It would seem that this year’s Oscars broadcast is something of a mess. As I write this, the 91st iteration of the show is still without a host, following the decision by original host Kevin Hart to drop out following the revelation that one of his stand-up routines from years ago contained homophobic content that he has since apologized for profusely, and many times over.
The decision by Hart to drop out comes just a few months after the Academy decided, after much outcry, to drop the category “Best Popular Film,” which it had considered adding to account for movies like “Black Panther,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Die Hard,” two films of which received token Oscar nominations for Best Picture and two of which did not. <SPOILER ALERT: “Black Panther,” one of the best superhero movies ever made – alongside 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” of course – will not win Best Picture.>
If the above controversy wasn’t enough, the Academy decided to shorten the show’s running time to under three hours. Best intentions perhaps, but their solutions were poorly thought out: don’t allow the Best Original Song nominees to sing, and pick four categories each year beginning this year to hand out at a separate event. This year’s sacrificial lambs: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live Action Short, and Best Makeup & Hair.
Heads rolled. After outcry by actors and filmmakers everywhere, it was “clarified” (read: redacted) by the Academy that those awards will be handed out during commercials but the acceptance speeches presented in full on live TV.
If four paragraphs about pre-show drama seems excessive, it is just that the Academy appears dumbfounded in terms of how to increase ratings. That being said, the most obvious solution – nominating a more diverse slate of movies – has already been achieved. Nominated films “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star is Born” were all enormously popular, with “Panther” being the year’s highest-grossing movie. Foreign films such as “Roma,” road pictures like “Green Book,” and indie movies in the vein of “The Favourite” made the cut as well, so it would seem that, host or no host, three hours or four, there may be something for everyone at this year’s Oscars. Will the ratings reflect accordingly?
Here are my thoughts on the nominees, and my predictions on the winners. Although there is almost always one surprise among the winners, you should know that I correctly predicted all eight of last year’s major category winners. I hope to do so again.
A Star is Born
Who Will Win: Green Book
Who Should Win: The Favourite
Watch Out For: Roma
Should Have Been Nominated: Leave No Trace
Comments: This year’s roster of nominees is a so-so list that easily could’ve included two more films. At the very least, though, the themes of the Best Picture nominees seem more diverse in scope, and the selections include one foreign film and three movies dealing with what it is like, in past or present, in reality or fantasy, to be black.
One of these movies, Marvel’s “Black Panther,” is – if you can believe it – the first superhero film to ever be receive a Best Picture nomination. The movie is terrific, and released in the second consecutive year for above-average superhero movies. It is joined thematically by “BlacKkKlansman,” a movie so outrageous that one can hardly believe it is based on a true story. Likewise, one can hardly believe that it is just the first Spike Lee joint to be nominated for Best Picture – an astonishing oversight by the Academy of years past. The third film to deal at least in part with the black experience is Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” a sort of “Driving Miss Daisy” with the gender roles reversed. None of these movies are subtle, but they are all well-crafted.
The foreign film in question is “Roma,” Mexico City-born director Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical homage to the women of his childhood, particularly the indigenous maid who kept the household running while dealing with her own unwanted pregnancy and the tumults of the time. “Roma” is another Oscar first – it is the first Netflix-produced film to garner a Best Picture nod. In fact, “Roma” leads the race this year with ten nominations, tied with the deliciously ribald “The Favourite,” a sexy and surreal period piece about the women battling for the heart and favor of Britain’s ailing Queen Anne. These five films are joined by Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Bradley Cooper-directed, fourth-time-remade “A Star is Born,” and “Vice,” the semi-serious look at Dick Cheney’s rise to political power despite having a weak ticker and a lesbian daughter.
As with other years, the frontrunner in this category has changed several times. For awhile, “A Star is Born” was the movie to beat in the categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor (Bradley Cooper), and Actress (Lady Gaga). Its own “star” (see what I did there?) has fallen a bit since then, and Cooper was surprisingly snubbed for Best Director. Later, “The Favourite” had all the awards attention for a hot minute, including several early season honors for lead Olivia Colman. Then, it was first, “Roma,” and second, “Green Book,” although both films seem to be enmeshed in controversy. For “Roma,” some voters may object to a movie produced essentially for viewing in another medium simply being eligible for Oscar consideration (Netflix gave the film a brief awards eligibility run in New York and LA). As for “Green Book,” debate rages as to how sensitively the screenplay handles aspects of race relations between the film’s real-life characters, classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and capo/chauffeur Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). No sooner did Focus Features reign in that debate than a long-ago anti-Muslim tweet by screenwriter Nick Vallelonga resurfaced from the depths of the Twittersphere.
Still, I think “Green Book” will prevail. If it does, it will join previous winners “Argo,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and others as having won the top prize despite its lack of a Best Director nomination. Poor Peter Farrelly; it seems the Academy can’t forgive him for “Dumb and Dumber,” so many years ago. As for “Roma,” it has other categories, including Best Foreign Film, locked up tight, and has a moderate chance at an upset here. The race is by no means a two-horser, though; other films that could be spoilers are “The Favourite,” which is once again gaining momentum…and “BlacKkKlansman,” as voters slowly realize what a triple threat writer-producer-director Spike Lee is, and has always been. What about “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Vice,” you ask? Those movies were triumphs of acting, not story, and frankly don’t deserve to be included at the expense of better films like “Cold War” or “Leave No Trace,” the latter of which caused me pain upon learning that it received nary a single nomination.
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay, Vice
Pavel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Who Should Win: Spike Lee
Watch Out For: Yorgos Lanthimos
Should Have Been Nominated: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Comments: If Alfonso Cuarón wins Best Director for his nostalgic period piece “Roma,” it will not only be his second Best Director statuette, but also the fifth directing Oscar to be won by someone from Mexico City in six straight years. (Cuarón also won for “Gravity” in 2014, followed by Alejandro González Iñárritu for “Birdman” in 2015 and “The Revenant” in 2016, and by Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water” in 2018.) Furthermore, Cuarón ties a record this year with four personal nominations – Best Picture (as producer), Director, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography. As a fan of all things Mexico City, including the neighborhood of the same name in which “Roma” was filmed, I am excited for Cuarón and for Mexico.
This is a year of firsts for the Best Director category in general. Yorgos Lanthimos, Spike Lee, and Poland’s Pavel Pawlikowski each received their first directing nominations. The Greek-born Lanthimos is something of an auteur, and his movies, such as 2015’s “The Lobster,” are not for all tastes. Incidentally, he did receive an Original Screenplay nod for that movie. He seems to found a wider audience for “The Favourite” by filming a screenplay penned by someone other than himself, though the movie is still wonderfully offbeat, with odd camera angles and fish-eye lenses that seem more accredited to him than to his cinematographer. Lee was nominated for his brilliant script for 1989’s “Do the Right Thing” – a movie that, oddly, seems more relevant today than ever before, and for the moving 1997 documentary “Four Little Girls,” about the racially-motivated 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four children inside. Lee won an honorary Oscar in 2015 – and famously blasted the Academy during his acceptance speech about the lack of diversity in Hollywood movies – but for his fans, of which I am one, it seems like a consolation prize for generally being slighted year after year after year. Finally, Pawlikowski, who won Best Foreign Film for 2014’s “Ida,” broke through stiff competition this year by gaining a nomination for a movie that didn’t get a Best Picture nomination itself.
Cuarón and “Vice’s” Adam McKay are the only category veterans, with McKay being nominated in 2016 for his scathing financial crisis exposé “The Big Short.” When watching “Vice,” though, I felt as if McKay had bitten off more than he could chew. The transitions between comedy and drama were bumpy, and the forced gimmickry of it all lacked the assured touch he brought to his previous film. Although I’d love to see Lee win a prize that has long eluded him, Cuarón has this Oscar – his second in the category – en la bolsa.
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Who Will Win: Christian Bale
Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper
Watch Out For: Rami Malek
Should Have Been Nominated: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Comments: Aside from the Best Picture race, this category is the hardest to predict. Four of these actors – Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, and Viggo Mortensen, are Oscar ceremony veterans – and one of them (Bale) is a past winner (for 2010’s “The Fighter”). The respect that has long been afforded them barely matters; it is the roles they play that defined them in 2018.
Bale, a chameleon beloved by Hollywood who is never afraid to gain or lose weight, packed on the pounds and became nearly unrecognizable as Dick Cheney, the rules-bending U.S. vice president, in “Vice.” Cooper, on his fourth acting nomination, brought a sense of lived-in grit to his role as hard drinking alt-country singer Jackson Maine in “A Star is Born.” Dafoe, who should have won Best Supporting Actor last year for “The Florida Project,” disappears into the role of Vincent van Gogh, showing the painter’s alternating joy and torment. Rami Malek, a newcomer to the Oscars but a familiar face on TV’s “Mr. Robot,” has perhaps the showiest role, that of Queen singer Freddy Mercury, in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Finally, Mortensen’s food-hoovering Italian chauffeur in “Green Book” brings grace to a role that could easily have been an offensive ethnic stereotype. Bravo, gentlemen.
Although I personally would love to see Cooper finally win for “A Star is Born” (it’s his best performance since “Silver Linings Playbook”) – or perhaps audience favorite Malek, who was the best thing about the otherwise pedestrian musician biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” – I think Bale will win his second Oscar. I remember being mesmerized by Richard Dreyfuss’ portrayal of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s 2007 film “W,” and Bale expands upon Dreyfuss’ groundwork, showing the Veep’s no-nonsense approach to running country like a business. (I just wish the movie itself was as good as the actors in it.)
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Who Will Win: Glenn Close
Who Should Win: Glenn Close
Watch Out For: Lady Gaga
Should Have Been Nominated: Toni Collette, Hereditary
Comments: If you can believe it, the 2019 Best Actress category may have a stronger overall slate of nominees than its male counterpart of Best Actor. I don’t mean that as a slight against any of the category’s previous winners or nominees; rather, there is generally such a dearth of good roles for women that there are, as a result, more “great Hollywood performances” by men than by women. Not this year. Alphabetically, non-actress Yalitza Aparicio stuns as Cleo, the shy, Nahuatl-speaking, Mexico City maid who finds herself pregnant and fearing for her job in the introspective “Roma.” Glenn Close plays the title character in “The Wife,” the long-suffering second fiddle betrothed to – and fed up with – an adulterous author (Jonathan Pryce) about to win the Nobel Prize. Olivia Colman makes us laugh as the frail, scattered Queen Anne, whose stateroom is filled with rabbits hopping around – one representing each of her 17 miscarriages. Lady Gaga, who joins Aparicio and Colman as an Oscar newbie, sinks her vocal cords into a role she was born to play, that of Ally, the music industry ingenue in love with a damaged man (Bradley Cooper). Finally, second-time nominee Melissa McCarthy channels her rage and comedic energy into the role of plagiaristic biographer Lee Israel; her casting is not what you would expect, yet spot-on all the same.
Colman and Gaga were early favorites, taking home many awards throughout the second half of 2018. While these talented women are still very much in the race – with audience favorite Gaga having a slight edge over Colman – everything changed when Close won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. It is said that she was clearly unprepared to win, but that her acceptance speech had the grace of something said by a member of royalty. The odds changed and it now appears that the Oscar is as good as hers. She certainly is due; her nomination for “The Wife” is her seventh, and five of her previous nominations date back to the 1980’s. Factoring in that her character is a veritable force of nature, with skeletons and resentments buried deep in her marital closet, she chewed the best scenery of any actor in 2018. She deserves to win.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali
Watch Out For: Richard E. Grant
Should Have Been Nominated: Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite
Comments: The nominees this year are an interesting mix of young and old, newbies and veterans. Mahershala Ali, a previous winner in this category for 2016’s “Moonlight,” plays fastidious classical pianist Don Shirley, a black man embarking on a concert tour through the Jim Crow-era deep South. First-time nominee Adam Driver, one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood, played the face man to John David Washington’s voice in the can-you-believe-this-is-a-true-story Spike Lee joint “BlacKkKlansman.” Leathery Sam Elliott, still considered eye candy by many ladies, garnered, after 50 years in the business, his first Oscar nod for “A Star is Born,” playing Bradley Cooper’s put-upon brother and manager. Another long-time character actor, Richard E. Grant, played what is essentially an older version of his character from “Withnail and I,” a hard-living bon vivant in the comedy “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Finally, last year’s winner in this category, Sam Rockwell, hopes for a back-to-back win as Dubya himself – complete with the man’s shit-eating grin – in the political comedy “Vice.”
It would seem that Ali is the pre-ordained winner, having taken nearly all early season awards – the exact same thing that happened to him with “Moonlight.” I had never heard of Ali prior to having seen that film, but when watching it, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He is even better in “Green Book.” If there is an upset, it would likely be by long-time actor/first-time nominee Grant. He nearly steals the film from costar (and fellow nominee) Melissa McCarthy…and that’s not an easy thing to do.
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
Who Will Win: Regina King
Who Should Win: Regina King
Watch Out For: Rachel Weisz
Should Have Been Nominated: Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased
Comments: Let us consider the nominees from this unusually strong roster: Six-time nominee Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, wife to Halliburton CEO and heart attack-having U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; she’s no mere long-suffering wife, as the spousal character in a biopic can often be. Marina De Tavira, a popular actress in her native Mexico but a newcomer to Oscar, is the matriarch, barely keeping it together, of a family torn apart by the disintegration of her marriage. Regina King, playing the mother-in-law of a wrongly-convicted Harlem man, brings fury and determination to her role as she fights to clear his name. And in “The Favourite,” previous winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz bring humor and sexiness to their roles as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Anne, each competing for her heart.
In any other year, the Oscar would surely go to Adams. While her portrayal of Lynne Cheney isn’t her best work (that would be 2016’s haunting “Arrival,” in which she was notoriously snubbed by the Academy), everyone, including Academy voters themselves, know that she is “due.” But alas, Adams isn’t given much to do. Ms. King, the best thing about the Barry Jenkins film “If Beale Street Could Talk,” is the beating heart and consciousness of the film. She will win…and deservedly so. Hang in there, Amy Adams!
Best Original Screenplay
Who Will Win: The Favourite
Who Should Win: The Favourite
Watch Out For: Green Book
Should Have Been Nominated: Eighth Grade
Comments: The late Roger Ebert once called the category of Best Original Screenplay the most important at the Oscars after Best Picture itself. As a writer, I couldn’t agree more. This year, I find it very hard to believe that anything other than “The Favourite” will win, although the populist “Green Book” still has a small-ish chance at winning, based simply on the film’s appeal – this despite racist comments once tweeted by co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga. More noteworthy, though, is the fact that Paul Schrader’s nod for his daring “First Reformed” script is only his first nomination, never minding the fact that the legendary writer-directed also penned “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Also: why didn’t blogger-turned-filmmaker Bo Burnham’s wonderful screenplay for “Eighth Grade” make the grade?
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star is Born
Who Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Who Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Watch Out For: If Beale Street Could Talk
Should Have Been Nominated: Black Panther
Comments: Although it should have happened 29 years ago, for “Do the Right Thing,” I predict that Spike Lee will win his first competitive Oscar for “BlacKkKlansman.” Like many of his best films, Lee’s screenplay is alternately funny, shocking, and infuriating, with a sobering ending that is his best since “The 25th Hour” from 2002. Themes of racial imbalance are also display in Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the time-jumping James Baldwin novel “If Beale Street Could Talk.” That film, Jenkins’ first movie following his Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” was an early favorite to sweep the Oscars, though its buzz has since faded, whereas Lee’s has resurfaced. There isn’t any other real competition here…but while we’re discussing black filmmakers, wouldn’t it have been nice for the much-more-than-skin-deep screenplay for Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” to have made the cut as well?
Of the categories that remain, the three most important ones are probably Best Foreign Film, Best Animated Feature, and Best Documentary Feature. For the former, the much-hyped, multi-nominated “Roma” was all but declared the winner before the Oscar nominations were even announced. It is a terrific film, but if it has any competition it would be by its atmospheric, fellow black-and-white competitor “Cold War,” from Poland, or perhaps by “Capernaum,” a Lebanese film about a streetwise Beirut pre-teen who sues his parents for the hard life that he has lived thus far. For the middle, there isn’t a single frontrunner, though the lively “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” has a slight edge. (If I were able to cast a vote myself, it would be for Wes Anderson’s delightful “Isle of Dogs”…for whatever that’s worth.) For the latter, 2018 was a stellar year for documentaries, and several of the year’s best didn’t even get nominated. Of the ones that did, I think the feel-good Ruth Bader Ginsburg docu-bio “RBG” will duke it out with the jaw-dropping mountain climbing IMAX release “Free Solo,” with “RBG” eking out a win. You’ve been Gins-burned!
For the secondary categories, I predict the wealth to be spread as follows: “Roma” for Best Cinematography,” “Vice” for Best Makeup, “Green Book” or “Vice” for Best Film Editing, “A Star is Born” for Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Song (“Shallow,” co-written by Lady Gaga), “If Beale Street Could Talk” for Best Original Score, “Avengers: Infinity War” for Best Visual Effects, “First Man” or “A Quiet Place” for Best Sound Editing, “Bao” for Best Animated Short,” “Life Boat” for Best Documentary Short, “Marguerite” for Best Live Action Short, and “The Favourite” for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, with “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” going home empty-handed.
The 2019 Oscars will air live this Sunday, February 24th at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m PT on ABC. Who are you rooting for?