By Shirley Li
January 22, 2019 at 10:03 AM EST

On Feb. 24, winners will be crowned at the 91st Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, Entertainment Weekly has inside intel on the 2019 nominees. Keep checking back at this week for spotlights on contenders in all the major categories.

Green Book
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Total nominations: 5
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

When director Peter Farrelly first read about the real-life bond between black classical jazz pianist Don Shirley and his Italian-American driver Tony Lip, he didn’t think of it as a drama — or even a comedy. “It’s a love story,” he says. “These two guys have a friendship that’s so important, heartwarming, and strong.”

And difficult to capture on screen. After all, the duo’s journey through the Deep South in 1962 works as both a buddy comedy and weighty period piece: There are just as many scenes of the two bantering over music and language as there are of them encountering disrespectful hosts and intolerant laws. Farrelly needed acting heavyweights to pull off that tricky chemistry — and he found them in Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, a pair he still can’t believe he landed. “They’re so f—ing smart,” Farrelly gushes. “Never in a million years would this movie have gotten made if they hadn’t signed on.”

Lucky for him, they did — and in the time since the film’s release in November, Green Book has enjoyed a strong presence in the awards race. The film won the top prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards, which established it as an Oscar frontrunner, and also made an impression at the Golden Globes, winning in the Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Supporting Actor (for Ali) categories.

And now, it’s a five-time Academy Award nominee. In total, Green Book scored five Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Bust Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. “We are beyond grateful to the Academy for this overwhelming honor,” producers Jim Burke, Charles Wessler, Brian Hayes Currie, Nick Vallelonga, and Peter Farrelly said in a statement. “The Green Book story began with a concert tour in the pre-civil-rights-era 1960s that allowed an unexpected friendship to grow between these two very different individuals. Their extraordinary trip inspired us all to take this journey of a lifetime. We’re further indebted to the Academy for recognizing the transcendent performances of our partners Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. We extend our deep gratitude to our partners Participant Media, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures for allowing us to make this dream come true.”

Off the awards stage, however, the film has been mired in controversy: Vallelonga, who also served as a screenwriter, apologized for a 2015 tweet in which he echoed Donald Trump’s debunked claim of seeing Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks, while Farrelly issued a similar statement the same week after reports from 1998 of him exposing his penis to cast and crew members as a prank resurfaced. (Even earlier in its campaign, Mortensen had to apologize as well after using the N-word during a post-screening Q&A.) As for the film itself, members of Shirley’s family denounced its portrayal of the late musician, while critics have called out the film for perpetuating racial stereotypes and the “white savior” trope.

On the latter point, Farrelly previously told EW he doesn’t agree with the criticisms. “We were quite aware of that trope before we ever started shooting,” he said after the Golden Globe nominations in December. “We wanted to avoid it, and personally, I think we did. I don’t think we fall into any of those tropes. It’s about two guys who were complete opposites and found a common ground, and it’s not one guy saving the other. It’s both saving each other and pulling each other into some place where they could bond and form a lifetime friendship.”

For more on the nominees, pick up this week’s Entertainment Weekly, available on stands Friday.

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Green Book

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