2019 Oscars Recap: Olivia Colman Delights, 'Green Book' Divides

Olivia Colman accepts the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role for The Favourite onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, 2019. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Academy Awards ceremony was only a few minutes old and cast members from The Favourite — along with the film's director and producer — were at the Dolby Theatre bar. I went over to say hello, but they were not in a celebratory mood.

Moments earlier, the early 18th Century drama about two women competing for the affections of the queen of England, had lost in an Oscar category pretty much everyone had concluded The Favourite would win: costume design. Coupled with another heartbreak loss in production design, actors Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, along with director Yorgos Lanthimos, looked shell-shocked, as if the next three hours would bring no joy.

Hanging out with a drink and watching the show on a TV monitor in the lobby seemed like the best idea.

And then, nearly three hours later in the award show's biggest shocker, Colman won the best actress Oscar, a trophy that seemed destined to go home with Glenn Close for her film The Wife. Stone, who at the bar earlier was manageably disconsolate, suddenly looked as if the show was one of the greatest nights in her life, tears of joy streaming down her face.

The run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards was filled with no shortage of drama, most of it created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In a calamitous attempt to boost the show's ratings and shorten its running time, the academy floated — and was forced to abandon — a series of changes to the show itself, such as presenting four Oscars during commercial breaks.

But once the host-free ceremony started, it was the Academy's voters who created their own controversies.

Walking into the Dolby, I chatted on the red carpet with the head of a prominent independent film company. Like so many conversations in the days and hours before the Oscars, the talk quickly focused on the close race for best picture. Would it be Roma, or BlackkKlansman? Could Bohemian Rhapsody or Black Panther somehow win the biggest award of the night? Did The Favourite have an outside shot? Or might it be Green Book?

As if he might risk revealing his ATM code and his social security number to the world, the executive looked around to make sure no one was near, leaned over to me and whispered: "I voted for Green Book. I loved that movie.'"

Green Book is a drama about a black jazz pianist and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard navigating the segregated South in the early 1960s. That a veteran Oscar voter would be worried others might fault him for his vote for the ultimate best picture winner says a lot about how Green Book polarized the academy (the movie also won best original screenplay, and best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali).

Some critics have said it's the least memorable best picture winner since Crash took the top prize in 2006 (Critic Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote perhaps the most brutal take-down). And Spike Lee, the director of BlackkKlansman, was so angered over Green Book's big win that he stormed out of his seat as the film's producers collected their statuettes.

At the Governors Ball after the Oscars, I ran into one of the key creators of Green Book. I asked him if he noticed Lee's walking out as he went on stage: "Yes. And if he had won, I wouldn't have done the same."

For all the people who attacked Green Book for its depiction of racism, the film not only had the support of the biggest percentage of Oscar voters, but also prominent African Americans in and outside the business, including executive producer Octavia Spencer.

Before the broadcast began, I spoke with Rep. John Lewis of Georgia in the Dolby lobby. Lewis, one of the most celebrated and important living veterans of the civil rights movement, was attending the Academy Awards to introduce a film clip of Green Book. Some naysayers might feel Green Book was glib and shallow. Not Lewis.

"This is an important movie," he said. "And it's an important period in the history of our country."

For all of the polarizing films and divisive winners at the ceremony, there were some movies that Oscar voters were united and happy to see win, especially the documentary feature and short categories. The respective winners were Free Solo and Period. End of Sentence.

After the ceremony, Alex Honnold, the climber at the center of Free Solo, showed me the film's winning envelope as he wolfed down a chicken pot pie at the Governors Ball.

It took Honnold years of training — but just under four hours — to climb the face of El Capitan without a rope. But he has been promoting and talking about Free Solo for nearly six months straight, since the film premiered last Labor Day at the Telluride Film Festival.

"Now," Honnold said, before he headed off to a few more Oscar parties, "I can start climbing again."