July 19, 2019 | 87° F

'Green Book' wins Best Picture, in Oscars' most glaring gaffe


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Last week, the Oscars crowned “Green Book” Best Picture at the 91st Academy Awards. As Julia Roberts read the winning name, director Spike Lee stormed out of Dolby Theatre. He seemed incensed and mystified by the Academy’s choice. Like many others, myself included, Lee felt slighted yet again by an Oscars ceremony that just can’t get it all right — even though it did deliver a few big victories, including a much-deserved Oscar to Lee. 

For those unfamiliar with the white-washed snoozefest that is “Green Book,” here's a brief rundown. Viggo Mortensen (“Lord of the Rings”) stars as Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a racist white bouncer at local mob hangouts. Vallelonga is hired by Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a celebrated black pianist, to drive Shirley across the Deep South on tour. The film uses them as an odd couple to solve racism through Vallelonga beating up more outward racists and teaching Shirley about black music, black culture and fried chicken — lots of fried chicken.

Even if one ignored the movie entirely — which I will remind you is awful — the present and past behavior of the filmmakers should've been enough to discount the movie from any real award consideration. Take the director Peter Farrelly, who made a name for himself directing high-brow affairs such as “There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Dumber and Dumber To.” 

The Cut recently unearthed a 1998 Newsweek article that detailed Farrelly flashing his penis to Cameron Diaz and other stars several times on set. The writer and son of Tony Vallelonga, Nick Vallelonga, scored an Original Screenplay Oscar in addition to Best Picture. The victory was laughable, which may explain Samuel L. Jackson’s bewilderment while reading the envelope. 

During the press junket for the film, Nick Vallelonga was revealed to have tweeted several 9/11 conspiracies, including that Muslims were cheering as it happened. The final pillar of creator controversy came from Mortensen, who somehow recovered from saying a racial epithet during an interview.

“Green Book” seemed to be the teflon of all awards seasons. No matter how many think-pieces or Twitter threads were published, “Green Book” had its defenders. Director Steven Spielberg championed the film as the best duo since “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and claimed to have watched it five times in two weeks. Others clung to the movie for its 1960s-era racial politics and white-savior complex. A few just watched and loved in defiance of the political correctness police. 

The film’s victory doesn’t seem to make much sense from any other traditional Oscar indicator. “Green Book” was not well-reviewed by critics and wasn't a hit at the box office. 

The victory has piled on controversy because it echoes the Academy Awards of 30 years ago. “Driving Miss Daisy” prevailed, besting Lee’s phenomenal “Do the Right Thing,” which was not even nominated. “Green Book” and “Driving Miss Daisy” are essentially the same film with a role-reversal. Lee’s outrage this year mirrored the world’s 30 years ago.

The Academy had so many great films that would've represented so much more to the world and film fans. “A Star Is Born” and “Black Panther” were massive, well-received studio efforts that could’ve been deemed a return for the studios. Netflix entered the fray with the marvelous “Roma.” “BlacKkKlansman” and “The Favourite” showed how auteurs could operate in the new cinema world. 

Nevertheless, the Academy picked a terrible movie, though choosing “Bohemian Rhapsody” would've been even worse. To quote the greatest Lee moment this year, these Academy Awards were “not my cup of tea.”


Eamonn O'Neill

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