My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Green Book
Every year, the day before the Oscars, I present my favorite moments from the Best Picture nominees. I do this because things get so subjective and because lines get drawn during the Oscar race. People pick favorites, people start to have negative feelings toward certain films because they’d prefer something else have won or have been nominated. I do this to clear the air of all that. I try to remind us of what this is all about — a celebration of film and of the great films that have come out this year.
I take this day to look at all the nominees as great pieces of cinema. Forget what will win or won’t win — let’s celebrate the films themselves. The point is, when you take away the competition, the awards, the completely arbitrary nature of how no one can truly pick which film is better than another, what we’re left with are great movies. That’s what today is about.
Our next nominee is Green Book. That Tittsburgh was a major disappointment.
5. The restaurant scene
Because by this point you’ve totally bought into these characters and the actors’ performances and it just feels like a nice moment where it all comes to a head in a nice way. You knew it was gonna end up in something like this by this point, but it’s a testament to everything we’ve seen along the way that you don’t feel cheated by how it plays out. It feels of a course with how these two men have behaved and where their characters have gone to this point.
4. Viggo and Mahershala
They really make these characters human. I wonder if the movie would have worked without them in the roles. They give such life to these people and their chemistry elevates this movie to something special. And also, gonna be honest here — I’m very sensitive to how Italians are portrayed on screen. Not that I really care, but, having grown up around them, so much of what I see feels completely cartoonish. And the trick to it is — they are cartoonish. The kind they’re trying to portray. And Viggo straddles that line really well. And my only real questions about the performance are with the writing than what he did with it. And Mahershala, he plays the role in such a way that you feel every ounce of dignity of the character and also that you really get a sense of the genius of this man and the struggle (artistically and personally) he lives with. And also, the chemistry between them is so strong. This movie truly does not work as well without them.
3. The writing
I was so surprised by this at every turn. It took a lot of roads I knew, but it never felt like it telegraphed them, and was constantly making decisions that felt fresh or just slightly different from the norm. Like this moment at the end. Oh, knock at the door, it’s gonna be him. But no, it’s not him, and then oh it is him afterward. So it goes there, but it gives you a way to get there that’s not just the obvious one. And I feel like the film does a lot of that. And I’m very grateful, because this is by all accounts a movie that should not work. And it does. And the writing is a big portion of that.
2. The Orange Bird
I love this sequence. Where he gets to cut loose and play, even with the payoff of the glass of whiskey on the piano. But, coming from my brain, which is first and foremost a writer’s brain, I see everything going on in this moment, and I’m just a huge fan of it. He’s just left a room full of white people to go play in a black bar. And he gets to play Chopin and play, ostensibly, “regular” music. So you get the culmination of his journey, where he proves just how brilliant he is as a pianist, playing the Chopin he says no one can play like he can, the stuff that he doesn’t get to play because he’s not a classical pianist and is more of a pop pianist, and he does it in front of a black audience, who is not there for this kind of concert the way the white audience was. And he gets to cut loose and play the kind of music you wouldn’t think he would be a fan of (that he doesn’t know, based on the earlier conversations about Aretha and such). I just love everything about this moment and the way it was built toward via the rest of the film.
1. How did this work?
I still don’t understand how this movie worked out. I saw that they were making this and assumed it would just be a VOD kind of movie, the way Mr. Church was two years ago. Does anyone remember that? Eddie Murphy doing a Driving Miss Daisy kinda thing, but as a butler for a white family? Not great, went VOD. That’s where I thought this was headed. And yet… it totally works. I’m not gonna say it’s the most progressive movie ever or that it even is the best movie of the year, but it’s so much fun and it’s the kind of movie that most people are just gonna enjoy. It’s well-written, well-acted, it’s got humor in all the right spots, it’s got drama in all the right spots, you go along with these characters and it feels utterly satisfying in any way. What more can you ask out of a movie?
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