LOS ANGELES – The segregation-era road-trip drama “Green Book” was crowned best picture at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday night, handing Hollywood’s top award to a film seen as a feel-good throwback by some and ridiculed as an outdated inversion of “Driving Miss Daisy” by others.
In a year where Hollywood could have made history by bestowing best-picture 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. 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 also awash in historic wins for diversity, including Spike Lee’s first competitive Oscar. More women and more individual black nominees won than ever before.
Lee, whose “Do the Right Thing” came out the same year that “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 comedy veteran of 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.”
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.”
Backstage, Lee clutched a glass of Champagne while reflecting on the 30 years between “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Green Book.” “I’m snakebit,” 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 including 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.”
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.
“Oooooh. 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 earned Mexico’s first foreign language film Oscar. Cuaron and his “Three Amigos” countrymen – Alejandro Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, who presented Cuaron with best picture – have had a stranglehold on the category, winning five of the past 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, Claude Chabrol said there are no waves, there is only the ocean,” said Cuaron, 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 factor 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 Goransson’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.
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” which kicked off the ABC telecast with a performance by Queen, won four awards despite jeers 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 collapsed and was attended to by medics. “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 David Tyree Henry, and a Keegan-Michael Key who floated down 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’ 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.
Though the once presumed front-runner “A Star Is Born” saw its chances flamed 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 Ginsberg 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,” Vasarhelyi said. “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 and 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.
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.