Tuesday, January 22, 2019
OSCARS 2019: Nominations and Predictions
I had someone ask me recently why the Oscars matter. It’s a good question and one I have no satisfying answer for. The most correct answer is that the Oscars only truly matter to the Hollywood elite it’s celebrating, that the whole thing is an act of masturbatory self-congratulations on Tinseltown’s behalf. But the truth is I can’t really tell you why the Oscars matter on a grand scale or even if they do at all.
However, I can say definitively that the Oscars matter to me. I was so excited by the nominations today that I could barely sleep last night. Even this is a statement I can’t easily reconcile. It’s pretty rare for me to see that many of the nominees before the announcement, as glossy Hollywood dramas are not the kind of movies I usually seek out on my own. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the Academy rarely honors what are truly the best films of the year. Look no further than this year, where deeply problematic mediocrities like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” become frontrunners while indie darlings like “Eighth Grade” or “Burning” are totally ignored.
Nevertheless, the announcements of the Oscar nominees and the month-long marathon I do throughout February, my attempt to watch as many of the chosen films as possible, gets me hyped. Like, way too excited. I guess this is me trying to participate in movie history, or at least be a properly informed cinephile. Whatever the reason, I love this time of year. So, here, let me throw out my doubtlessly inaccurate predictions about what films may or may not take home Oscar gold at the end of next month.
Over the last few years, a “villain” movie has emerged among the Best Picture nominees. In prior years, people feared that “La La Land,” often reduced to being a movie about a white guy explaining jazz, or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which kind of ambiguously supported police brutality, would win the top prize. (Neither did, though “La La Land” came close.) Thus are the perils of our politically divided times. This year brings two villain movies but the most odious is “Green Book.” It’s another proud entry in that self-satisfied, middlebrow genre of “white people solve racism.” Moreover, it was written by an Islamophobe and twists history in ignorant ways. Despite that, normie audiences love it and the film has picked up quite a few high honors among the award circuit. The controversy will likely divide Academy voters but who the fuck knows.
“Green Book” is also the latest in a line of comedy directors reinventing themselves as Oscar-nominated auteurs. (It’s from Peter Farrelly, of the Farrelly Brother.) Another example of this phenomenon is Adam McKay, who has successfully transitioned from making goofy bro comedies with Will Ferrial to directing serious awards fare like “The Big Short” or this year’s “Vice.” While the Dick Cheney biopic has been received divisively, McKay’s socially conscious and flashy dramas seem irresistible to the Academy. As least as far as nominations go, as a Best Picture win isn’t in sight.
Oscar Season 2019’s second villain movie is “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Freddie Mercury is a beloved, delightful figure in rock history but, by most accounts, the movie hits all the expected musician biopic beats. More offensive is how it whitewashes Mercury’s queer life. Oh yeah, it was also directed by an accused rapist who didn’t even show up to set half the time. But, once again, mainstream audiences have loved the film. For whatever reason, the awards circuit likes to reflect this and “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become a surprise contender.
But what about movies people actually liked? “Black Panther” is in the position of being both critically acclaimed and enormously popular. A billion dollar success and the most popular film of last year domestically, “Black Panther” is certainly a big deal for placing such an Afro-centric story in the hyper-popular superhero milieu. In my opinion, a lot of the rave reviews went too far to pat themselves on the back over what’s a solid, but not spectacular, Marvel movie. But it is pretty cool that a superhero flick finally got a Best Picture nomination.
Early in the Oscar buzz cycle, Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star is Born” seemed primed to win some prizes. It was, after all, both well liked by critics and audiences while being the third iteration of a story the Academy has awarded in the past. The hype has cooled considerably over the last few weeks, Cooper’s remake grabbing lots of nominations but few wins. It seems likely that this pattern will continue. “A Star is Born” has a good shot in a few other categories but not this one.
But Oscar buzz can be weird. Early in the cycle, someone suggested that “The Favourite” could scoop up some little gold men. Considering how aggressively weird, absurd, and chilly Yorgos Lanthimos’ last few films were, I thought his latest was a long shot. That’s more crow for me to eat, as “The Favourite” has nabbed a Best Picture nomination, one of ten nominations it received. The film even seems likely to take home a few wins on the 24th. I guess historical pictures, even ones from oddball auteurs, are like catnip to the AMPAS.
Some also suggested that Spike Lee’s “Black Klansman,” obnoxiously stylized as “BlacKkKlansman,” might’ve been forgotten by the Academy. After all, it came out in the summer and Oscar has notoriously overlooked Lee. Yet I think “Black Klansman” was always a lock for a number of nominations. Critically acclaimed, financially successful, relevant, and ever-controversial, the film seemed like a contender from the beginning.
While it certainly seems plausible that nonsense like “Green Book” or a buzzy indie like “The Favourite” could win, that’s not what I’m betting on. While being a partial Netflix production has caused some controversy, “Roma” remains among last year’s best reviewed films. By most accounts, it's actually a good film. While a foreign language film winning Best Picture would be groundbreaking, it's also not entirely unprecedented. In a slate of nominees, where more controversial picks may split the vote, a gentle but beloved drama like this seems likely to emerge as the Best Picture winner.
Bradley Cooper might've been snubbed in Best Director, a category he was a front runner for at one point, but at least he has a Best Actor nomination to keep him company. He won't win though. Neither will Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book” giving him his third nomination, whose performance has been marked with controversy of his own. It's nice that Willem Dafoe grabbed some notice, even if it's for conventional sounding Van Gogh biopic “At Eternity's Gate.”
Once again, Best Actor is coming down to two actors in flashy, biographical roles. Rami Malek has picked up some awards for his portrayal of Freddy Mercury. By most accounts, Malek's performance is the best thing in a mediocre film. He faces off against Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in “Vice.” While Malek's odds are still pretty good, the kind of severe physical transformation Bale underwent to play the former vice president is hugely popular among Academy voters. Bale has also picked up some statues on the way to the Oscars, meaning his chances are very strong in general. If he wins, it'll be his second Oscar and, personally, I think he will.
Christian Bale for “Vice.”
Best Actress is definitely one of the tighter races this year. Once again, a few month ago, Lady Gaga seemed like the easy pick for “A Star is Born.” A pop star successfully transforming into a stunning actress is the kind of shift the Academy loves. Yet Miss Gaga's chances at winning have also been harmed by that movie's cooling buzz. Maybe some other day, Lady. Another story the Academy loves is going from obscurity to star status. The most surprising nominee was Yalitza Aparicio, for “Roma.” It's also her debut role.
Another gimmick that frequently results in gold is a comedic performer successfully giving a dramatic performance. In-between broad and sometimes grotesque comedies, Melissa McCarthy has supposedly given an excellent performance in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” In another year, this sort of thing would give her a pretty good chance of winning. However, in such a packed field, McCarthy is winding towards the lower end of the category.
Olivia Colman's critically praised performance in “The Favourite” certainly seems like strong contender. She's been picking up awards over the last few weeks and could very well still win the Oscar. In any other year she'd be the clear frontrunner.
However, the Academy really likes to give out legacy awards, statues to make up for lost time, to actors who should've won years ago. Despite being one of the most beloved performers of her generation, Glenn Close has never won an Oscar before. This is her seventh nomination, for some movie called “The Wife” that I hadn't even heard off until a few weeks ago, and frankly I think her time has finally come.
Glenn Close for “The Wife.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
The Supporting categories are less heated. In Best Supporting Actor, most of the performance have been from buzzy pics that gained nominations in bigger categories. Sam Rockwell in “Vice,” as George W., was always likely to get nominated but he just won last year. Sam Elliot is a beloved, legendary performer but his chances at winning are likely another victim of “A Star is Born's” softening support. A lot of people seem to agree that Adam Driver in “Black Klansman” wasn't even the best Supporting choice from that movie.
This basically leaves two possible winners. Richard E. Grant is a cult icon and a beloved character actor, getting his first nod for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The part seems to play to his bitchy strengths. There's about a 50/50 chance he'll get it but Mahershala Ali in “Green Book” offers tough competition. Ali is playing a historical figure, always a good sign, and the quality of his acting seems like the one thing people agree on about “Green Book.” I think he'll get it.
Mahershala Ali for “Green Book.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Amy Adams is quickly becoming a perennial nominee. For playing the wicked wife of Dick Cheny, she's earned her sixth nomination. “Roma's” support across the board continues with a nod for Marina de Tavira here. While both performances are supposedly excellent, neither seem to have good shots at winning.
The film dominating the category is “The Favourite.” Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are both up for the film. One or the other seems like a good pick to win. Weisz' buzz is slightly stronger. But there is the possibility that the two could split the votes, opening a chance for Regina King to win for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” (The highest nomination for a critically beloved film that was widely expected to get a Best Picture nom.)
50/50 split between Weisz and King
The most pleasant snub of this morning was Peter Farrelly getting overlooked for “Green Book.” The former gross-out comedy king has been grabbing nominations left and right and seemed like a lock. Instead, Pawel Pawlikowski, formally of “Ida,” got picked up for “Cold War.” That was a nice surprise, as Pawlikowski is obviously more talented than Farrelly.
As for the rest of the nods, Adam McKay rounds out the category for “Vice.” Yorgos Lanthimos officially graduates to the big leagues by grabbing a nomination for “The Favourite.”
Yet two names will likely dominate the field. Despite being a groundbreaking filmmaker with a large following, Spike Lee has never been nominated for Best Director. The only previous nominations he's gotten were for Best Original Screenplay back in 1990 and Best Documentary in 1998. A lot of people are saying Lee is due this year. And he very well might get it.
Yet Alfonso Cuaron has been grabbing more wins over the last month for “Roma,” making me suspect that he might win the night. “Roma” is a highly personal passion project of Cuaron's, making a win in this category an appropriate choice.
Cuaron for "Roma," Lee as a close second.
First let's talk surprises. “First Reformed” was one of my favorite films of last year and lots of people agree with me. Ethan Hawke was a much hoped-for dark horse in Best Actor. Instead, the sole nomination the movie got was in Best Original Screenplay. Somehow, this is the legendary Paul Schrader's first nomination. How was “Taxi Driver” not nominated? Anyway, Schrader has already reacted to the news of nomination in a dryly hilarious manner. Will he win? I'd sure like that but “Roma” or “The Favourite” seems way more likely to pick up the win in this category. (“Green Book” and “Vice” round out the category.)
As for Best Adapted Screenplay, this is probably the Academy's big chance to honor the largely overlooked “If Beale Street Could Talk.” However, this might also be “A Star is Born's” big chance to grab an Oscar, so it'll probably come down to those two. The Coen Brothers grabbing a nom for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was a not-totally unpleasant surprise, though I don't think their odds at winning are great. “Black Klansman” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” don't seem to have much hype in this category.
“Roma” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Disney doesn't crank out musicals the way it used to. Usually they reserve their singing and dancing moments for their princess-featuring animated features. The studio did produce a live action musical with “Mary Poppins Returns.” “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is a pretty enough number, but I would've preferred if the more upbeat “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” had gotten chosen instead.
This is not the only Disney approved single to get noticed. I'll fully accept to not keeping up with rap music, so most of the “Black Panther” soundtrack wasn't to my taste. Yet even I'll admit that radio friendly single “All the Stars” was pretty damn catchy. I was similarly delighted that “Buster Scrugg's” “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” a song equal parts ridiculous and gorgeous, managed to pick up a nomination.
It's become increasingly common for documentaries to include songs by recognized singers, in hopes of earning a Best Song nod and bringing more attention to their topic. While “RBG” is not exactly an issues doc, it did feature such a single. “I'll Fight” by Jennifer Hudson is a little overproduced for my taste but Hudson's delivery is still lovely.
By why am I even bothering to talk about the other nominated songs when we know “Shallow” from “A Star is Born” will win? It's a breakout radio hit, has already become a karaoke favorite among certain crowds, and seems destined to be the biggest win for Cooper's film. Do I like the song? Eh, it's okay. Kind of repetitive. I tend to find this sort of modern radio country/adult contemporary stuff a bit boring.
In the score category, I've already heaped some praise on Alexandre Desplat's fantastic score for “Isle of Dogs.” Ludwig Goransson's “Black Panther” score is among the better Marvel soundtracks, even if it still doesn't give its hero a hummable theme. (An absolute must for a superhero flick, in my opinion.)
Terence Blanchard's eclectic “Black Klansman” score is probably my favorite of the bunch, as it mixes more traditional score elements, including sweeping military themes, with more intense blues guitar riffs. Nicholas Britell's contemplative jazz score for “If Beale Street Could Talk” does seem to be the favorite to win though. I can't complain too much, as it's also a fantastic score. Marc Shaiman's pretty if by-the-numbers “Mary Poppins Returns” score rounds out the category.
OTHER FILM CATEGORIES:
This was a pretty strong year for animation. Normally, Disney or Pixar would be the obvious choice in the Best Animated Film category. While “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Incredibles 2” were well received, both look to be runner-ups this year. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” has been beloved by fans, critics, and audiences. For being genuinely one of the most visually spell-binding films of last year, it seems like a lock in this category. (It was nice “Isle of Dogs” got noticed while the token indie animation/GKids slot went to “Mirai” this year.)
As always, I don't have much familiarity with the Documentary or Foreign Language Film nominations. While “Roma” might seem like the lock for Best Foreign Language, its chances at Best Picture actually opens the category up for other films. Pawlikowsk's “Cold War” is the only one of the nominations I've heard much about. The director getting selected in Best Director certainly suggests the Academy likes that one a lot. (Japan's “Shoplifters” has been critically praised, making it a possible dark horse winner. I know nothing about the Lebanese “Capernaum” while “Never Look Away” is apparently a three hour long German war epic. Sounds delightful.)
Similarly, I'm not that familiar with the Documentary nominees either. “RBG” was certainly a crowd pleaser in theaters but “Free Solo” seems to be more critically praised, making it my prediction to win.
As for the other nominations, I'll keep things brief. Best Cinematography has leaned back on the epic, sweeping visuals this year, most of the nominees being smaller scale. It seems likely “Roma” will win here. (Amusingly, the also black-and-white “Cold War” scored a nod as well. Monochrome is big in 2019!)
I was pleasantly surprised to see “Christopher Robin” score a nomination for Best Visual Effects, though “Avengers: Infinity War” seems likely to go home with the gold. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are going head-to-head in Production Design an Costume, either looking like good picks.
“First Man” was once considered a frontrunner but the muted reaction from audiences and a really stupid controversy seems to have sunk its Oscar odds. The movie still looks like it'll grab some statues in the Best Sound Editing and Mixing categories. It faces tough competition from musicals “A Star is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I was also pleased that “A Quiet Place” scored a very appropriate nod in Best Sound Editing.
As has sadly become typical, the Best Editing and Best Make-Up categories are really underwhelming. Instead of being dominated by movies with lots of action and moving parts, Editing is owned by the movies that all got nominated for Best Picture. Did “Green Book” really feature that much spellbinding editing? Meanwhile, historical pictures like “Mary, Queen of Scots” and “Vice” dominate Make-Up, with Danish horror/fantasy “Border” being the sole oddball stand-out.
After finishing up my latest Director Report Card, and at the start of next month, I'll try and squeeze in as many of these nominated films as possible. It'll lead up to the utterly hostless ceremony on February 24th. While the Academy thankfully shelved that Best Popular Film bullshit, it still sounds like they'll cut out some of the less popular categories from the broadcast. Where is the justice for the Short filmmakers? Anyway, for the tenth – yes, really! – year in a row, I will live-blog the ceremony. I'm looking forward to it and I'm not even being ironic! Stay tuned, dear readers.