Many early reviews of “Green Book,” a real-life story about a cultured Jamaican-American concert pianist (Mahershala Ali) and an uncouth Bronx-born bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) who serves as his chauffeur as they tour the segregated South, can’t help but compare it to 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.” That Best Picture winner paired Morgan Freeman’s driver with Jessica Tandy’s Jewish lady of means who lives in Atlanta. The relationship between a black hired hand and white employer takes place over four decades, starting in the late ‘40s. It is a sentimental tale that gently touches upon both racial and religious prejudice while examining how a common bond grows between two very different people.
It can’t hurt being compared to an earlier dramedy that claimed Oscars for Tandy as Best Actress, its adapted screenplay and makeup. Or can it? The one not-so-pleasant distinction associated with the nine-time Academy Award nominee is that it is just one of four best pic champs to not have its director even nominated, let alone not win. Australia’s Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant,” “Tender Mercies”) was a no-show on the ballot while Oliver Stone was rewarded for “Born on the Fourth of July” instead.
There were three other times that, as Oscar host Billy Crystal once said, a Best Picture “directed itself”: the war film “Wings,” the first title to win the honor for 1927/28), the ensemble drama “Grand Hotel” (1931/32) and “Argo” (1912), which left its star and director Ben Affleck high and dry while Ang Lee won for “Life of Pi.”
Therefore, I have started worrying about Green Book’s” director Peter Farrelly, best known for such raunchy R-rated comedies as “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” Right now, he is at No. 7 in the combined Gold Derby predictions and at No. 6 in the Expert rankings.
He could get a bounce once paying customers charge into theaters based on word of mouth. Just as Melissa McCarthy is proving herself to be equally adept at drama as she is at comedy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” this year, so, too, is Farrelly, who has pleasantly surprised both critics and audiences so far with his finesse with a serious subject and family-friendly humor. Universal Pictures has moved up “Green Book’s” opening to this Friday in 20 cities. Perhaps if it does boffo business leading up to Thanksgiving and beyond, more prognosticators on the Gold Derby might be emboldened to move him up the ranks. Now that up to 10 titles can make the cut in the Best Picture category, it is just a fact that some directors just won’t be recognized by the voters. But I hate to see them pull a “Miss Daisy” on Farrelly.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.