In Charged Political Climate, Best Picture Oscar Is About More Than the Movie

In Charged Political Climate, Best Picture Oscar is About More than the Movie
Photo: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY Ryan Olbrysh; Twentieth Century Fox; Marvel/Walt Disney Studios; UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

In the 2019 Oscar race for best picture, a vote for a film has become a vote for a cause.

“Black Panther” fans say the Marvel movie deserves to win because of its cultural impact and the diversity of its cast and creators. Champions of director Spike Lee and his “BlacKkKlansman,” a drama set in the 1970s—and ending with real-life footage from the violent 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.—want to spotlight his commentary on racial hatred.

A vote for “Green Book” can be seen as supporting interracial harmony, fans of the buddy movie say, while detractors call it one-sided, tone deaf, and clouded by behind-the-scenes controversies. Supporters of “Bohemian Rhapsody” celebrate its upbeat themes of creative expression and rock and roll. But critics of the Queen biopic say it mishandles the sexuality of its gay lead character and is plagued by accusations of sexual misconduct by its director.

Fans of ‘Black Panther’ say the film deserves to win because of its cultural impact.
Fans of ‘Black Panther’ say the film deserves to win because of its cultural impact. Photo: Marvel/Walt Disney Studios

The Oscars have always been subjective, of course, but at its core, the best picture award is meant to recognize greatness on-screen. Now, movements such as #OscarsSoWhite, a call for Hollywood diversity that emerged in 2015, and the rising influence of social media, have changed the conversation about which films deserve to be honored. As a result, debates about the quality of movies are less divisive than those about the high-voltage issues that the movies represent. With America in a seemingly constant political and cultural uproar, partisan rancor has spilled into the Oscars competition.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years of my life, and I’ve never seen it reach this level,” says Sasha Stone, founder and editor of the news site In a January essay, Ms. Stone defended “Green Book,” about a black musician and his white chauffeur on tour in 1962. It was an example of the opprobrium that hits filmmakers who fail to meet certain standards of inclusivity or conscientious storytelling, she says.

‘Green Book’ merits the best-picture award because it celebrates interracial harmony, fans say.
‘Green Book’ merits the best-picture award because it celebrates interracial harmony, fans say. Photo: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Just before “Green Book” was released in November, actor Viggo Mortensen, who plays white driver Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, used the n-word on a panel while discussing racism. A brother of the late musician Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, condemned the film as “a symphony of lies.” Shortly after “Green Book” won many Golden Globe awards, years-old feature stories about director Peter Farrelly resurfaced, describing how he used to expose his penis on set as a prank. Not long after, co-writer and producer Nick Vallelonga, son of the man Mr. Mortensen plays in the film, drew fire for an Islamophobic tweet that he had posted in 2015. These flare-ups elicited apologies from the people implicated. As “Green Book” racked up awards, the filmmakers emphasized its conciliatory themes, summed up in its tagline: “Inspired by a true friendship.”

“Discussing aspects of movies that offend people, that’s a valid conversation,” Ms. Stone says. “What is weird is the intended destruction [via social media] of the people who made the film, and the film itself as an evil that must be purged. And if you support the movie in any way you get swept up in it. It’s almost as if nothing else matters except for these political points.”

Others say awards season simply amplifies the long-overdue reckoning that Hollywood faces over its checkered history of stereotyping based on gender, class, sexuality and race.

“There’s a pattern of flattening black characters, or using them only to help a white protagonist grow,” says Brooke Obie, managing editor for Shadow and Act, a news site about black talent in entertainment. She took aim at that formula in a critique of “Green Book,” and also called out the movie’s handling of the book referenced in its title, a series of guides that helped black drivers navigate segregated businesses on potentially dangerous roadways. Ms. Obie’s review led to a story about the Shirley family’s anger over the film, which went viral.

There’s more at stake in such coverage, she says, than one movie or its growing haul of awards. “It’s the type of film Hollywood likes to make, in which situations are contrived so a white character saves the day,” she says. “Seeing ‘white savior’ narratives over, and over, and over, creates a racial hierarchy in the mind of viewers.”

Smear campaigns have long been used in Hollywood to undermine awards contenders and sway voters. Social media has intensified the speed and scope of the takedowns.

A digital brouhaha in January illustrates the stakes and strong feelings. On the night of the Golden Globes, 15-year-old Elsie Fisher, nominated for her starring role in the coming-of-age film “Eighth Grade,” posted a message on Twitter celebrating wins by “Bohemian Rhapsody” and its lead actor, Rami Malek, who played singer Freddie Mercury.

Supporters of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ praise the film’s upbeat themes of creative expression and rock and roll.
Supporters of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ praise the film’s upbeat themes of creative expression and rock and roll. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Some people pounced on the tweet, slamming the praise of “Bohemian Rhapsody” because the movie was directed by Bryan Singer. Mr. Singer, who was fired during production, has denied allegations that he sexually assaulted teenage boys. Other respondents came to Ms. Fisher’s defense, arguing that she was entitled to be a fan of the movie and Mr. Malek’s performance.

Less than 10 minutes after her first jubilant tweet, Ms. Fisher tweeted, “Why is everyone being so mean about this? I’m genuinely sorry if I did something wrong :(” That was followed by a conciliatory tweet, in which Ms. Fisher said she’d been brought up to speed on the controversy about Mr. Singer.

One Oscar voter, a woman who was invited to join the Academy last year amid the organization’s efforts to expand and diversify its membership, says Academy members discuss the public disagreements over nominees. But that probably has less influence on voters than the individuals’ roles in the industry and their relationships, she says, adding, “I would hope people are voting on the merit of the film as opposed to the background stuff going on behind the scenes of each and every one.”

In a rancorous year for movies, a lack of controversy might harm a nominee’s chances for best picture. “Vice,” for example, is a tone-shifting biopic about Dick Cheney that once seemed destined to rile liberal and conservative viewers alike. Yet the best picture nominee has prompted not controversy but consensus—on Christian Bale’s striking transformation into the former vice president.

Some nominees carry additional symbolism unrelated to what is onscreen. “Roma,” a black-and-white portrait of family, class and ethnicity in 1970s Mexico, is a front runner for best picture—and also a Netflix movie. More viewers probably saw “Roma” on their computers or TVs and not in theaters, where “Roma” received a narrow release. A win for “Roma” would represent a milestone in the streaming company’s incursion into the industry.

Ads aimed at Oscar voters describe the film as “a monument to the power of film”—a characterization Netflix’s rivals might find ironic. The way in which “Roma” was released, with Netflix withholding the customary box-office results and major theater chains refusing to show the film, demonstrates how the streaming service is upending the entertainment business. But such politics may not be a problem for “Roma,” given the growing number of people in Hollywood now working with Netflix.

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Appeared in the February 22, 2019, print edition as ‘When Best Picture Is More Than the Movie.’

Adam McKay Wants to Start a World-Improvement Conference

Director Adam McKay.
Director Adam McKay. Photo: Miller Mobley

Shortly after dropping out of Temple University, Adam McKay drove to Chicago to study improvisational comedy. There, he co-founded the scrappy improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, which became known for producing some of Chicago’s edgiest theater. (One skit involved McKay advertising his own suicide.) It was a deliciously preposterous, taboo-busting brand of art that revelled in the absurdity of everyday life and exposed the often paper-thin veil between comedy and tragedy.

McKay went on to write for Saturday Night Live for six years beginning in 1995; later, he achieved a new level of success after directing and writing a series of blockbuster comedies starring his former SNL colleague Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys and Anchorman 2). Then McKay switched gears. His 2015 film, The Big Short, a star-studded adaptation of Michael Lewis’s best-selling book about the 2007 housing and banking collapse, earned him his first Academy Award (for best adapted screenplay). Last year, McKay returned with Vice, which chronicles the political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Even though viewers found it to be polarizing, the film received eight Oscar nominations, including for best director, best picture and best original screenplay.

McKay’s latest project, the eight-episode Amazon Prime docuseries This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy, is centered around the world’s financial systems. It builds on themes explored in his two most recent films, namely those of money and corruption, shining a light on the people who exploit the systems for their own schemes. As with The Big Short and Vice, McKay humanizes these systems, attempting to show the scope for agency or complicity within them, all with his uncommon eye toward absurdity. WSJ. spoke with McKay by phone ahead of the Amazon series’ February 22 premiere:

WSJ.: You initially auditioned for Saturday Night Live. You didn’t get cast, but you started writing for the show. What was it like to go from telling the joke to writing for others?

Adam McKay: I was directing and writing and performing in Chicago, so it was a natural [transition] for me. SNL was very collaborative. Lorne [Michaels] gives the writers a lot of leeway as far as how they do sketches. The first couple of years are insane. They’re like 80-hour weeks. But it was thrilling. You’re working in 30 Rock. You’re making a regular paycheck. You’re around fun and cool people. At the same time, you’re trying to filter it through someone else’s vision. It’s clearly Lorne Michaels’s show.

So you meet Will Ferrell there and go on to write and direct five films in which he stars. The first was Anchorman. Did you expect it to do as well as it did?

I did not. When the movie came out it did pretty well. It made a profit, and the reviews were generally good. We were like, Good, we get to make another one—that’s the only way we thought of it. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that my wife called me on Halloween night to say that she’d seen five people dressed like Ron Burgundy.

Your last two film projects were The Big Short and Vice. What inspired the transition to projects that wrestle with financial policy and corruption?

It goes back to Chicago. There’s a long tradition of that kind of work there. Even at SNL I was writing a lot of cold opens that were certainly political. But the economic collapse changed everything. Like, my dad lost his house. I happened to read The Big Short, and I couldn’t put it down. I got really inspired. I was making comedies, and my agent asked me, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” And I said, “Why isn’t The Big Short a movie?” It was so satisfying and fun and challenging in a different way. The world proceeded to get even crazier while we were making it, so it just felt like it made no sense to go back to those types of comedies afterwards.

It also indicated a shift from mass audiences to prestige cinema.

There’s definitely an awards lens that exists, but you don’t really make the movie thinking about that—you just make the movie you want to make. But there’s a freedom that’s different than when you’re doing comedy. When you’re doing comedy, you kind of feel compelled to get a laugh in every scene, and you have to have a happy ending. The big takeaway from The Big Short was that freedom. Suddenly there weren’t as many rules, and that timed up nicely with what I wanted to say as far as what was going on in the world.

Each episode of your new project This Beast That Is the Global Economy explores a specific subject, including money laundering, counterfeit goods and rubber. How did you determine what areas you were going to cover?

We had a long list of different subjects—I think it’s part of what inspired the title, This Giant Beast! [Co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money] Adam Davidson, who was a consultant on The Big Short and now is a really good friend, sent out an initial sheet of a dozen ideas. I threw in some ideas. I really wanted to talk about corruption as its own kind of thing. We wanted to go more psychological with one. Is it a ruthless nature that leads to people being rich? Or if people are rich then do they become ruthless? Honestly, you could do a thousand of these episodes, it’s so vast and huge.

On This Beast That Is the Global Economy, Kal Penn visits a bee farm to learn about AI.
On This Beast That Is the Global Economy, Kal Penn visits a bee farm to learn about AI. Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

I wanted to ask you about that straight-to-camera delivery style—“the explainers”—in which complex ideas are made more digestible. Here you have cameos from people like Ted Danson, Rashida Jones and Meghan Trainor. How do you think it serves the message?

The idea is that you’re not obeying the regular rules of storytelling. You’re able to just hit the beat and pivot. It’s definitely an aggressive move. You want it to be jarring. You’re breaking the comfortable rhythm that the audience is in; you’re shattering that and trying to make it uncomfortable.

So you’re wading in these waters of corruption and greed and globalization. After wrapping something like this, how do you go on and not get bogged down?

I think it’s the question. It’s the question for all of us. We were just in Europe for eight days and heard a lot of people talking in concerned tones about the rise of the right wing over there and corruption. The way I think about it? We haven’t been doing democracy that long, and we’ve clearly missed some stuff. I would be really interested to see some sort of conference about what we can do better. Why does corruption proliferate? Why do people freak out when stuff gets uncertain and turn towards blaming immigrants? The trends you see over and over again. It can get depressing. But we have to go back to learning and figuring this out, which is why I like the idea of continuing with shows and movies like this one. Let’s keep driving at it until we can see what the common faults and threads are throughout them.

How will the show galvanize people, do you think?

It’s like how I was excited by The Big Short when I first read it. There are some people out there that will watch this who are already curious and who will be sparked even more. There are other people that didn’t even know that they were curious who will take it further. I would be excited by any kind of engagement.

Kal Penn hosts the show, and he also has a political background, having worked in the Obama administration.

[He’s] a great blend of comedy and policy. The big key with Kal was his curiosity. He really wanted to immerse himself in this stuff.

Speaking of hosts, the Oscars are obviously without one.

Honestly, I haven’t been paying attention at all. I was actually surprised the other day when someone told me, “Oh, yeah, there’s no host.” It will be interesting though!

Penn interviews Raimundo Soto.
Penn interviews Raimundo Soto. Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Any excitement for the ceremony? You’ve been nominated before.

You dive into the experience. The old cliché of you’re just happy to be nominated definitely plays.

Really, though?

That really is true. You want your movie to be talked about. As a writer-director, I definitely want my actors and editor and hair and makeup to be acknowledged. You’re rooting for them, but the win is without a doubt being on that list. So you strap into your tuxedo and jump into your car and dive in. It’s kind of a blinding, blur of a night.

And what’s next?

We have the second season of Succession. [McKay is an executive producer of the HBO series.] I’m also trying to crack something on global warming for a feature film. I think I would probably change up the approach from Vice and The Big Short. That’s what I’m kicking around!

Need More Kitchen Storage? Roll In a Library Ladder

STEP UP TO THE PLATES In Lake Charles, La., Historical Concepts and Carter Kay hooked up a rolling ladder to access high storage.
STEP UP TO THE PLATES In Lake Charles, La., Historical Concepts and Carter Kay hooked up a rolling ladder to access high storage. Photo: Emily Jenkins Followill

It’s every reader’s fantasy: curled up like an otter on a Chesterfield sofa in front of a fragrant fire, getting lost in Austen or Auden. The setting? A moody mahogany library lined with cases of books so towering you need a rolling ladder to reach the top shelves.

Decorators in search of creative storage solutions are thinking outside the library and importing the romance of rolling ladders into book-free zones, from hallways to dressing rooms and, most blessedly, kitchens. Shelves and cabinets built high into previously unused spaces are but a few rungs away when a ladder is at hand. Emancipated from richly wooded reading rooms (though undeniably steamy in the sex-in-the-stacks scene in the 2007 film “Atonement”), ladders are being adapted for kitchens of various styles, from traditional to sleekly contemporary.

Atlanta interior designer Carter Kay installed a metal library ladder in the farmhouse-style kitchen of a Lake Charles, La., home she designed with architectural firm Historical Concepts. The petite owner wanted to display a collection of French porcelain she’d inherited, but she also wanted to use it. “She entertains all the time and needs access to all that storage,” said Ms. Kay. The answer: ceiling-grazing glass-front cabinets that showcase the china, and a ladder and track of satin-black steel that blends with the soapstone counters and cabinet hardware of oil-rubbed bronze. “It circles the entire kitchen, so there’s nothing out of reach,” said Ms. Kay. When it’s not being used, the ladder nestles in a purpose-built niche in the wall between the kitchen and pantry.

A classic version at Eshott Hall in Morpeth, England.
A classic version at Eshott Hall in Morpeth, England. Photo: Tim Clinch/The Interior Archive

Kathryn Scott decided to step it up when she renovated her circa-1855 Brooklyn brownstone. The interior designer’s house had been divided into a three-family home, so the parlor floor housed a kitchen-cum-dining room with 12-foot ceilings. Installing a rolling ladder was not just a practical solution but a way to give the retrofitted space more historical authenticity, a nod to the home’s archaeological layers. “I wanted it to look like an old library turned into a kitchen,” Ms. Scott said. She consulted historic-house museums to get the detailing and proportions right, and had a woodworker custom-make the ladder to match her glass-fronted walnut cabinets, inspired by a Victorian butler’s pantry. The result was so successful Ms. Scott featured it on the cover of her recent book “Creating Beauty: Interiors” (Rizzoli).

Architect Geoff Chick has never installed a rolling ladder in a library, but he’s introduced them just about everywhere else: in kitchens, closets, pantries and wine cellars. In the Florida Panhandle, where he’s based, “real-estate values are so high that people are trying to squeeze a lot of storage into small footprints,” he said. Even a pedestrian space like a laundry room becomes palatial with a soaring ceiling and a ladder gracefully circling a beautiful chandelier, he noted.

‘The track circles the kitchen so nothing is out of reach.’

If you have ladder lust—and ceilings at least 9 feet high—you too can reprise Belle’s balletic drift across the bookshop in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Kits can be bought online, with either wheels or hooks to attach ladders to their tracks. Mr. Chick recommends installation by a crack cabinet maker and cautions that in a compact, high-traffic space like a kitchen, an angled ladder can get in the way. Solution: Hook it on a small storage bar installed slightly higher than the track so the ladder can hang flat against the wall when not in use.

Experts suggest installing ladders where they won’t interfere with your ability to open doors or cabinets. Ms. Scott designed her kitchen cabinets with sliding doors, to avoid collisions. And be sure to consider materials where the ladder meets the floor. You don’t want unprotected metal to gouge the floor unattractively when you cut loose for a graceful glide, Belle style.

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The Art of Eating Simply

TASTE MAKER James Oseland in his Mexico City kitchen.
TASTE MAKER James Oseland in his Mexico City kitchen. Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

FOR THOSE FAMILIAR with San Francisco only after the tech boom, the grittier, artier city depicted in the new memoir “Jimmy Neurosis” (Feb. 5, Ecco) may come as something of a surprise. Similarly, those who know the author, James Oseland, as the longtime editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine and head judge on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters may do a double-take upon encountering the alienated, teeth-grinding teenager revealed in the book. Chapter by chapter, Mr. Oseland replays the late 1970s, when he was a young gay man shuttling between the suburb of San Carlos, where he and his mother struggled to rebuild a life in the wake of his father’s abrupt exit, and San Francisco’s avant-garde-film and punk-rock scenes.

Since then Mr. Oseland has spent decades traveling the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, more often than not in kitchens, which ultimately led him to write the award-winning cookbook “Cradle of Flavor.” “I generally believe that food is an extraordinary gift to human beings wherever you are on the planet. It defies being a trend,” he said. Now he divides his time between New York and Mexico City, where he’s producing “World Food,” a cookbook series from Ten Speed Press launching in fall 2020. We caught up with Mr. Oseland at the wooden kitchen counter that is the center of his Mexico City home.

The kitchen tools I can’t live without are: a knife I’m comfortable with—not necessarily the best or fanciest, but one that works with me. Right now it’s a classic Wüsthof chef knife. We’re attached at the hip. In Mexico City, I can’t live without my molcajete [mortar and pestle].

A couple of favorite cookbooks.
A couple of favorite cookbooks. Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

The cookbooks I turn to again and again are: Grace Young’s “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.” It makes me a better cook and reminds me of how important legacy and understanding of ancestry is to good cooking. Meanwhile, Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook,” is one of the most exciting collections of recipes ever printed on paper.

The pan I reach for most is: a working man’s cast-iron skillet. I also use my aluminum saucepan about 300 times a day.

The ingredients I’m most excited about right now are: Mexican guavas. They’re in season and so full of perfume.

Fragrant Mexican guavas.
Fragrant Mexican guavas. Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

My refrigerator is always stocked with: a delicious cheese, fresh eggs and, depending on where I am in the world, the starch of choice in that particular place. Right now I have these beautiful handmade blue-corn tortillas from a grandmother who comes in from the countryside and sells them on the street corner. They’re heaven.

During the week, I typically cook: a large lunch. I’ll heat those tortillas directly over the flame until they’ve picked up some char. I’ll make guacamole and serve it with a little bowlful of beans I’ll invariably have in the fridge, plus a piece of cheese from a local farmer. The one I have right now is a Manchego shot through with chipotle. It’s divine. I’ll lay all those things out and make taquitos out of them.

A spread of local cheeses.
A spread of local cheeses. Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

My favorite cooking technique is: a good, classic, southern-Chinese-style stir fry involving intensely hot fire and minimal cooking time. Not every food is suited to this technique, but for ingredients that are, there’s no better, more sophisticated or more pure way of cooking.

The thing most people notice first about my kitchen is: how immaculate it is. I take neat-freakishness to extremes.

The best feature of my kitchen is: the long wooden countertop a local craftsman made. I conjure meals and also consume them here.

His workhorse aluminum pot.
His workhorse aluminum pot. Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

When I entertain, I like to: be the kind of host who recedes into the background and helps create an environment of conviviality and pleasure. It’s not about me. It’s about the enjoyment of the people I’ve invited into my home.

A typical breakfast is: cyclical with me. The cycles tend to go in 5-year periods. Right now I’m eating scrambled eggs, homemade salsa, those blue-corn tortillas or some counterpart, and a scoop or two of fresh avocado. Don’t get me started on the muesli era…

If I’m not in my kitchen, I’m probably: on my balcony, which overlooks a convent dating to the 1500s, where the poet Sor Juana lived. It’s a real energy source for me.

In addition to food, I’m obsessed with: botany and biology. I’m a closet botanist and biologist and a constant chronicler of the living things around me.

A food I could happily have every day of my life is: good milk chocolate. My doctor wouldn’t agree with that.

Salsa Roja
The Art of Eating Simply
Photo: Alicia Vera for The Wall Street Journal

In Mexico, salsa is the staple seasoning on the breakfast, lunch and dinner table. According to Mr. Oseland, among the infinite varieties, salsa roja reigns supreme. Employing fundamental Mexican cooking techniques and tools, it can be endlessly expanded upon and makes virtually every savory dish taste better. The secret to its intriguing smoky flavor is charring most of the ingredients on a comal, the traditional Mexican griddle pan.

TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes MAKES: 1½ cups

3 large, very ripe Roma tomatoes

½ small white onion, peeled, quartered, and separated into individual layers

3 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1-5 fresh árbol, serrano chiles (depending on how hot you want it)

½ cup cilantro leaves with tender stems

½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat a comal or a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes, onions, garlic and chiles. Griddle, turning occasionally, until all ingredients are covered in charred spots, 10-20 minutes.

2. Stem chiles. Peel garlic. Coarsely chop onion. If using a molcajete or other large mortar and pestle, add onions and garlic, then add chiles and cilantro, and then tomatoes, grinding after the addition of each ingredient. Or process ingredients in a blender, pulsing a bit at a time until salsa reaches desired consistency, whether coarse, smooth or in between. Add salt if needed. Serve at once, or store in refrigerator up to 5 days.

The Taste of Winter, Brewed and Bottled

From left: Upslope Spruce Tip IPA; NoDa Hop Cakes; Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo; Ballast Point Spruce Tip Sculpin; Scratch Sap Series: Maple; Second Self JunIPA
From left: Upslope Spruce Tip IPA; NoDa Hop Cakes; Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo; Ballast Point Spruce Tip Sculpin; Scratch Sap Series: Maple; Second Self JunIPA Photo: F. Martin Ramin/ The Wall Street Journal

SEASONS HAVE their scents, and nothing conjures winter like a brisk whiff of the forest. Now, a new crop of beers infused with tree essences delivers woodsy aromas and rich flavors ideal for cold-weather drinking.

Brewing with trees actually has deep roots. Without the balancing bite of hops or other herbs, a brew is sickly sweet; minus the preservative effects of bitter oils it can go sour fast. In hop-barren Finland, for example, juniper has stood in for hops in a brew called sahti for centuries.

IPAs are often described as “piney” or “resinous” thanks to pinene and myrcene, found in both evergreens and hops. Some brewers use tree needles much like hops, adjusting when and for how long they boil in beer to extract a bitter snap and that forest scent.

“Our goal was a beer with a sense of place, and our place is in the middle of the woods,” said Marika Josephson of her Sap Series for Scratch Brewing Company, sited on 80 family-owned acres in southern Illinois. It’s not all about evergreens: Ms. Josephson brews the sap of walnut, birch and maple, and boils the bark of other trees such as shagbark hickory, which lends “intense toasted-marshmallow flavors.”

Delaware’s Dogfish Head sometimes brews with exotic woods such as South American palo santo. But founder Sam Calagione looked closer to home for his latest tree beer. “In the Midatlantic, we don’t have hop farms. We have huge spruce forests,” he said. “When the soft [spruce] tips come out, they taste really citrusy.” A collaboration with Pennsylvania outdoor-clothing company Woolrich, Pennsylvania Tuxedo harnesses that bright flavor.

Ballast Point Brewing Company’s James Murray found inspiration in a spruce-needle tea brewed by an employee’s aunt. “It had a mild citrus character with red berry and just a hint of pine,” he recalled. He added spruce tips to Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, not as a replacement for the hops but as a complement. “The spruce cuts through the bitterness and brings the berry flavors to the forefront.”

To make Hop Cakes, NoDa Brewing Company in Charlotte, N.C., turned to maple syrup. “Using sugar to make a stronger beer isn’t a new idea,” said NoDa’s Chad Henderson. The resulting strong, slightly sweet IPA is so popular that fans line up for its release each February. “People swear up and down they can taste the syrup, but really it just turns into another flavor of alcohol, with a sweeter backbone,” Mr. Henderson said.

Seek out any of the options at left for a beer as comforting as a stack of pancakes, invigorating as a forest stroll.

1. Upslope Spruce Tip IPA (7.5% ABV)

Orange and cream, lemon and powdered sugar: Like pine boughs freshly frosted.

2. NoDa Hop Cakes (10.0% ABV)

Mandarin sorbet drizzled in a swirl of pine sap and honey.

3. Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo (8.5% ABV)

Like spruce-sap caramel, chewy and smooth. Prickly pine turned sweetly soft.

4. Ballast Point Spruce Tip Sculpin (7.0% ABV)

A winter remedy worth a double dose, tasty and soothing like red licorice.

5. Scratch Sap Series: Maple (6.8% ABV)

Made with sap, not syrup, it’s startlingly spicy: anise and clove, with a dry black-pepper finish.

6. Second Self JunIPA (6.4% ABV)

Juniper, rosemary and spruce flavors combine with bursting blackberry and snappy lemongrass.

Will the Oscar Finally Go to These Hollywood Veterans?

It’s not an official Oscar category or even a real thing, yet multiple nominees will be vying for an It’s About Time award on Sunday.

This always-overdue honor doesn’t come as a gold statuette but rather in the form of vindication, the kind Martin Scorsese got when he finally won an actual Oscar for directing the 2006 film “The Departed.” It was his first (and so far only) after years of nominations and denials for classics such as “Goodfellas” and “Raging Bull.”

Wellness Getaways That Come With Tequila

AIRLINES TREAT fliers to guided meditation videos, fine hotels employ shamans and India’s time-honored ayurvedic therapies have become spa staples around the world. In short, wellness getaways are alive and well. Grueling, low-cal, high-cardio regimens still have plenty of overachieving fans, but resorts like the four here cater to another clientele. Their guests don’t want Pilates classes or sunrise boot camps to pre-empt the indulgences that make vacations worth waiting for. Is there any reason to forgo fine tequila or a slab of cake for the sake of a more virtuous triangle pose? Of course not.

Bali Six Senses…

How to Love Green Peppers

SEARCH FOR MENTIONS of green bell pepper online and you’ll find fighting words: “detestable,” “NASTY,” “the worst!” Haters, take heed: Chefs are reclaiming the bittersweet nightshade. “That’s our job: to help you realize it’s [bleeping] delicious,” said Doug Adams, chef-owner of Bullard in Portland, Ore.

Green peppers owe their divisive pungency to 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine, a compound so odoriferous we detect it at minuscule levels. It lessens in concentration as peppers ripen; hence the mellower flavor of a red pepper,…

Wearing Your Coat Like a Cape: The Ultimate Female Power Move?

FASHION EDITORS do it. Instagram influencers definitely do it. First lady Melania Trump has done it for countless photo ops; Kim Kardashian West has done it in Paris. Last spring, Meghan Markle notably did it on her way to a royal engagement in London. Occasionally, Jimmy Fallon does it, too, when shimmying on stage at “The Tonight Show.”

It’s the confounding and often controversial styling trick of slinging a coat (or blazer or other jacket) over your shoulders but stopping short of putting your arms through the sleeves….