The bumpy road getting to the Oscars, with issues like the Popular Film category, the hosting issue and that mess about winners announced during the commercials, has overshadowed the fact that this year’s crop of nominees is some of the best in recent years.
You know the drill. Here we go:
• Black Panther
• Bohemian Rhapsody
• The Favorite
• Green Book
• A Star is Born
Since January 22nd when the nominees were announced, I have been standing of emotional thumbtacks fearing that Green Book might be the movie to win Best Picture. That movie – based on a true story about a white bouncer in 1962 who is hired to drive a black classical musician on his tour through the mid-west and into the deep south – so solidly and unapologetically deals with race relations in a way that might have seemed fresh and new in about 1959. Fortunately, times have changed and recent controversy of the film over its racial politics and its accuracy have tainted it’s chances for the gold.
Times have changed, the love of Green Book has faded and with it has gone and in its place now stands Alonso Cuarón’s gorgeous epic Roma, the best film of the year and the best film that this eclectic director has ever made. The story of a housekeeper for an upper-class family in Mexico City in the 1970s plays less like a story and more like a collection of memories that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. This would make history because no foreign-language film has ever won an Oscar for Best Picture before.
A dark horse? This year’s nominees are so far and wide that you could possibly make a case for any of them. I’m cheering for Roma but I wouldn’t complain if Black Panther or The Favorite ended up the winner as well.
• Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
• Yorgos Lathimos for The Favourite
• Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
• Adam McKay for Vice
• Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War
While I desperately want Spike Lee’s first nominations for Best Director to be his first win for Best Director, I am not convinced that he will be able to pull out ahead of Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous epic Roma embodies everything that the cinematic style stands for. Cuarón is a brilliant director who moves in so many different directions in films as wide-ranging as Gravity and Harry Pottyand Children of Men and the road epic Y Tu Mama Tambien. But this film is his most personal, his most cinematic and the best of his career. In short, the Oscar is his for the taking.
• Christian Bale in Vice
• Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born
• Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate
• Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
• Viggo Mortensen in Green Book
If there is anything that I can reasonably forecast for the 91st Annual Academy Awards it is that this year the races aren’t a lot of fun as far as predicting the acting categories go. It starts with Best Actor because almost from the beginning, the Oscar seemed to be headed in Rami Malek’s direction. His performance as Freddie Mercury had to overcome a badly constructed film, an unwieldy set of prosthetic teeth and a nervous production history in which the director Bryan Singer left the production halfway through. Still Malek managed to pull off an amazing performance. The recreation of Queen’s performance at Live Aid could have won a short film Oscar all by itself.
• Yalitza Aparicio in Roma
• Glenn Close in The Wife
• Olivia Colman in The Favorite
• Lady Gaga in A Star is Born
• Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I would actually be delighted to see any of the five nominees win the Oscar this year, but the safe bet is Glenn Close who after more than forty years and seven Oscar nominations is finally going to earn her a long-awaited first win. Her story is all too timely, The Wife is the portrait of a woman who has stood behind her husband, a celebrated writer, for four decades while her own ambitions have remained hidden and unappreciated. It is a powerful story of a woman finding the power of her own words and her own talent.
Best Supporting Actor
• Mahershala Ali in Green Book
• Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman
• Sam Elliott in A Star is Born
• Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
• Sam Rockwell in Vice
If Green Book has to win anything it might as well be for Mahershala Ali‘s performance. While I and the rest of the western world seem to have problems with its racial politics and its history, few are complaining about Ali’s portrait of a black man in 1962 who’s very being is a defiance of the conditions under which he is expected to live. It is to Ali’s credit that he rises above a pedestrian story and gives yet another great performance.
Best Supporting Actress
• Amy Adams in Vice
• Marina de Tavira in Roma
• Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
• Emma Stone in The Favourite
• Rachel Weisz in The Favourite
The Screen Actor’s Guild Awards made the race for Best Supporting Actress a difficult call for pundits like yours truly. The winner for that award, Emily Blunt, was not nominated for the Oscar for A Quiet Place. And on the other hand, expected winner Regina King was not nominated at SAG for If Beale Street Could Talk. Does that kill her chances here? I don’t think so. Her performance as a mother trying to facilitate the release of her daughter’s fiancé from prison is heartbreaking and brilliant.
Darkhorse? It is possible because this category loves surprises. If King doesn’t secure the win, then I see it coming down between Emma Stone and Amy Adams. Yet, Stone already has an Oscar (for La La Land) and Adams is now a six-time nominee and six-time loser so she might be the upset.
Best Original Screenplay
The Favourite | First Reformed | Green Book | Roma | Vice
I am fond of the theory that Green Book is a nominee whose time came and went three months ago. Now it not only seems to have become old news, but it’s reputation since the Golden Globes has not been rosy. With charges of historical inaccuracy and, again, racial politics the movie has everything riding against it and that seems to have sapped it’s chances to win the award for Best Original Screenplay. In its place, I have every confidence that Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara will win the Oscar for their unusually fun script for The Favourite chronicling two cousins vying for the affections of the ailing Queen Ann.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs | BlacKkKlansman | Can You Ever Forgive Me? | If Beale Street Could Talk | A Star is Born
While I could make the case for any one of these nominees winning the Oscar, I think we can safely shave this one down to two. If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the book by James Baldwin tells the story of a black couple Fonny and Tish in the 1970s pulled apart by false allegations that land Fonny in prison. And BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s take on the true story of the first black police officer in the history of Colorado Spring, Colorado whose first assignment is to infiltration the local chapter of the KKK. Both films deal in timely subject matter but can imagine that Lee has to have a competitive Oscar in his hand at some point (he’s already been given an honorary award) and I couldn’t think of a better occasion than his best film in years.
Best Foreign Language Film
Capernaum | Cold War | Never Look Away | Roma | Shoplifters
This one is tricky since I have now declared that Roma will win Best Picture and I don’t think its likely to win both. In its place, I predict Cold War, a beautiful romance taking place in the 1950s about a music director who falls in love with a beautiful singer and tries to persuade to leave communist-run Poland for the more liberated terrain of France.
Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2 | Isle of Dogs | Mirai | Ralph Breaks the Internet | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The Oscar in my heart gives this one to Wes Anderson’s brilliant Isle of Dogs, but my common sense says that the winner will be Spider-Man: Into the Spider–Verse. It is not only a stunningly good film but it joins with Black Panther in proving that deep and culturally significant superhero stories can grab audiences too.
Best Original Song
“All the Stars” from Black Panther | “Ill Fight” from RGB | “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns | “Shallow” from A Star is Born | “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
My choice here would be the fun cowboy ditty “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” (it has been in my head since I saw the film) but since I have a strong feeling that all of the Best Picture nominees will win something, somewhere on Sunday night, this award goes to “Shallow” from A Star is Born. The song won the Golden Globe and picked up a nice bucket of Grammy nominations. I think Oscar will follow.
Best Original Score
BlacKkKlansman | Black Panther | If Beale Street Could Talk | Isle of Dogs| Mary Poppins Returns
Again, my heart rests with Isle of Dogs and the category’s only veteran Alexander Desplat who uses a variety of different Japanese influences. But the momentum for BlacKkKlansman overrides everything else. It’s a heck of a good score from Terence Blanchard who mixes jazz and R&B styles into a score that is not only great but runs as a Greek chorus to the story.
Best Art Direction/Production Design
Black Panther | The Favourite | Roma | First Man | Mary Poppins Returns
This is pretty much a competition in two different directions: the past and the future. Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton’s feel for the early 18th century in The Favourite is not just a pretty backdrop but plays to the emotional chessmatch between the characters (note that the floor looks like a chess board). On the other side is Hannah Beachler and Jay R. Hart’s inventive creation of tribal Africa mixed with future-tech. Since Panther is likely to clean up the tech awards, I see this one going to The Favourite.
Cold War | The Favourite | Never Look Away | Roma | A Star is Born |
Alfonso Cuarónis definitely the man of the hour this year. Not only has he directed his best film Roma but he photographed it too – and it’s his debut in a feature!.
Best Costume Design
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs | Black Panther | The Favourite | Mary Queen of Scots | Mary Poppins Returns
You could grouse all day about the quality of some of these nominees as filmsbut no one can fault the quality of the work done by the costume designers. This is some of the best and most varied work in this categories in many years. Three-time nominee Sandy Powell is competing against herself for the depression-era of Mary Poppins Returns and the 18th century royal court in The Favourite. My favorite is Mary Zophres for the western wear of Buster Scruggs but I think the gold goes to three-time nominee Ruth E. Carter for the glorious costumes of Black Panther.
Best Make-Up and Hairstyling
Border | Mary Queen of Scots | Vice
The Swedish film Border gave us trolls and Mary Queen of Scots gave us Queen Elizabeth small pox. But Vice transformed young and handsome Christian Bale into aged and pudgy Dick Cheney thanks to the work of Greg Cannom Kate Biscoe and Patrice Da-Haney-Le May.
Best Film Editing
BlacKkKlansman | Bohemian Rhapsody | The Favorite | Green Book | Vice
This year’s nominees for Film Editing present a particular challenge. Normally the winner here is the winner for Best Picture, but since Roma isn’t nominated, where do we go from here? My prediction is that is that Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ work in The Favourite is incredible as he moves back and forth between three players in a love triangle, seeing each for who they are and where they are in the stages of the game.
Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War | Christopher Robin | First Man | Ready Player One| Solo: A Star Wars Story
Depending on how many films are submitted for Visual Effects, the number of nominees can vary. Normally there are only three, but this year’s bumper crop filled out the category to five. Even still there are only two possibilities here. First Man was a stunning recreation of the Apollo 11 but since the award here usually goes to the film that made the most money, I’ll declare the winners to be Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl and Daniel Sudick for Avengers: Infinity War.
Best Sound Editing
Black Panther | Bohemian Rhapsody | First Man | A Quiet Place | Roma
There is a measure of irony in the fact that A Quiet Place is in this category and, yes, I would like to see Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl win. But the ear-splitting test flights and rumbling rockets of First Man, thanks to Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou, are likely to get that film its first win.
Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther | Bohemian Rhapsody | First Man | Roma | A Star is Born
Bohemian Rhapsody and First Man were terrific showcases of the IMAX experience, while Roma, A Star is Born and Black Panther have been lauded as being the best showcase of the new Dolby Atmos. Both were beneficial to each film’s effect but no better than First Man where the soundscape was crucial to creating the sound of those early rocket tests and the first flight to the moon.
Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo | Hale County, This Morning, This Evening | Minding the Gap | Of Fathers and Sons | RGB
The biggest news about the Documentary Feature nominees this year was the exclusion of the wildly sentimental and wildly popular Mr. Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In it’s place came an aggressive campaign by NatGeo for Free Solo, the story of how Alex Honnold became the first person to free climb El Capitan. The film, which is just as much about Honnold’s personal insecurities as it is about his achivement, is a nail-biting visual experience. Possibly the only dark horse is RGB which chronicles the career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The Supreme Court is the hero of the left right now and that may be a pull in the movie’s favor.
Best Documentary Short
Black Sheep | End Game | Lifeboat | A Night at the Garden | Period. End of Sentence
Netflix’s determination to make a presence at the awards will earn them gold here with End Game, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s cinema verite look into the practices of surgeons at a San Francisco hospital
Best Live Action Short
Marguerite | Fauve | Skin | Mother | Detainment
What a sad lot this year. Fauve is about two boys who get into trouble when playing a power game near an open pit mine. Skin is about a race war that begins when a black man smiles at a 10 year-old boy in a supermarket. Mother is about a woman’s nightmare when her son disappears. And Detainment is about two boys who are detained on suspicion of murder. Luckily Marguerite has something more uplifting to offer, the story of an elderly woman who finally feels comfortable talking about her long repressed feelings when she finds out that her Hospice nurse is a lesbian.
Best Animated Short
Animal Behavior | Bao | Late Afternoon | One Small Step | Weekends
Pixar fires back into the fold with Bao a touching, but admittedly baffling story, of motherly love in a Chinese household. It’s the first short film in Pixar’s illustrious cannon to be directed by a woman, Chinese-Canadian artist Domnee Shi and her work makes the Oscar hers for the taking.