Beale Street Could Talk".Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Invision/AP

Ali’s “Green Book” win was his second for best supporting actor; he first won in 2017 for “Moonlight.” In his acceptance speech, Ali thanked Shirley: “Trying to capture Dr. Shirley’s essence pushed me to my ends” and dedicated the win to his grandmother, “who has been in my ear my entire life, always, always pushing me to think positively.”


The best adapted screenplay was won by a group of writers headed by Spike Lee for “BlacKkKlansman,” the bizarre true story of an African-American police detective (John David Washington, unnominated) who went undercover in the Ku Klux Klan (with the help of a white colleague, played by Adam Driver, nominated). Lee took the stage with his co-writers to cheers — it was one of two Oscars the filmmaker has received in a 30-plus year career — and in a rambling, emotional speech exhorted the crowd to turn out for the 2020 election and “do the right thing!”

Charlie Wachtel, left, and Spike Lee accepted the award for best adapted screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman".Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Invision/AP

It’s a mark of the wide and sometimes contradictory Oscar field this year that the screenplay awards went to two films with such differing approaches to America’s racial past, one audacious and confrontational, the other conciliatory and familiar.

In addition to Malek’s best actor win, “Bohemian Rhapsody” won Oscars for editing, sound editing, and sound mixing. With all the speeches by the various winners, no one dared to say the name of the man who directed the film, Bryan Singer, who was fired toward the end of production and has since faced renewed accusations of sexual assault against young men.

The award for costume design — co-presented by Melissa McCarthy in a grand parody of the queenly gowns of “The Favourite” — went to Springfield-born first-time winner Ruth Carter for the brilliantly multicolored Afrocentric finery of “Black Panther.” “Wow . . . wow . . . I got it! This has been a long time coming,” Carter said before thanking Lee (who was in the audience) for giving her her start in the business and dedicating the win to her 97-year-old mother watching in Massachusetts.


Ruth E. Carter accepted the award for best costume design for "Black Panther".Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Invision/AP

“Black Panther” also won Oscars for Ludwig Goransson’s musical score and for production design, with that prize’s winner Hannah Beachler (onstage with co-winner Jay Hart) thanking the film’s prime mover, director Ryan Coogler, and the many women who worked and supported one another before, during, and after the production.

Domee Shi won for her adorably odd short animated film “Bao” and Rayka Zehtabchi for her short documentary “Period. End of Sentence.,” about women and reproductive health in rural India. They were among the very few women directors nominated in a year with many feature-length contenders and just as many overlooked. Zehtabchi’s joyful shout upon winning — “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” — helped make up for the deficit.

The Oscar for best feature documentary went to “Free Solo,” directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s nerve-wracking account of Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. This was a surprising category this year, since two expected audience favorites, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” about Fred Rogers, and “Three Identical Strangers,” weren’t nominated. “This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible,” exulted Vasarhelyi.

“Shallow,” the unstoppable hit tune from the latest iteration of “A Star Is Born,” won the Oscar for best song following one of the ceremony’s high points, when stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper clambered onstage to re-create their duet from the film. Gaga thanked Cooper in an emotional acceptance speech, saying “There is not a single person on the planet that could have sang this song with me but you.”


Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed onstage.Kevin Winter/Getty Images/Getty Images

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” a film whose cleverness and brio startled audiences expecting just another franchise extension, won the award for best feature animation, beating out the usual Pixar contender “Incredibles 2.” “First Man,” the moon landing film by “La La Land” director and Providence native Damien Chazelle, picked up a win for visual effects.

It was an unusual Oscar year, with a wide variety of films up for best picture, any and all of which had a genuine shot. In the end, the feel-good verities of “Green Book” carried the day. Accepting the original screenplay award for the film, co-writer Farrelly thanked “the entire state of Rhode Island,” among many others. (Another co-writer, Brian Currie, was raised in Peabody.)

Hoisting his Oscar, Nick Vallelonga said, simply, “Dad — we did it.”

Ty Burr can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.