Oscars 2019: Mahershala Ali, Regina King Win Supporting Honors
“Roma” became the first Mexican film to capture a best foreign language feature Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday, scoring a major honor for Netflix, the company that bankrolled the black-and-white movie.
Regina King won best supporting actress for her role as a fiercely protective mother in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” while “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” picked up important technical honors. In a teary speech, King thanked the writer James Baldwin, whose novel inspired the film, as well as her mother. “It’s appropriate for me to be standing here, because I’m an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone,” said King, adding “God is good, all the time.”
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“Green Book’s” Mahershala Ali picked up his second Academy Award for best supporting actor. He was honored for his portrayal of pianist Don Shirley and previously won for his performance as a sympathetic drug dealer in “Moonlight.” Ali said “Trying to capture Dr. Shirley’s essence pushed me to my ends.” “Green Book” has been criticized as inaccurate by Shirley’s family, with the musician’s surviving brother, Dr. Maurice Shirley, calling the film a “symphony of lies.”
This year’s Oscar contest is a race between a cluster of traditional studios such as Universal and Warner Bros. and streaming services such as Netflix that are trying to crash the Oscars. It’s a wide open race for best picture, with Netflix’s “Roma,” a black-and-white family drama, and “The Favourite,” an off-beat costume drama about an obscure British monarch, entering the night with a leading 10 nominations. “Green Book,” a drama about the unlikely friendship between a bigoted bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) and a black musician (Mahershala Ali), may be the film to beat for best picture after it nabbed top honors at this year’s Producers Guild Awards. It has five nominations. In the first wave of awards, “Roma’s” Alfonso Cuaron won a best cinematography Oscar, becoming the first director to win an award for photography.
“Free Solo,” a look at rock climber Alex Honnold attempts to summit El Capitan, was another early winner at the Oscars, picking up a best feature documentary prize. “Vice,” an incisive biopic about Dick Cheney, earned a makeup and hairstyling honor, while “Black Panther” nabbed best costume and production design statues.
In lieu of an opening monologue, Queen and Adam Lambert got the evening started with an amalgam of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” that leaned heavily on smoke machines and cascading lights. The audience of well-heeled movie-makers and executives clapped along, at times awkwardly.
The Oscars are being handed out at a time of tectonic changes in the entertainment industry, an era of mergers, consolidation, and emerging technology that is upending traditional ways of doing business. Twentieth Century Fox, which has 20 nominations, the most of any studio, is staring into an uncertain future. Much of the film and television giant has been sold to the Walt Disney Company. Thousands of people are expected to be laid off as a result of the union. Other major contenders include the musical biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a look at Queen frontman Freddie Mercury that scored five nods, as well as “A Star is Born,” a romantic drama that paired Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and picked up eight nominations in the process. “Bohemian Rhapsody” picked up sound mixing and editing Oscars for capturing all that arena rock, as well as an editing statue.
Major studios have largely shied away from the darker, contemplative dramas that are favored by awards voters. Instead they are concentrating on producing superhero movies. In recent years, popular tastes and those of the Oscars have deviated wildly, with voters rewarding indie fare such as “Moonlight” and “Birdman” over “The Avengers.” This year’s crop of contenders is different. “Black Panther” became the first comic book movie to score a best picture nomination and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” won the best animated feature prize.
Three years after the #OscarsSoWhite movement exposed the Academy’s habit of ignoring performers and artists of color, the winner’s circle was far more inclusive. Two black actors, Ali and King, were honored for their supporting turns. “Black Panther’s” Ruth Carter became the first black woman to win a costume design Oscar, while her colleague Hannah Beachler is the first black person to win a production design Academy Award.
The 2019 broadcast threatened to be overshadowed by off-stage drama. In recent months, the Academy has careened from one disaster of its own making to another. The litany of missteps include a short-lived plan to hand out a prize for the best blockbuster release, an aborted decision to only film a handful of performances of the best original song nominees, and a hastily abandoned move to hand our certain prizes, such as those for editing and cinematography, during commercial breaks.
It also stumbled in its selection of Kevin Hart as host. The comic got in hot water hours after he was announced as emcee when social media platforms began recirculating previous homophobic comments he had made. Hart stepped down as the firestorm over his past remarks and half-hearted apologies intensified. The Academy was unable to find a replacement and this year’s telecast was the first host-less broadcast since the 1989 ceremony — an infamous show that featured Rob Lowe dancing to “Proud Mary” with Snow White.
“We are not your hosts but we’re going to stand here a little too long so that the people who get USA Today tomorrow will think that we hosted,” Tina Fey as she handed out the supporting actress award alongside Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
Although few of their initiatives survived the planning stages, the show’s producers were motivated to experiment because ratings for the Oscars are in free-fall. Last year’s broadcast was seen by an average of 26.6 million viewers, the lowest viewership in decades.
One thing that could bolster ratings? The Oscars recognized movies that people have actually seen. In recent years, the Academy has nominated movies that were more loved than seen. This year’s best picture nominees have collectively grossed $1.3 billion at the domestic box office, the highest-grossing group of contenders in nearly a decade. That’s mostly thanks to “Black Panther,” Marvel’s more inclusive approach to the superhero genre that amassed over $700 million in North America alone.
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