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Podcast: Green Book, Widows, and the Best Supporting Actor Race

Nathaniel R and Murtada Elfadl talk new films and the Oscar race

Index (68 minutes)
00:01 We didn't see Fantastic Beasts 2
01:46 Steve McQueen's Widows is more than a heist movie. We dive into its themes, best scenes, and particularly its all star ensemble: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Brian Tyree Henry, Cynthia Erivo, Robert Duvall, Michelle Rodriguez,and Olivia the dog!
25:44 Widow's Best Picture chances?
28:09 'Crowd-Pleaser' Green Book does not please Murtada. Thoughts on the movie, escapist laughter, road trip tropes, and Mahershala Ali's Oscar clip.
42:05 Best Supporting Actor discussion including Richard E Grant, Mahershala Ali, Michael B Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Sam Rockwell, Adam Driver, Steven Yeun, etc...
52:00 Spirit Nominations: Suspiria for ensemble? We the Animals, Blame and other micro-indies that did well. Who is going to win?
1:07:00 Byeeee

Further Reading / References
Shadow & Act's pan of Green Book
Vox's pan of Green Book
Middleburg's Green Book audience win
• The Spirit Award nominations
Murtada's We the Animals interview
Supporting Actor Oscar Chart

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunesContinue the conversations in the comments, won't you? 

Green Book and Widows

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Reader Comments (32)

I don't think the podcast link has actually been posted.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Dykes

Where’s the podcast?

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

OOPS. fixed.

November 18, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

“watched him between my eyes”

lol. murtada cracked me up there

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

I don't think Widows is going to get into BP. I think Screenplay makes more sense, and I have a feeling late breaking Vice and The Mule are going to throw a wrench in the expected line up. Mary Poppins could too, if early raves reflect how audiences might react.

I'd be so so happy if Michael B. Jordan got in. Smart to tie that push to his upcoming Creed II release. Here's hoping it works.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I also think Viola is out for best actress. Widows is a flop given its budget. Wrong movie at the wrong time. A B Cinemascore is a D.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

With early reactions to Vice & Mary Poppins Returns (and to a lesser extent Mary, Queen of Scots) looking like big hits with voters are we going to have a season where the festival circuit is going to seem almost irrelevant?

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

S Actor Eliott,Grant,Rocckwell,Ali,Carell.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I saw both Widows and Green Book in the last few days and enjoyed the discussion in the podcast.

Widows feels like the sum of the parts is much greater than the whole. I agree that many of the actors were fantastic and many of the scenes were memorable. As discussed, the film introduces many different themes that a normal heist movie doesn't touch upon, but spends minimal depth on any of them. It was like an entire season of the Sopranos squeezed into two hours. It's definitely worth checking out, but did not totally register as a great film to me.

Green Book is much better than Murtada was giving it credit for. It seemed like Nathaniel was trying to rein in Murtada's hatred for it to no avail, haha I agree that a couple of scenes are hokey and contrived, but I personally enjoyed the two central performances and the music itself. I laughed out loud several times and shed a tear or two; in short it's a crowd pleaser. The film is predictable yet affecting. Definitely recommend (although maybe not to film critics, but is that stereotyping? Haha).

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike C

In defense of Green Book...

Murtada states at one point that Green Book thinks it "solves racism." I think that's unfair to the film, which is about its two main characters navigating a horribly racist world that serves as the impetus for their friendship... Tony might become more tolerant, but I don't think the film -- nor do I think the film's characters -- would feel what Murtada thinks they would. To me, this reading of the film suggests that he has incorporated his preconceptions of the film (which I also had from the film's eye-rolling one-liner and horrible trailer) into his judgment of the film.

On a broader scope, Murtada's argument seems to be that it's inappropriate to have a film where a white character learns to be less racist because it will make white people feel like they've conquered their prejudices. He points to current events as evidence that racism still exists and fears that this movie will make white people complacent in battling remaining vestiges of it in our world today. I keep hearing this argument a lot in regards to films like Green Book.

I think that's argument is unwarranted for two reasons. One, audiences by and large are not stupid. They see the same news that Murtada sees and know that there are still racist elements of our society. It's a bit condescending to suggest otherwise, honestly, and reveals that the critic is truly out of touch with what those in Middle America actually are like. But secondly, what audiences may not recognize are their own cognitive biases that originate from racial or cultural differences. While this film is not exactly a nuanced take on racism in the 60s or now, the simple nature of this film might actually teach people a thing or two. And perhaps the fact that it's a) a comedy and b) not threatening to white folks might actually draw some of the people in who have the most to learn about these themes. They'd certainly never watch something that was accusatory toward them, nor would they have watched the documentary about the compilation of the actual Green Book which Murtada seems to have wanted in place of this film.

So no, I don't feel it's inappropriate at all to make a film like this at this particular moment in time. Perhaps right now is when this is film is most needed.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Adding to the above, perhaps the idea that "we've moved beyond a film like Green Book" itself is the true overestimation of how far we've come as a society.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan -- Same argument he (and Twitter) used against Three Billboards

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterArrete

You two are overthinking the Suspiria ensemble prize. Sure it's named after Altman but everyone isn't making an Altmanesque movie by virtue of having a sprawling cast. None of the performances one could argue were bad or even weak despite knowing who the real actors were from those filling a mood by their presence in a role (Alek Wek). Now I liked the movie a great deal. It is top five ranking from everything I've seen this year. But to be fair to don't subject myself to everything.

Nathaniel mentioned editing for Suspiria as a worthier element to recognize but its bloated length sort of cancels all the stylistic flourishes the movie indulges in editorially. I'm fine with the Spirits citing the movie in a category that recognizes the director, the casting director, and the cast.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I really enjoyed the podcast! I, too, think studios should realize that earlier release dates can pay off.

With all of these box office disappointments, A Star Is Born is solidifying its frontrunner status. First Man, Widows, and possibly Green Book have proved that it's not so easy to make an adult-oriented prestige box office hit. Meanwhile, Black Klansman should also be considered a hit - it's earned more than First Man with far less marketing and it may be the top-grossing indie of the year. I hope it earns major nominations, including for Adam Driver.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Interestingly, before I saw Widows, I was convinced it was going to be a commercial play and wouldn't have much awards traction, and after I saw it, I felt the exact opposite. I don't think it's going to connect with audiences the way I expected (my mom saw it last weekend and thought it was slow and boring), but, as you guys discuss on the podcast, it is so rich and intelligent and well-made (and well-acted) that it will definitely be in the awards conversation (as it absolutely should be). I'm not convinced either way on a Best Picture nomination yet, but I'm leaning towards it getting in. There are just too many good things about this movie for it to be ignored. And I love Debicki and liked her performance here, but for me the only real MVP is Viola. It is her movie from start to finish, and she carries it incredibly.

Re Green Book, I loved it, but I also really appreciate hearing Murtada's point of view, because I think the things he is saying absolutely need to be part of any serious conversation about the movie, as I know many others share his perspective. I even feel a little guilty (and hypocritical) for liking a movie about race made for white people, especially when I hated Boy Erased and Bohemian Rhapsody for being movies about sexuality made for straight people. To be fair, I think Green Book is objectively a better film that those ones are, but I fully appreciate that its messaging may be equally problematic. HOWEVER, I fully agree with Nathaniel that Mahershala's big scene is so, so badly acted. His performance in general didn't work for me (whereas Viggo's totally did), but I suppose it would be a very bad look to nominate the white lead and snub the black lead in a movie about solving racism. That said, if Mahershala gets in, which I think he definitely will, it will be on goodwill alone, because that is not an Oscar-worthy performance in my opinion. At all. It's my least favorite performance of his that I've seen.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

I basically agree with Murtada's views on Green Book but I will say that just about any time a movie is accused of thinking it "solved racism" that accusation is usually hyperbole. I don't think even Crash was under the delusion that it had "solved racism" by the end. That said, it does frustrate me to see the same people who scoffed for thirty years that Driving Miss Daisy won in 1989 while Do the Right Thing was actively snubbed are now just shrugging at the distinct chance of history repeating itself with Green Book. There are several strong movies from black filmmakers this year and if Green Book beats all of them it would be like 1989 on steroids.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

MJS - agree that saying "it solved racism" is hyperbole. Or in this case an exaggeration I said as a joke to make my point.

November 19, 2018 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

"I even feel a little guilty (and hypocritical) for liking a movie about race made for white people."


And why exactly is this movie made for white people? Is this supposed to be contrasted with If Beale Street Could Talk or BlacKkKlansman or Black Panther, which are made for black people?

Would you judge a white guy who refused to watch the three movies listed above because they weren't "made for" him? I suspect so. I suspect you'd judge a white guy if he said basically what you said -- that he'd watch Green Book because it was "made for" him. (And rightfully so on both points.) So why is it okay if "woke" audiences make these points? And why is this argument widely accepted and then repeated despite the diverse audiences that have liked the film at festivals like Toronto, Middleburg, and 919Fest (in North Carolina)? It's truly maddening.

And for the record, I'm a gay man who enjoyed Boy Erased (if you can use that word for that film) and Bohemian Rhapsody just fine. Don't feel you have to hate them for me.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

@ Evan: Quite frankly in my opinion any film that purports to deal with a subject as broad and heavy and important as racism in America, which Green Book absolutely does, and which ends the way Green Book ends, with a tidy little bow and a happy ending, is made for white people, because those of us who are "woke" understand that that ending rings hollow. Racism is not solved, and for many of those who are marginalized and victimized by it, there is no tidy, happy ending. Would it make you feel better if I phrased my issue with film as the fact that it is made BY white people instead of FOR white people? Because you can deride my political correctness all you want but as far as I'm concerned a movie about racism written, directed and produced exclusively by white men is, in 2018, inherently problematic. So, yes I feel guilty for enjoying an amusing film about a subject that is anything but amusing. Doesn't mean I don't like the film. I like it very much. In fact, I think it's a much better film than what is really its polar opposite this year, If Beale Street Could Talk. But denying that Green Book's messaging is problematic is really not productive. And honestly if you think the audiences at Toronto, Middleburg, and 919Fest are meaningfully representative or diverse, lol, because you are wrong.

And Boy Erased sucks. Might have sucked less if weren't another movie about the experience of being marginalized written by, directed by and starring straight white men. You should try putting on the woke glasses sometime. You might be surprised at how different things look. Wake up, Pearl. Wake up.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

The two main characters becoming friends does not mean that the film thinks racism is over. Please see my post above.

Moreover, you are misinformed. Green Book is not as diverse as it should be, I agree, but Octavia Spencer and Kwame Parker are producers.

Regarding the audiences, I was at Toronto. I saw the audience in my screening. I heard the black couple at my side laughing right along with me and spoke to them about the film afterward. I also heard with my ears the same account you did that Nathaniel's audience at Middleburg was relatively diverse. And I've lived and attended film festivals in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. I understand these audiences just fine.

And finally, save us from the Chloe Grace Moretz diatribe. Arguing that Boy Erased is written by straight folks completely robs Garrard Conley of his own story.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

No discussion on how Viggo's recent N-word blunder will affect his Oscar chances?

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYW

@ Evan we can obviously disagree about a lot of things but in point of fact Octavia and Kwame executive produced. The film was produced by five white men.

In my experience at film festivals, from Toronto to the Triangle (where I also lived and attended festivals), it's pretty outrageous to insinuate that festival audiences almost everywhere are anything other than overwhelmingly white, but if your experience has differed from that, I'm glad for that, genuinely, and hope to experience the same thing for myself in the future.

Love and light!

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

Just here to thank Evan for speaking up on behalf of rational, openminded filmgoing. I look forward to a time when every act of cultural observation doesn't involve a condescending outrage lecture. "Quite frankly."

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

While I love Widows, I too accredit the script in giving Michelle Rodriguez not enough to do to be effective. She was quite fine in her one big scene but like y’all said - why were we there if it didn’t go anywhere and then tossed to another character who was already juggling so much?

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

Everyone -- while i understand people get passionate about these topics and there is much to actually be outraged about, I do hope we can have more rational discussions of movies at some point in the near future. Quite often this past year or two, it feels like people have made up their minds about movies before they see them.

For instance, I keep reading / hearing from people who dislike Green Book that it's a "white savior" movie. From my experience watching the movie it is most definitely not. If anything the film risks being a "magical negro" movie more (another common problematic trope) because it is Tony Lipp that grows and changes for the better by getting to know Don Shirley. The only thing that Shirley really gets from Lipp is loosening up a bit which I personally think is a stretch to consider 'being saved.'

Tony Lipp doesn't save Shirley at all except by doing his job and being a bodyguard. I would hope that people can understand the difference between a problematic trope and an actual literal depicted act of a character doing a job (bodyguarding) which he was paid to do.

November 19, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jeez this back and forth was something else. Great work Jess V.

Hopefully people like Evan (and Nathaniel) can learn to be more honest with themselves and others concerning racial politics in cinema.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKiki

After seeing Widows, I think it is more likely to get a Best Picture nomination that I had even thought.

It was different than I had expected. It was sleeker and more modern, like an elegantly designed extraordinarily expensive sports car. The cinematography and editing were spare and streamlined.

It’s these superb design elements that are respected by technical artists, who are a big voting bloc. It also means that the movie is less likely to date, since it is its own artistic design creation. It’s not one that you will regret nominating years later.

The actors are one of the design elements. They are like jewels that have been set in a precious metal structure. They shine clearly and distinctly. Viola, definitely a ruby; Elizabeth, a diamond; Cynthia, an emerald.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Kiki - I appreciate and share your concern about inequality in cinema. I agree that Green Book is a film made mostly by white folks. Its could be more diverse, sure, and it's certainly not the most nuanced or original depiction of race in America. My point is just that at least for me, my original perception of the film's racial politics was not in line with what I saw on the screen, which was an enjoyable film that earnestly celebrates people coming together. Somehow in this discussion, in arguing that white viewers might learn something from Green Book about their inherent racial biases, I've been marked as someone who doesn't think about inherent racial biases.

Why do we even discuss film if there can be no discussion?

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Jes V -- i find a lot of your points fascinating -- particularly because you both enjoyed the movie and take issue with it which is a level of nuance so few people will allow themselves anymore if this 'love it or hate it' world -- so I really thank you for sharing.

Evan -- thank you for the point about Garrard Conley. I was so angry with Chloe Moretz about that. So, Chloe (and other detractors) it's no longer his story even though he wrote the book and was involved in the production because *you* object to straight people being involved while Chloe herself is a straight artist telling a gay story about a fictional character? The hypocrisy was rich.

Kiki -- and maybe you can also be more honest with yourself about your own speed towards harsh judgments about people's capacity to think through issues when you dont immediately perceive them to share your point of view? Even when, as Evan has done here, they are respectful and try to discuss a complicated issue and find common grounds on points they agree on.

I'd actually be happy to hear an argument about what I actually said about the movie -- happy to respond to any of that -- but the suggestion that people are not honest with themselves is a redirect, negating conversation by way of passing judgment.

Everyone -- I can only speak to my own experiences but I've been really shocked over the past two years during the heated discussions around racial politics that everyone seems to thinks that scolding people or attempting to shame them if they're not "woke" enough, is helpful. The people who should feel shame are of course shameless so it's ost on them. I mean does *anyone* think at this point that the basket of deplorables and their Dear Leader ever experience shame? And on the other side the people who are actively trying to understand or willing to discuss difficult topics probably don't deserve to be scolded because scolding isn't really a great motivator and those people are trying to understand and/or change for the better anyway and usually on your side when it comes right down to the heart of it.

I guess I just dont really get scolding and shaming as default emotional positions because the world would be an infinitely better place if people were nicer to each other and actively trying to each other and help each other through any difficult learning curves or blindspots.

Everyone -- I didn't love Green Book. It is road-trip comedy escapism and definitely simplistic about a thorny subject but it's not evil or ill-intentioned and I still haven't heard anyone actually back up the claim that its a 'white savior movie' in anyway that makes any sense with what's actually *in* the movie. It does not say and the arcs do not suggest that Lipp saves Shirley. It's just a story of a racist guy becoming less racist (an outcome we should all want) and two unlikely peopl becoming friends.

All that said I do agree with the critics that it should have been called something different than "Green Book" because using that title does send a message about what and whose story its purporting to tell that is entirely misleading. It's definitely not a movie about the African-American experience.

Suzanne -- thanks for enjoying the podcast. I do think BlacKkKlansman will come through with major nominations

Adri -- that's an interesting point about how Widows might age and I love the jewel metaphor.

Everyone -- would love to hear more takes from y'all on WIDOWS. Green Book seems to have dominated the conversation but Widows is so much more interesting to discuss!

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Nathaniel R

Can we discuss the box office disappointment of Widows' first weekend? An auteur decides to build a heist movie around a Black woman in midlife and despite critical acclaim and artistic merit audiences are distracted by more conventional choices at the multiplex. Hello, this is Jackie Brown all over again.

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Jeez this back and forth was something else. Great work Evan.

Hopefully people like Jes V. (and Murtada) can learn to be more honest with themselves and others concerning racial politics in cinema.

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKoko

Jes V....please don't invoke "love and light" when it is clearly used in a condescending tone.

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHilary Shank

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