There may not be a Best Popular Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, but the Oscars still feel like it given how the nominations have shaken out. While the two movies with the most nominations are definite critical darlings–Yorgos Lanthimos’ wicked delights in The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s celluloid nostalgia via Roma both earned 10 Oscar nominations–the early headlines were about how two blockbuster movies in Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody usurped more respected fare. With seven nominations, Black Panther is the third most recognized movie by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the first superhero film to earn a Best Picture nod.
The road both films took to get here could be called circuitous since the Academy created the now defunct “Best Popular Film” category so as to arguably keep Black Panther and its superhero-like out of the Best Picture category. Bohemian Rhapsody, meanwhile, was on few’s radar beyond the Rami Malek performance due to its mixed critical reception (we found the movie thoroughly mediocre ourselves) and behind-the-scenes drama around controversial director Bryan Singer. Yet it took home a Best Picture – Drama prize at the Golden Globes in January and, more importantly, earned a nomination from the Producers Guild of America. Both movies are now among the merely eight films nominated for Best Picture (the Academy could’ve gone up to 10 if more movies had better support). Perhaps more eye-catching though is who didn’t get nominated for that prize.
Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk is one of our top 10 movies of the year and his follow-up to previous Best Picture winner, Moonlight. While Jenkins got nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar again (he won it for Moonlight), and the movie also picked up deserved Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actress nominations, it was shockingly denied an unused Best Picture slot. Further Jenkins was also snubbed for Best Director. Yet that is not nearly as bad as the drubbing the Academy gave Damien Chazelle’s First Man, which was his follow-up to 2016’s other major Oscar darling, La La Land. With merely four technical Oscars—Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, and the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories—the Academy all but ignored Chazelle’s beautifully introspective biopic on Neil Armstrong. Beyond being snubbed for Best Picture and Best Director (and Claire Foy and Ryan Gosling’s work going ignored in their respective categories), this is arguably most egregious in the Best Original Score category where Justin Hurwitz’s haunting work went overlooked in favor of less impressive fare (like Black Panther).
Other major snubs include Bradley Cooper not getting a Best Director nomination for A Star is Born (suggesting the Academy will not love it as much as we previously speculated), Timothée Chalamet not getting noticed for Beautiful Boy, and both Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And Three Identical Strangers going away empty-handed from the Best Documentary Feature category. Also Widows, Steve McQueen’s follow-up to Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave, did not receive a single Oscar nomination.
Still, there were happy surprises like Willem Dafoe getting a nod in Best Actor for playing Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, Melissa McCarthy getting a Best Actress nomination for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Adam McKay earning a Best Director nomination for Vice. This would suggest the Academy enjoyed the controversial Dick Cheney biopic/unapologetic hatchet job better than many critics, including our own. This was also the year that Spike Lee finally got an overdue Best Director Oscar nomination for BlacKkKlansman. It should be more like his fifth or sixth, but it seems the Academy is finally playing catchup in recognizing one of America’s most influential filmmakers.
It is also in this vein that the clear frontrunners remain. As a general rule of thumb, the real competitors for the top prizes are the movies that both get Best Picture and Best Director nominations. This means Roma, The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, and Vice should be the ones to watch. And yet… we think it might shake out differently this year since Roma is a Netflix Original Film and will thus be perceived somewhat differently by the Academy. Nonetheless, this also means 2019 is a paradigm shifting moment for streaming, as the Academy has given Netflix its greatest recognition and legitimacy to date as a film distributor. And elsewhere, the best crowdpleaser for traditional Oscars voters, Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, is still a major competitor for Best Picture with five nominations despite fierce criticism about the liberties taken in its screenplay and inception.
So without further ado, let’s get into our predictions for the 91st Academy Awards. A word of warning, italicized nominations will be who we want to win, while bolded nominations will be who we think will win. Sometimes they’ll be one in the same.
A Star is Born
While the traditional rule would suggest that Green Book’s star is fading when it didn’t get a Best Director nomination, and Roma, The Favourite, and BlacKkKlansman did, we think that Green Book will still persuade just enough Academy voters with warm and fuzzy feelings to make the wrong choice. I write this as someone who likes Green Book and gave it a favorable review, and yet the film is a fairly standard star vehicle that simplifies systemic racism via the buddy road trip formula, playing here like a cross between Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Driving Miss Daisy. Well, Miss Daisy won Best Picture too in a year that also saw a Spike Lee joint drop.
The momentum for Green Book began when it earned the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Other frontrunners picked that up and lost steam in the end, but Green Book has already seen its frontrunner status diminish in January due to a whirlwind of controversy. Unlike La La Land, which dominated TIFF, many critics groups, and the PGA before a bored backlash set in on Oscar night, Green Book’s Golden Globe and PGA win was somewhat unexpected and no sure thing. The industry’s desire to support an old school Hollywood movie about an Important Message™ (but in an unthreatening way) will fend off more complex and satisfying films about America’s continued struggles with racism, such as Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
And while Roma and The Favourite are highly decorated with Oscar nominations, Roma being a Netflix film will more than likely disqualify it from the top Oscar night prize in many voters’ eyes. The Favourite, meanwhile, is an acerbic joy that blends palace courtier politics with All About Eve styled bitchiness and gallows’ humor. I suspect it will be a cult classic in the years to come. But that humor it wears like a gilded sleeve could also be too dry and mean-spirited for a number of Oscar voters choosing Best Picture. Nonetheless, I’d love to be wrong.
BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee
Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski
The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay
While Academy voters will probably deny Netflix a Best Picture win on principle, they could make up for it by awarding Roma Best Director. The Academy has already given Alfonso Cuarón this award before via Gravity, and with Roma he’s crafted a much more personal film, and we’d argue a more visually dazzling one considering he’s made the daily life of a housekeeper and nanny into dynamic cinema. Spike Lee is overdue, so I’d love to see him get the Oscar for this, but BlacKkKlansman is a more abrasive film by design and one that might still put off some Academy voters. Concurrently, as gorgeously crafted as The Favourite is, Lanthimos’ sardonic nihilism could appear too chilly when juxtaposed by Cuarón’s idyllic warmth.
Best Leading Actor
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Once upon a time, and not that long ago, I thought this was Bradley Cooper’s Oscar. The Academy clearly likes the actor, having nominated him three previous times, and as an alcoholic and fading Southern fried rock star in A Star is Born, he gave himself his best role since Silver Linings Playbook. By rights it should be his… but then Christian Bale became Dick Cheney. In a stunning physical transformation, Bale morphed his body in five months from the man who once played Batman into the rotund vice president that Adam McKay suggests in his film is responsible for much of America’s 21st century dysfunction and tragedy.
With that said, Bale has an Oscar and Cooper does not, so I remained open to Cooper pulling an upset. But given the Academy also snubbed Cooper in the Best Director category while Vice earned major surprise nominations in the Best Director and Picture category, it’s clear the Academy digs the movie enough to award the best male performance of the year in it.
I’m also aware that Rami Malek is the audience favorite, but his tremendous turn occurs in a so-so film. I will be genuinely surprised if he wins the Oscar.
Best Leading Actress
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I really want Olivia Colman to win this Oscar; she should win it considering her performance in The Favourite is nothing short of a tour de force triumph; so I might have been blinded by bias when I said she’d win it by upsetting both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close when this article was first published last month the morning of the Oscar nominations. I am now amending that, because it is clearly going to be Glenn Close who wins this Oscar in a “it is her time” award.
Earlier in the year, it appeared the race was only between Colman and Gaga, with Gaga giving a fine movie star turn in an expertly crafted vehicle designed around her talents, and Colman transforming herself into a pitiable wretch—a woman who is both a loopy and debauched Queen and tragic forlorn figure buried under a lifetime of slights and disappointments. But Glenn Close’s admittedly phenomenal work in The Wife is getting a second look after she won the Golden Globe and gave a passionate speech in her acceptance. She has since won the SAG award, and appears overdue since Close hasn’t won an Oscar after SIX previous nominations. As a result, there is a persuasive narrative that 2019 is her year for The Wife. And I’ve finally been persuaded, although I still will be rooting for Colman come Oscar night.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliot, A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Mahershala Ali is wonderful in Green Book as Dr. Donald Shirley, and he is the one aspect of the movie that still receives almost universal praise. He is more than deserving of his Oscar nomination, which he will also probably win. Granted, he just won only two years ago in this same category for Moonlight, but the Academy is more open to giving Supporting Oscars out in quick succession to the same talent than they are Best Actor awards. Nevertheless, Richard E. Grant should be who wins this category. In a less grandstanding turn, his performance as Jack Hock, a ne’er-do-well who fancies himself something of a bon vivant, is a subtler and heartbreaking turn. It’s a shame he will not win.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina De Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
This is a category I’m torn in because Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz each did fantastic work in The Favourite. Also, as we’ve previously written about, there are no supporting performances between the triumvirate of women in that movie: they’re all the lead. With that said, both Stone and Weisz have Oscars and Regina King gave an emotionally raw and affecting performance as a mother who goes to the literal ends of the earth to protect her family when the American justice system won’t—even if that is still not far enough for Uncle Sam. It’s subtle and nuanced work that will likely be where Beale Street gets its biggest due. With that said, the Academy clearly likes The Favourite better, so if Stone and Weisz don’t cancel each other out, I wouldn’t entirely write off Stone’s devious interpretation of moral malleability. Amy Adams is also overdue… but it probably won’t be Vice that changes that.
Best Original Screenplay
The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay
Tony McNamara’s barbed wit and no quarter approach to verbal duels makes the script for The Favourite a treasure trove of putdowns and cynicism. It should win and will over the largely ignored First Reformed and the messy overstuffed quality of Vice. Meanwhile Roma’s virtues lie more in the visuals, and Green Book’s shot at (an undeserved) upset died the day it was learned that Nick Vallelonga tweeted support for Donald Trump’s disproven claims that American Muslims cheered on 9/11.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star is Born, Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
This will be where the Academy finally gives Spike Lee his much deserved competitive Oscar. While he should’ve won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar several times over, beginning with his still timely Do the Right Thing from 1989, I actually prefer the poetic fragility in Beale Street, and how Barry Jenkins transposed James Baldwin’s prose to the screen. Still, this will be Spike’s long overdue win, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Best Animated Film
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best animated film in years that will change how Hollywood studios make these kinds of movies. It is also far more innovative and fun than Disney and Pixar’s sequels. This one’s easy for everyone.
Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star is Born, Matthew Libatique
If there is one Oscar that Netflix can rest assured it will pick up, it’s this one. While there is much to be said about Robbie Ryan’s dazzling use of extremely wide compositions, Dutch angles, and fisheye lenses in The Favourite, Cuarón took the camera in his own hand to paint a portrait of his childhood that is both intimate yet epic in 70mm, black and white scope. Roma wins.
Best Film Editing
Why is Bohemian Rhapsody here? Anyway, The Favourite should and most likely will win this unless Green Book’s buoyancy gives it unexpected bounce in this category.
Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
First Man had the best visual effects for space travel since Interstellar. Its reliance on a combination of models and elaborate sets to recreate the moon landing is nothing short of astonishing. But the Academy has slighted First Man plenty, so I suspect they’ll use this category to once again award something more popular like Black Panther’s globally more popular (but less high-quality) cousin, Avengers: Infinity War.
Best Original Score
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns
This category is a hot mess considering that First Man appeared to be the frontrunner going in and should have won. But since it wasn’t even nominated… I suppose Black Panther could take the trophy, although Nicholas Britell’s romantically pained music is more deserving.
Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight,” RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I’ll never meet the ground. Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us, we’re far from the shallow now. In the SHALLOW, SHALLOW, IN THE SHALLOW, SHALLOW…”
Best Documentary Feature
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Midning the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
This category is already something of a mess given that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers got snubbed. Free Solo is the best of the five, but RBG is a fantastic doc too about the Supreme Court Justice that many, including Hollywood, prays will live for another hundred years. In these kind of trying times that will give it the edge.