The 2019 Oscars were a study in contrasts. On the one hand, there were milestones aplenty in the hostless show — which ran smoothly, counter to many people’s expectations. On the other hand, the winners ranged from daring films like The Favourite and Black Panther to more conventional Oscar fare like Best Picture winner Green Book.
Fifteen movies took home the night’s 24 awards; Bohemian Rhapsody led the pack with four, and Green Book, Roma, and Black Panther each took home three. That means there were lots of winners, and some unexpected upsets too.
Here are six winners and three losers from the night’s festivities.
Green Book feels like the kind of movie that would have been an obvious Best Picture winner in the past, in the vein of other Best Picture winners that try to deal with race — think Driving Miss Daisy and Crash. It’s a funny film, with two strong central performances and an inspirational happy ending.
The movie started off slow at the box office, but it was an instant hit on the festival circuit, winning the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival — often an indicator of future awards season success. Reviews were also generally positive toward the comedy, which tells the story of a black concert pianist and the Italian-American driver he hires to accompany him on a tour through the largely segregated Deep South in 1962.
Green Book was also dogged by controversies, ranging from its director Peter Farrelly’s past bad behavior to its co-writer Nick Vallelonga’s past Islamophobic tweets to more serious matters dealing with the film’s treatment of the part of American history it purports to explore and one of its characters.
But those controversies and sharp criticisms didn’t harm its awards performance, which included a win for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes in January and, now, three Oscars: one for its screenplay, one for supporting actor Mahershala Ali, and Best Picture. Its win is especially striking in a year of Best Picture nominees that included Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, both of which deal with the experience of black people in America with a very different perspective (and which are helmed by black directors).
A win for Green Book feels like a win for an older version of the Academy — and it’s a reminder that even though the Academy has been trying desperately to diversify its membership to include more women, people of color, and younger members, the change that some thought had come to the Academy after three years of surprising wins (for Spotlight, Moonlight, and The Shape of Water) is still slow.
Yes, Green Book took home the top prize, but none of the Best Picture nominees went home empty-handed. Bohemian Rhapsody managed to eke out four wins — Lead Actor for Rami Malek, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Editing. Black Panther went home with three, for Costume Design, Production Design, and Original Score. Roma earned the trophies for Best Foreign Language Film as well as Directing and Cinematography.
And the other four nominees each took home an Oscar. The Favourite’s Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her performance. Vice won for its hair and makeup. BlacKkKlansman won Best Adapted Screenplay — which means Spike Lee has won his first competitive Oscar ever — and A Star Is Born took home Best Original Song for “Shallow.”
In all, 15 films won the 24 prizes. Even a handful of films that were snubbed for Best Picture nominations, including If Beale Street Could Talk and First Man, ended up with awards. That’s a far cry from years like 2017, when La La Land won six of the 14 Oscars it was nominated for. And since films sometimes see an uptick in revenue after an Oscars win, that’s good news for a lot of filmmakers — not just the night’s big winners.
The Academy spent the months before the ceremony tying itself in knots, trying to figure out how to get the ceremony down to three hours at the behest of ABC, the network on which the show will air until at least 2028, which suggested that a shorter telecast would help with falling viewership numbers. The organization finally gave up after sparking a near-revolt over a plan to award four of the 24 categories during commercial breaks. But one similar change that slipped mostly under the radar was a plan to truncate all of the Best Original Song performances to 90 seconds. (Kendrick Lamar and SZA ultimately declined to perform their Black Panther song “All the Stars,” so only four songs were performed.)
So if the songs felt a little … shorter … than you remember them being, that’s why. They were!
Is that good? Well, the show ran about three hours and 15 minutes — the 2018 Oscars were nearly four hours long — so the shorter performances probably helped a little. Then again, the show began with a much lengthier medley of songs performed by Queen (fronted by Adam Lambert). And if the fun of seeing music performed live comes from hearing a song you like from the radio or from a movie, then the whole thing was just a little less fun than it could have been.
The Academy didn’t set out to have a host-free ceremony, something it hadn’t done in 30 years. The last time the Oscars were without one, the result was an infamously bad opening sequence in which Rob Lowe, in an effort to rehabilitate his image (which had recently been damaged by a sex tape scandal), tap-danced and sang his way through a baffling musical number with Snow White that went down in Oscars infamy.
But after the host the Academy picked, Kevin Hart, self-destructed in December, time was running short, and eventually the organization decided to just go ahead without a host. Instead, a bevy of stars would present the awards, Queen would open the show with a musical number, and everyone would hope for the best.
And … it worked?
The ceremony was over in record time because there was no host doing a long monologue or roasting various attendees. There were no cringeworthy bits involving unfunny songs or escapades with “normal” people. The presentations and speeches and performances flowed more or less seamlessly from one to the next. The telecast didn’t serve up as many viral or memorable moments as it might have with a host at the helm, but it was also refreshingly focused on … the movies.
Which seems like a real win for everyone involved.
Poor Glenn Close! Her Best Actress nomination for The Wife marked her seventh nomination at the Oscars without any wins (four in lead; three in supporting), and with a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award to her name for that very role, 2019 felt like it might finally be her year.
What’s more, Close was finally nominated in a year where she was the legend in the category. Just look at the women she’s lost to between her first nomination (in 1983) and now. Jessica Lange! Peggy Ashcroft! Jodie Foster! Cher! Meryl friggin’ Streep! (And, okay, Linda Hunt.) People loved Olivia Colman’s work in The Favourite, but surely she wouldn’t keep Close from her Oscar.
Well, yeah. Colman’s performance ended up winning the night, which was nice, as it kept The Favourite from going home empty-handed. But it also means that Close remains the living actor with the most nominations and no wins. Now she’s in danger of joining Peter O’Toole in the “eight nominations; never won” camp. Here’s hoping the eighth time’s the charm.
Right behind Close is Amy Adams, whose performance in Vice earned a Supporting Actress nod and the actress’s fifth nomination overall. But Adams wasn’t able to overcome Regina King’s phenomenal work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Adams’s next role, the thriller The Woman in the Window, boasts an Oscar-friendly director in Joe Wright (of Darkest Hour fame) but also … is based on a book written by a now very well-known scammer. Good luck, Amy!
(Also often nominated and never winning tonight: songwriter Diane Warren, whose loss in the Best Original Song category marks her 10th nomination without a win. Plus, she lost to Lady Gaga, whom she was previously nominated alongside for the song “’Til It Happens to You” in 2016.)
Admittedly, it was not a great night for Spike Lee. With his film BlacKkKlansman (which won the Grand Prix, a.k.a. second prize, at the Cannes Film Festival last May), he was up for three awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. The film only won one of those — a disappointing outcome in a year when Green Book did win, which Lee said was “a bad call.”
Lee reportedly started to leave the room when Green Book’s Best Picture win was announced. Backstage, he reportedly said, “Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose” — a reference to the last time he was up for an Oscar, in 1990, with Do the Right Thing, which didn’t get nominated for Best Picture, though it did earn a nomination for its screenplay. That year, Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture.
But the 2019 Oscars were still, on the whole, an important night for Lee. He’d been nominated for the first time for his directing — an astonishing fact for someone as important to American filmmaking as he is. And he won his first competitive Oscar as part of the screenwriting team for BlacKkKlansman (he received an honorary Oscar in 2015). It’s a mixed bag, to be sure. But at least he didn’t go home entirely empty-handed.
Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t win Best Picture, but it still took home the most Oscars of any film, four in total, for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Editing, and its star, Rami Malek, who won Lead Actor.
Which is a bit astonishing, really. Yes, Bohemian Rhapsody was a massive hit with audiences, just like Queen’s music — both in opposition to the opinion of critics. (The film has a 49 on Metacritic, which signals “average” reviews; it’s easily the worst “prestige” film I saw last year.)
But I (Alissa) have had even some of Bohemian Rhapsody’s biggest fans admit to me that they know it’s not a very well-made film; what makes it work, they say, is Queen’s music and, for some people, Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury.
It’s a film that shows the frayed edges of a troubled production, with an inconsistent look and some truly baffling editing choices that can only be explained by its behind-the-scenes disarray: Director Bryan Singer was fired toward the end of production after alleged abusive behavior toward the cast and crew and, eventually, just failing to show up to set. Dexter Fletcher (who also directed the upcoming Elton John biopic Rocketman) finished the film, but it’s hard to salvage something made under those kinds of circumstances.
However, editor John Ottman — who has worked with Singer in the past, including on his 1995 film The Usual Suspects — managed to put together a first cut with the producers after Singer exited the project, and his work on the final film likely went a long way toward securing its Editing award. And Bohemian Rhapsody’s wins will certainly delight fans of the film, and of Mercury, for a long time to come.
Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro have a friendship that goes back decades, to when the three men were up-and-coming stars in the Mexican film industry.
They made big, bold, brassy movies that won them international acclaim, and all three made Spanish-language films in Mexico that became American box office hits in the early 2000s — Cuarón’s sensual road movie Y Tu Mamá También, Iñárritu’s “everything is connected” drama Amores Perros, and del Toro’s eerie ghost story The Devil’s Backbone.
But even at that inflection point, it would have been hard to imagine that just over 10 years later, these three filmmakers would win five of six directing Oscars between 2014 and 2019. Cuarón won for Gravity in 2014 and now Roma in 2019; Iñárritu won for Birdman in 2015 and The Revenant in 2016; and Del Toro won for The Shape of Water in 2018. (La La Land’s Damien Chazelle is the one non-Amigo to have won in that stretch in 2017.)
Yet here we are, at a point where not only have these men absolutely dominated the Best Directing category in the 2010s, but also where Cuarón was given his prize by his very good pal del Toro, who won just last year.
And their five wins cap off a decade where only two Americans — Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010 and Chazelle — have won the Directing prize. Alongside the three Mexican men, British director Tom Hooper won for The King’s Speech in 2011, French director Michel Hazanavicius won for The Artist in 2012, and Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee won for The Life of Pi in 2013. It’s one of the subtlest but most pronounced ways the Academy has marked its increased international membership.
Netflix really wanted this year’s Best Picture prize. It spent money out the wazoo to get it, with even the most conservative estimates cresting $25 million spent on Roma’s For Your Consideration campaign. And, sure, the film won Cinematography, Directing, and Foreign Language Film. Additionally, Netflix’s Period. End of Sentence. won Best Documentary Short Subject.
But when it comes to the big prize, the film academy showed the same reticence toward Netflix that the TV academy has shown at the Emmys. Netflix can rack up a lot of nominations, and it can even win quite a few awards. But it can never get that big prize.
Then again, the streaming service’s biggest contender next year will be The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese movie starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (who was lured out of retirement to make the film). If that movie’s any good, the Oscars might have trouble resisting it — and we might be seeing Netflix in this race again next year.