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The Schmooze

All Of The Jewish Wins And Woes Of The 2019 Oscars

For the first time in years, a key component of the Academy Awards ceremony was missing on Sunday night — a person without whom, it was widely believed, the night could hardly function.

I am referring, of course, to Natalie Portman, whose life-of-a-pop-star movie “Vox Lux” was unjustly snubbed by Academy voters (she sang, people!)

The 91st Academy Awards were also a ceremony without a host. But unlike a ship without a captain, or an orchestra without a conductor, the night gamboled along at an enjoyable clip. Presenters were pleasant: Serena Williams shone, Queen Latifah sparkled, and Melissa McCarthy sparked joy like a last-chance sale at Toys ‘R Us.

And Jews were absolutely everywhere – albeit losing gracefully more frequently than they won, but doing a marvelous job of representing us nonetheless.

1.Adam Lambert opens the night with Queen

The Oscars opened on an exceptionally Jew-ish note, with singer Adam Lambert serenading the Dolby Theater with a medley of Queen songs backed by original band members Brian May and Roger Deacon. As a nostalgia act it was decent; as the opening for an awards show, it could have been improved by the presence of Akwafina or Billy Crystal.

If nominees were to have won or lost based on how much they were able to act like they were enjoying the remaining members of Queen performing “We Will Rock You” with a former “American Idol” finalist, Lady Gaga would have walked away with the statuette. As is, the night opened in the fine style of cruise ship entertainment.

2. Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Amy Poehler affirmed that they are supreme

The three pillars of comedy, appearing together like Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades alighting on Olympus, reminded us how exceptional the night could have been, had they co-hosted. “Good evening and welcome to the one millionth Academy Awards,” Fey said, adding, “We won’t be doing awards during the commercials, but we will be doing commercials during the awards.” Rudolph, resplendent in pink and representing the Chosen People, announced that the ceremony would be host-less, the ceremony will not include the controversial “popular movie” Oscar, and finally, that “Mexico will not be paying for the wall.”

Blessed be God, may she keep these comedy archangels safe forever and ever.

3.Rachel Weisz is a loser in her category, but a “Favourite” in our hearts.

Tongues have been wagging (if you will) about Rachel Weisz’s spitfire turn as the Duchess of Marlborough in the historio-comedy, “The Favourite.” She lost the Best Supporting Actress prize to glowing winner Regina King for her brilliant turn in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but we’ll remember this time as an especially delightful season of Rachel Weisz, the rare actress whose craft is so serious that it gets almost as much attention as her cheekbones.

“In my experience all actresses are outstanding supporting actresses because women naturally support each other!” Amy Poehler announced, introducing the category.

4. Regina King’s Aramaic tattoo was on full display

King flashed some Hebraic lettering on her arm during her moving acceptance speech, and our friends over at Kveller have the explanation: the Hebrew letters “hey hey ayin,” which appear on King’s arm, don’t have a meaning in Hebrew. As Lior Zaltzman explains:

“This three-letter combination refers to a Kaballistic principle: The letter sequence on King’s arm is one of 72 three-letter combinations in the Book of Exodus that are considered to be ‘names of God.’”

King has told Vulture that the tattoo, which matches that of her son Ian, means “unconditional love.”

5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was compared to Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons

“Khaleesi has nothing on her,” said “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke of the second female Supreme Court justice. “Justice Ginsburg, if you’d ever like to borrow the dragons, ring me.”

5. “RBG” lost

Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen lost Best Documentary Feature for the supremely successful “RBG” to “Free Solo,” which chronicles Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Capitan. West and Cohen needn’t worry too much — their movie was a smash hit, as far as documentaries go — and we hear Ginsburg has a few other irons on the fire.

7. No dice for “Cold War”:

Jewish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski didn’t clinch the Foreign Language Film win for the Polish language film “Cold War,” but who could ever imagine beating “Roma”?

8. Bette Midler brought us to “The Place Where Lost Things Go”:

After an introduction from the blissful Keegan-Michael Key, The Divine Ms. M performed the nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns,” breathing joy and meaning to an utterly forgettable ditty. We also loved the representation from composer Marc Shaiman, who also accompanied Midler on piano. But no one can compete with Jewish brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote the original movie’s unforgettable music and lyrics.

9. Trevor Noah introduced “Black Panther”:

Noah, who has a fascinating Jewish background, demonstrated that he would be one of history’s best Oscar hosts with his zippy introduction, which earned a laugh-gasp in our Oscar-watching room. Speaking of the “universal appeal” of “Black Panther,” Noah said, “Mel Gibson came up to me backstage, like ‘Wakanda Forever.’ He said something else afterwards, but the Wakanda part was very nice.”

Noah ended his intro by introducing a Xhosa proverb, “At times like these we are stronger when we fight together than when we try to fight apart.”

Well, that’s what he claimed it meant. According to South African radio station Cape Talk, the phrase actually means, “White people don’t know I’m lying.”

10. Major nachas for Adam Driver’s role in “BlackKkKlansman”:

Showing clips from each of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, the Academy rolled footage of Driver as Officer Flip Zimmerman in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” reflecting on his Jewish identity. Driver’s conviction (not to mention sex appeal) was so intense that it is sad to make this friendly reminder that he is not in any way Jewish. In any event, he lost to the dashing Mahershala Ali from “Green Book.”

11. “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” stuck the win, just as we knew it should:

Directors and producers Rodney Rothman (who is Jewish), Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller gracefully accepted the award for Best Animated Feature for their shockingly good animated “Spider-Man” movie – which features a quick shot of Peter Parker stepping on a glass at his wedding. Is Spider-Man Jewish? Co-director Rodney Rothman happens to think so.

12. “Bao” beat “Animal Behavior” for Best Animated Short Film:

“I’m such a huge fan!” Awkwafina squeaked to Domee Shi after endearingly introducing the award with John Mulaney. The value of sharing underrepresented stories was obvious as Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb scooped up an Oscar as easily as a piping hot dumpling for “Bao,” the first ever Disney-Pixar short directed by a woman. Director Shi, who is not Jewish, and producer Neiman-Cobb, who is, beat out Jewish filmmaker David Fine and Alison Snowden’s short film “Animal Behavior.” Shi came up with the story of the lonely empty-nester mother who raises a dumpling like a baby, and Neiman-Cobb has said it reminds her of the culture of closeness in her own Jewish family.

13. Paul Rudd quoted “Duck Soup”:

Paul Rudd, looking as always like a mild-mannered Adonis in a Crest Whitestrips advertisement, channeled The Marx Brothers when introducing the award for Best Visual Effects.

14. Jewish creators politely made room for a sticky coating of justice:

Best Documentary Short was the most underrated-ly Jewish category this year, with two movies — “Black Sheep,” an examination of British race relations, and “End Game,” about the terminally ill. Another nominee, “A Night at the Garden,” documented a massive Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden in 1939.

But all of those movies were swept aside by the heavy flow of “Period. End Of Sentence,” a film about Indian women fighting the stigma of periods. “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything, I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” one of the creators shouted as women crowded the stage, talking about pads and periods and teachers and freedom. “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education!”

15. An Israeli director honored his Holocaust survivor grandparents

Handily snatching the award for Most Charming Winners Of The Night By A Factor A Billion, a husband and wife couple, Israeli director Guy Nattiv and producer Jaime Ray Newman, accepted the award for Best Live Action Short for “Skin,” a film about racist violence.

“My grandparents are Holocaust survivors,” Nattiv said breathlessly, in between his wife’s literal shrieks of joy. “The bigotry that they experienced in the Holocaust, we see that everywhere today, in America, in Europe. This film is about education, about teaching your kids a better way.” He spoke a little bit of Hebrew, his wife howled with glee, and they skipped off the stage. We await your next move, BDS.

16. Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson gave a shout-out to William Goldman:

The extremely charming duo paid honor to Goldman, the Hollywood great behind “The Princess Bride” and “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,” who died last year. “The easiest thing to do on earth, is to not write,” the actors remembered Goldman saying. And reader, it’s true.

17. “BlacKkKlansman” won Best Adapted Screenplay

Five times nominated, Spike Lee finally accepted his first win and a standing ovation for “BlacKkKlansman,” which he co-wrote with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott (Wachtel and Rabinowitz are Jewish). A jubilant Lee honored both of his grandmothers, one who “lived to be one-hundred years young, and graduated from Spelman College, even though her mother was a slave,” and another who paid his way through NYU film school with years of saved Social Security. “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner,” Lee warned. “Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history, make the moral choice between love and hate! Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there!”

Lee’s film beat out two other films with Jewish writers: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” an anthology film from Joel and Ethan Coen, and “A Star is Born,” co-written by Eric Roth.

18. A satisfying win for “Shallow”

After an emotionally climactic and frankly erotic performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, team Gaga triumphed with a win shared by songwriters Gaga, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Jewish hitmaker Mark Ronson.

In a trademark besides-herself speech, Gaga honored her sister (“My soulmate, I love you!”), Cooper (“There’s not a single person who could have sang this song with me but you”), and dreamers at home (“I’ve worked hard for a long time, and this is not about winning, it’s about not giving up…it’s about how many times you stand up and are brave!”).

Ronson stepped up to honor the lady of the hour, adding demurely, “Only because you can’t really thank yourself — I think when you’re in a room with this person you don’t have to do too much. She acts, she writes, she sings this song…Lady Gaga, we salute you.”

The “Star Is Born” win means that veteran songwriter Diane Warren, who is Jewish and wrote the Jennifer Hudson song “I’ll Fight” for “RBG,” still has not won an Oscar despite 10 nominations.

19. A loving In Memoriam section gave tribute lost greats

The Los Angeles Philharmonic (celebrating its centennial year) played a surprisingly moving memoriam section, with lilting music by John Williams.

Among the late Jewish artists honored were playwrights Richard Greenberg and Neil Simon, cinematographer Richard H. Kline, writer-producer Gloria Katz, producers Craig Zadan and Martin Bregman, and of course, Stan Lee and William Goldman.

20. Barbra Streisand honored truth and Spike Lee in a bedazzled black beret

“When I first saw ‘BlackKklansman’ I was stunned,” Babs said in a glittering black get-up. “It had everything a great film should have. It was so real, so funny, and so horrifying, because it was based on the truth, and truth is especially precious these days.”

Reminiscing about a conversation she entered with Spike Lee (it started via tweet, if you must know,) she said, “The conversation was very easy because, you know, we were both raised in Brooklyn.” Upon hearing this, Lee leapt from his seat, let out a whoop, and bowed to Streisand. “And, Spike,” Streisand shouted, triumphally, “We both love hats!”

21. Big wins for “Black Panther” made us think of Stan Lee

Stan Lee passed away in 2018, but we imagined he would have felt great joy watching creators — especially black, female creators — accept accolades for the movie based off the character he created with Jack Kirby (also Jewish). The storytelling legend was renowned for creating characters with depth, whose strengths came from their differences. His legacy was obvious on Sunday night.

22. Nothing Jewish to see here, but we’re reporting it because it’s exciting:

Rami Malek accepted a well-deserved win for his impeccable ode to Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant who lived his life unapologetically himself,” Malek said. “I am the son of immigrants from Egypt, I’m a first generation American, and part of my story is being written right now,” he exclaimed, siting the movie’s success as proof that people are hungry for immigrant narratives. In reality, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was derided by LGBT activists for its portrayal of Mercury’s sexuality.

In an upset more shocking than learning that plenty of royals have taken same-sex lovers, Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her role in “The Favourite,” snatching an award that was considered destined for seven-time nominee Glenn Close.

Here is an exact transcript of Colman’s initial remarks:

“Whooo — it’s — genuinely quite stressful. Ha! This is hilarious! Got an Oscar! Uh. Okay. Um. Uh. I have to thank lots of people. If I forget you I’m going to find you later and give you a massive snog.”

The gigantically charming Colman thanked her co-stars Emily (Emma Stone) and Rachel (Weisz), whom she called “The two loveliest woman in the world to fall in love with, to go to work with every day. As you can imagine it wasn’t a hardship.” In another endearing tangent, she recalled, “I used to work as a clearer …I loved that job, but I did spend a lot of my time imagining this.” Thanking her husband in a moment as romantic as any the Academy has ever seen, she swept from the stage, laughing and crying.

23. Accused sexual predator Bryan Singer was very conspicuously not mentioned:

Academy voters loved many aspects of director Bryan Singer’s Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which took home awards for Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. But they stopped short at awarding the movie Best Picture, a choice that should evoke a sigh of relief.

Director Bryan Singer, who was ousted from the movie just before the end of the shooting period for frequently being absent from the set, has been accused of sexual assault of minors in alleged incidents going back decades, as an Atlantic article documented. All of the “Rhapsody” winners thanked Queen as well as the film’s producers, but not the director — not even editor John Ottman, who has worked on all but one of the 12 films Singer has directed.

24. Best Picture went to, well, at least not the movie made by Bryan Singer:

The night’s top prize went to “Green Book,” a gloopy civil rights-era period piece that received significant criticism from black viewers. The family of Don Shirley, the movie’s black protagonist, demanded apologies for what they said was the untruthful way that Shirley’s history was portrayed in the movie (specifically, they called the movie a “symphony of lies.” Additionally, director Peter Farrelly apologized when old interviews resurfaced of him explaining his habit of flashing his genitals at actresses, and screenwriter Nick Vallelonga apologized after the discovery of an old tweet claiming to have seen Muslims celebrating the September 11 terrorist attacks.

25. Carrie Fisher got (almost) the last word

For reasons that are not yet clear, one of the winners for “Green Book” finished the night by shouting into the microphone, “This is dedicated to our great friend Carrie Fisher.”

Was Carrie Fisher the extremely secret host of the 2019 Academy Awards? It’s not impossible.

May we have the hope of Guy Nattiv, the sense-of-self of Barbra Streisand, the humility of the “Spider-Verse” creators, the good will of Stan Lee, and the staying power of Carrie Fisher. Good night to all, and to all a good night.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


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