A Jewish guide to the 2019 Oscars


(JTA) — The Oscars are a mess. Hollywood’s biggest night still does not have a host, after Kevin Hart withdrew over past homophobic tweets. That seemed to have reminded celebrities who were potentially interested in the gig that it’s one of the toughest in showbiz (some want to believe Whoopi Goldberg is secretly hosting).

But there has been more drama: the possibility of a new category for best popular film elicited strong emotions and eventually was scrapped; plans to present some awards during commercial breaks to shorten the rather lengthy ceremony were protested by some prominent people, among them Martin Scorcese and Brad Pitt; and a decision to buck tradition by not inviting back some 2018 winners as presenters was widely derided.

Scott Tobias, writing in The Verge, said the Academy Awards show “will almost certainly be a fiasco of epic proportions.”

But there’s always hope. While many expected the recent Grammy Awards to be a disaster following pre-ceremony drama involving performers like Ariana Grande, postmortem reflections were much kinder.

The list of Oscar nominees this year lacks the epic Jewish themes and connections present in most years, but there are still interesting story lines to many of them, and the show must go on. Here’s your Jewish guide to the 2019 Academy Awards:

And the big nominees are …

Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz attends the Nespresso British Academy Film Awards nominees party at Kensington Palace in London, Feb. 9, 2019. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

* Rachel Weisz is one of the favorites to win best supporting actress for her role in “The Favourite.”

* Perennial nominees the Coen brothers are up for best adapted screenplay for their Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”

* Past nominee Eric Roth is nominated in the same category for co-writing “A Star is Born.”

* The documentary “RBG,” on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is up for best feature documentary. It’s directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen.

* “A Night at the Garden,” about a massive Nazi rally held in New York City in 1939, is nominated for best documentary short.

* The hit “Shallow,” from “A Star is Born,” is up for best original song. It was co-written by Mark Ronson, the star producer who had a bar mitzvah.

Spike Lee gave us a Jewish cop.

Spike Lee on the set of “BlacKkKlansman” with Adam Driver, who plays Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman. (David Lee/Focus Features)

The veteran director talked to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about his best picture-nominated “BlacKkKlansman,” in which a Jewish detective helps a Colorado town’s first black cop infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. “We did not want [it] to become another black-white kind of buddy film, which has been done a million times,” Lee said.

A James Baldwin adaptation gave us Dave Franco in a yarmulke.

Beale Street

Barry Jenkins, right, directing Stephan James, center, and Dave Franco on the set of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” (Annapurna Pictures)

“If Beale Street Could Talk” — “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel — is also up for best picture. One of the film’s most moving scenes involves a Jewish landlord played by Dave Franco.

‘Roma’ brought up Mexican-Jewish history (sort of).

“Roma” director Alfonso Cuaron, center, with two of the film’s stars, Marina de Tavira, left, and lead Yalitza Aparicio at the 75th Venice Film Festival, Aug. 30, 2018. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Alfonso Cuaron’s period piece “Roma” is favored to win at least a few Oscars on Sunday night, including best picture. It is set in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970s — not mentioned in the film is that it used to be one of the city’s centers of Jewish life.

A Nazi documentary angered Fox News.

A screenshot from the ad for “A Night at the Garden.” (Screenshot from Vimeo)

The aforementioned “Night at the Garden” made headlines when Fox News declined to run a 30-second ad because of its “disgraceful Nazi imagery” (that’s a little like not running a commercial for breast cancer prevention because of sexual content). CNN and MSNBC later ran the ad.

‘Black Panther’ offered a moment to reflect on black-Jewish relations.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee poses with a book of “Spider Man” comics in 1991. Along with Spider Man, Lee created characters such as Iron Man, Thor and The Incredible Hulk. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The blockbuster superhero flick, which broke box office records and Hollywood assumptions about race, is based on the original Marvel comic — created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (born Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg) at a crucial juncture in the civil rights movement. The film is nominated for seven awards, including best picture.

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