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Overrated/Underrated, Oscars edition: The pleasures of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and poor Bradley Cooper

Overrated/Underrated, Oscars edition: The pleasures of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and poor Bradley Cooper
Two of Americana music's most esteemed singer-songwriter-performers, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, landed their first Academy Award nomination for original song with their song for "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." (Alysse Gafkjen)

UNDERRATED

“RBG”: This portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may finish behind the jaw-dropping vertiginous achievements of “Free Solo” on Oscar night, but both films are inspiring documents of feats of strength. Chronicling Ginsburg’s rise to the court that included a near-unanimous Senate confirmation in 1993, the film seems unlikely to draw an audience on the opposite side of the political spectrum given the divisive state of 2019. However, the film’s exploration of Ginsburg’s efforts to further equality through cannily pursuing cases where men were victimized leave a viewer feeling inspired enough to climb any mountain.

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Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: The Coen Bros.’ eclectic “Ballad of Buster Scruggs” didn’t get the attention it deserved from academy voters, but fortunately its scene-setting ballad “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” was recognized in the original song category. Though performed onscreen by Tim Blake Nelson, the track was written by a pair of the Coens’ former collaborators in these Americana favorites, and their voices coming together on Oscar night will, like the rest of their catalog, highlight the lush melancholy of their sound and offer the night a much-needed moment of poetic understatement.

OVERRATED

The Oscars’ decision-making: First, the academy planned on introducing a category in “popular film,” a gambit that both allowed its voting body to lavish guilt-free appreciation for blockbusters while inadvertently confirming their “real” best picture winner was somehow unpopular. Then came host Kevin Hart (and there he went), which was followed by the recent decision not to include a few core categories in the broadcast in another choice that had to be walked back. It’s been a strange year for the academy, especially considering its every decision up to this point has never been flawed or subject to second-guessing.

Bradley Cooper’s snub: Let’s all say it together: Poor Bradley Cooper. As a director, he introduced a new generation to “A Star Is Born” and drunkenly wet himself for the role of Jackson Maine as his partner (Lady Gaga) won a Grammy onscreen. But he went unrecognized in the directing category, a decision he said left him feeling “embarrassed” because, in his view, he hadn’t done his job. While Cooper can take consolation in recognizing he evidently did his job with the nominations he collected this year as an actor, writer and producer, hopefully other worthy — and unnominated — directors like Debra Granik, Marielle Heller or Ryan Coogler can buy him a drink Sunday.

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