Donovan's 2019 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2019-02-20 23:11:16 EST
Rating: 1.63 on 11 ratings (16 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2019
The legendary, recently departed screenwriter William Goldman famously said, "Nobody knows anything." Then again, he never read my Oscar predictions. My first bold forecast: Alfonso Cuarón will win something. For more excruciatingly safe predictions, behold my 20th annual Oscar predictions.
(Oh my god, I just realized I've spent 20 years of my life doing this crap.)
SHOULD WIN: The Favourite
WILL WIN: Roma
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: A Quiet Place
Unthinkable only a few months ago, a foreign language film is going to win Best Picture for the first time ever. By now it seems pretty clear, with all the other awards doled out, that the Best Picture winner will be Roma, produced (and directed, and written, and filmed, and edited) by Alfonso Cuarón. It's also the rare black-and-white film that will take the big prize. I love the film and the look of it; the style gives the film a texture of a different era, yet an overall feel of timelessness. (I suppose you could also argue that it's a bit of a cheat: It's much easier - and cheaper - to achieve the period look of the 1970s and pass off common objects as "old" with black-and-white.) I'll get into other reasons I champion the film later; Cuarón is unquestionably my choice for Best Director. But I can't help but feel that Cuarón's name and reputation are the main reasons it's getting such a push for Best Picture. If it had been made by some other no-name filmmaker, charming as it may be, would it have ever made it beyond the indie festival circuit? I'm guessing probably not.
For crying out loud, why are people getting so worked up and emotionally invested (and literally crying out loud) about A Star Is Born? It's like audiences suddenly lost their abilities to think rationally just because the main characters can sing. This falls into a subgenre of movies that I like to call 'Idiots Making Bad Decisions'. The film should have been called A Star Is Blind To A Whole Bunch Of Red Flags. So… Lady Gaga meets Bradley Cooper while he's a drunken mess, is somehow charmed by his sloppy stupor, falls in love with him without ever actually seeing him sober, is an active enabler of his alcoholism… and her ONLY boundary is that she won't get on a motorcycle with him?? What about the other 99% of the time when she's idly watching his boozed-up, destructive behavior? "Sure, that's fine. Hey, let's go sing a pretty ballad in front of 50,000 people without rehearsing!" The only person in the movie who actually says something about it is her manager - and somehow he gets labeled as the sleazebag. Are you kidding me? He's the only one with any goddam common sense! He is the only person who tells Cooper's character anything remotely resembling the truth - not his bandmates, not his brother, not his limo driver, not even his best friend. If you ask me, the manager isn't the villain, he's the hero of the movie! So does the film have a chance of winning? Well, it went from strong front-runner to also-ran in the span of about three weeks. But it boasts eight nominations, a boffo box office, and loads more attention than Roma. However, the fact that Cooper didn't get a Best Director nod would seem to torpedo its chances (unless he gets a ton of sympathy votes for Best Picture, à la Argo and Ben Affleck a few years ago.) It has an outside chance, but don't bet on it. (I will say, I love seeing Dave Chappelle pop up in the movie, but man, they don't give him anything to do! "Hey Dave, here's the part: You show up out of the blue, give a half-hearted pep talk, be an accomplice in a really bad decision, and then disappear for the rest of the film. Whaddaya say?" Here's a Kickstarter I would donate to: ANOTHER remake of A Star Is Born, which would actually be a sequel, starring Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay.)
A lot of experts think Green Book has the best chance of upsetting Roma here, but I don't see it. I actually think Black Panther has a better shot at an upset, based on its momentum as a global phenomenon, seven Oscar nominations, and the Best Cast victory at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Both films are hurt by a lack of Best Director nomination; Black Panther theoretically faces even long odds without a Screenplay nomination (a few films have won Picture without a nomination for Director, or without a nomination for Screenplay; no film has ever won Picture without either of them).
BlackkKlansman will also get a share of votes, as Spike Lee got some of the best reviews of his career. (It doesn't hurt to have Jordan Peele with his Midas touch as a producer.) I think it lives up to the hype, but I have no idea why it seemed to be marketed as a comedy. It's certainly funny in the sense that the story itself - an African American cop in the 1970s infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan (based on real events) - is utterly audacious. While it has satirical elements, it's not exactly chock-full of yuk-yuk jokes. (I suppose any chance at comedy went out the window once sour-puss Adam Driver was cast.)
Vice would seem to have a shot here, checking all the requisite boxes: eight total nominations, nods for directing and writing, high pedigree across the board, rapturous reviews for the actors, and a hot-button story about American government during recent events. But ultimately the film is too divisive to have a real shot at Best Picture; most people that want to reward the film will put their votes toward Christian Bale in the Best Actor category.
Despite its international appeal, audience raves, triumphant spirit, and jaw-dropping box office, Bohemian Rhapsody is not a factor in this race. Most critics would tell you it wouldn't make for an above-average VH1 Behind The Music episode, much less a worthy Oscar nominee. Rami Malek was dazzling as Freddie Mercury, but I can't help but wonder what the film would have been like with its original star, Sacha Baron Cohen. Galileo! Galileo! Galileo! Galileo! Galileo, Figaro, verynice!
The Best Picture race is fine and all, but I was more intrigued by the announced-and-then-immediately-revoked Popular Film award. Not to see who would get nominated or who would win, but to see what the heck they would actually name the category. Best Popular Film? Most Popular Film? Popularest Film? Most Populous Film? Outstanding Achievement in Popularity? The Popularity Contest? #favepopflick? Film Most Unlike Those Other Crappy Unpopular Films? Film Most Likely To Get All The Hollywood Chrises To Attend The Ceremony? I'm guessing they would have gone with the obvious: Film Most Likely To Boost Television Ratings.
SHOULD WIN: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
WILL WIN: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ryan Gosling (First Man)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: John David Washington (BlackkKlansman)
Remember not long ago, when A Star Is Born was going to sweep every single Oscar? Bradley Cooper was going to win his first acting Oscar in his fourth try, along with an armful of statuettes for other categories. It was a foregone conclusion only a couple months ago; but for Cooper, it probably feels like years. In the ensuing weeks he (and the film) have been passed over in just about every major competition. Now it seems like his Oscar night will look a lot like his character's Grammy night in the movie - not much to do except watch Lady Gaga accept an award for music. (And if he's also embarrassingly drunk, it could make for an excellent telecast.) Across acting, producing, directing, singing, and writing, this was the one nomination I think Cooper really deserved… and I hate myself for it. I'll (begrudgingly) admit, he was very good in American Sniper, and this performance towers over that one. If Cooper wins, I may not be happy about it, but I'll understand. But, he won't win. (Which is good, because empathy is not my strong suit.)
While Cooper was still on top, riding the wave of his emotionally-manipulative movie to box office gold and glittering reviews, Green Book snuck onto the scene. People were charmed by the movie and by star Viggo Mortensen, and realized it was one of the best performances of his career… and they started thinking, hey, maybe Cooper isn't such a foregone conclusion after all. By the end of the festival circuit, Mortenson was a legitimate contender. I, for one, think he's outstanding in the film. He's hammy, but he makes it work, and he's surprisingly convincing. That said, there's a small part of me that can't help but think that other actors out there could have played the role just as convincingly. (This could have been Matt LeBlanc's shot at an Oscar, damn you!)
Willem Dafoe also popped up during festival season, for his role as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate. He mostly remained under the radar, but he always loomed as a threat. Didn't I just say last year that he only gets nominated once every 15 years? Well, this makes it two years in a row now. I guess that means we'll have to wait another 30 years for his next nomination.
Lo and behold, once people got a glimpse of Christian Bale, all doughy menace and jowly growling as Dick Cheney in Vice, he quickly eclipsed Cooper and Mortensen. (Mortensen didn't exactly do himself any favors with a critical publicity gaffe; I won't make the mistake of repeating it here.) As the bigger awards started rolling out, Bale was the one who couldn't lose. But then, when it really mattered, he DID start losing.
So what happened? Well, people made cases for each nominee to win: Cooper brings a rock star convincingly to life; Mortensen enthralls with charismatic bravado and a funny accent; Dafoe devastates as a tortured artist; Bale transforms completely and brings new depth to a real-life famous person. And as the major awards were finally handed out (Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs), voters realized, Let's vote for the guy who does ALL those things: Rami Malek, transformed as the rocking, charismatic, funny-accented, tortured, real-life musician Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. And that is how Malek came to win the Oscar.
It's not an easy choice, but I'm also rooting for Malek. More than any of the other roles, I think Malek's portrayal will be considered iconic in the long term, thanks in no small part to the global popularity of the film and the general happy vibes that people associate with the performance and the music. I mean, what's more fun, an outlandish, world-famous, glam rock star, or a stodgy former Vice President who didn't produce a documentary about global warming?
Dafoe's nomination makes me wonder: What if this was the Year of the Overdue? In theory, all of the following people in the major categories could win and end their career droughts: Willem Dafoe for Actor (4 nominations, the first in 1987), Glenn Close for Actress (7 nominations, the first in 1983), Sam Elliott for Supporting Actor (a career spanning 50+ years), Amy Adams for Supporting Actress (6 nominations), Spike Lee for Directing or Adapted Screenplay (5 nominations, the first in 1990), Paul Schrader for Original Screenplay (writer of some of the most revered films of all time). It would be nice, but for most, the suffering will continue.
It's a tough call for my Snubbed choice. I'm tempted to go with Ethan Hawke, for his pastor caught in an existential crisis in First Reformed. In spite of Oscar nominations for previous movies, THIS is the best role of his life. This is literally the first time I've seen him in a movie (including Training Day and Boyhood) and NOT immediately thought, "This character looks and sounds and acts just like Ethan Hawke." It's easily his most fully-formed, immersive role. Ordinarily, I would say he deserves a nomination, but he got two previous ones that he didn't deserve, so the hell with him. Instead, I'm naming John David Washington (whose father starred with Hawke in Training Day) for the mesmerizing lead in BlackkKlansman. It's a tightrope-walk performance that proves the newcomer can carry a film and is here to stay. The fact that he didn't get a nom for the film, but Adam Driver did, is a head-scratcher that future historians will puzzle over for eternity.
On the other hand, my Gloriously Omitted choice was an easy one: Ryan Gosling in First Man. Aren't we all just a little tired of Gosling? Don't we think he's overdue for a comeuppance? No? Just me? Okay.
SHOULD WIN: Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
WILL WIN: Glenn Close (The Wife)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Natalie Portman (Annihilation)
Glenn Close emerged as the first real Best Actress contender, when The Wife debuted in August. But she was always considered a dark horse, and as flashier performances bowed, they quickly passed Close on the pundit's lists. But much like the woman herself in her expansive career (and the character she plays in the movie), she hung in there, until the patina of the competition dulled. And now here she is, running the table at all the award ceremonies, unquestionably the front-runner, a heavy favorite to win the Oscar after six previous nominations. Her performance in The Wife feels in many ways like the culmination of all the characters she's played, employing subtlety with a skill honed over several decades. In a film brimming with dramatic conflict, her character seems to be playing chess, always two moves ahead of her opponents. To mix metaphors (and to steal from her real-life opponent Lady Gaga), she's always got a poker face - but she's not giving you a blank wall, she's giving you exactly the look that she wants you to see. She never just smiles. She never just frowns. Or laughs. Or sulks. Or scowls. There's always a twist, twinkle, or curl. It's all measured, calculated. She's superior to the other characters, and she knows it. Sometimes she lets her opponent win, or sometimes she opts not to play; but she always chooses exactly how much they believe they get away with.
That stands in stark contrast to one-time presumptive front-runner Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born. Where Close relies on introspection, Gaga seems to be fueled by pure passion and raw energy. Her performance has been called a tour de force, and I agree, it is. She's in your face, and she's powerful. And it feels authentic, thanks to parallels and inspirations from her real life. (If only her father in real life was Andrew Dice Clay.) Does her character make the best life choices? No. But who needs common sense when you've got pipes like that? When A Star Is Born burst onto the scene, everybody was pretty quick to anoint Gaga as the Oscar winner. But now that the fervor has died down a bit (and gullible moviegoers have finally stopped crying, ugh), critics are siding with Close's measured performance over Gaga's unbridled one. But those early prognosticators weren't wrong, Gaga will win an Oscar… for Best Song.
All that said, I actually think the award should go to Olivia Colman for The Favourite - which feels weird, because I believe she shouldn't even be nominated in this category. Determination of "Leading" versus "Supporting" has always been puzzling (it's a function of marketing, gamesmanship, coin flip, lunar phase, and how drunk the voters are), but I'm confident Colman's role is the supporting one here. (As the characters whose decisions drive the course of the story, both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone - classified in the Supporting category - clearly play roles that are more "leading" than Colman's.) I can't help root for Colman's performance, which stands out from the pack as the most visceral, unhinged, playful, and downright fun. (Especially when I see her in interviews and get the sense that she's just as nutty in real life.) But most importantly, through it all, her portrayal is endearingly pathetic. She's like a terrified little girl, trapped in prisons of every imaginable kind (emotional, mental, physiological, metaphorical, governmental, physical, familial) except a literal one. So she acts like a terrified little girl: tempestuous, confused, irrational, looking for the slightest comfort anywhere. And we can't help but root for her when she finds something (or someone, or some part of someone's anatomy) that alleviates her feeling of being trapped… even when we know it's fleeting.
Hooray for Melissa McCarthy. Besides being one of the most likable actors out there, she seems to have no limit (or filter) on her range of comedic abilities, and she continues to impress with dramatic talents, like the ones on display in Can You Ever Forgive Me? She gave us a glimpse of those talents a few years ago (in St. Vincent, where she gave a fantastic performance in a decidedly less-than-fantastic movie), and steps up her game considerably here. She taps into a more serious, down-to-earth energy that comes through as completely authentic. In her unisex mop-top and shapeless outfits, do I buy her as a curmudgeonly woman who is a gifted writer, forges celebrity letters for a living, and has no idea that her apartment reeks of cat poop? Absolutely. What can't McCarthy do? She's done comedy, drama, sci-fi, biopic, action, mystery, adventure, romance, thriller, animation, puppets… Let's see if she can do mime!
Yalitza Aparicio was a pleasant and unexpected inclusion here, for her role in Roma. She wasn't a complete long-shot, but after getting passed over for a lot of other award nominations, it seemed likely that some other veteran actress would probably take the last spot. I'm glad the Academy made the right choice. She's not just the most important part of the movie, she IS the movie. If she's not perfect, even with all of Alfonso Cuarón's revered storytelling, direction, cinematography, and editing, the movie simply wouldn't work. Everything about her performance is subtle and natural. (Call her the anti-Olivia Colman.) And remarkably, this is her first acting job; then again, it's probably why her performance is so organic. Which is not to say that it's effortless, or that she isn't really acting. Just look at the lengthy delivery scene at the hospital - it's grueling, and if you don't feel what she's feeling, you're not human. And perhaps most impressively of all, she somehow managed to keep a straight face during the penis-pole-martial-arts scene. (If you haven't seen it, don't ask.)
Emily Blunt was expected to receive a nomination for Mary Poppins Returns, but was passed over. The lesson here? Don't f*** with Julie Andrews. (Audrey Hepburn learned that lesson 54 years ago.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Tim Blake Nelson (The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs)
This category would appear to be a showdown between the two previous Supporting Actor winners: Mahershala Ali (two years ago for Moonlight) and Sam Rockwell (last year for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Each won for their first career nomination; the others in this category have never even been nominated before. Does that mean one of them will get it; or will voters hesitate to have someone go two-for-two, and instead opt to spread the gold around and give it someone else?
I probably don't have to tell you, Ali will win his second trophy for his work in Green Book. He's got a lot in his favor: his role, arguably a leading one, is the largest of any in this category; he plays a magnetic character who stands with dignity in the face of adversity and bigotry; his film is a feel-good story that the audience naturally cheers for; and of course, he's one of the best actors working today. (And don’t forget the "True Detective Effect": the result of playing a critically acclaimed role on that show during an Oscar campaign. Another strong performance to remind voters that you are, in fact, talented beyond a single role is often a boon… just as a poorly-timed stinker can be a bust. Hey, it won Matthew McConaughey an Oscar, didn't it? Somewhere Colin Farrell is thinking, "Wait, what the hell??") Ali is captivating as a popular, highly-educated, genteel pianist traveling on tour through the South in the early 1960s -- a lonely man on the road who's isolated as a result of external factors and his own choices. While I'm rooting for Ali, I can't help but feel like his role leaves me… wanting. Despite the fact that his character's decisions largely drive Green Book's narrative, his arc is pretty minor (compared to Viggo Mortensen's), and he's (intentionally) a bit of a closed book. I might actually prefer a movie that centers on his character, so we could dig at elements that aren't really explored beyond the surface. The film spotlights the fact that the character doesn't feel like he belongs to ANY world at all (profession, culture, education, race, social preferences, or class). Yet he really only has one scene that brings his dilemma to the surface. And the only attempted explanation of his motives is awkwardly offered up by a minor character in a heavy Russian accent. So much more of his character remains unearthed. (My emails to DreamWorks pitching 'Green Book II: Autobahn Adventure' have gone unanswered.)
So, no, Rockwell will not pull off back-to-back wins for his role as President George W. Bush in Vice. Not only is Rockwell a poor choice for the Oscar, he was a poor choice for the role, period. I mean, how was Will Farrell NOT cast as W? I mean, the film was directed by his buddy, Adam McKay. And McKay produced Ferrell's Emmy-nominated Bush-skewering special, You're Welcome America. And the movie is essentially a long Saturday Night Live sketch anyway. I'm pretty sure there's a perfect alternate universe where Ferrell wins an Oscar for playing Bush and the world is spared from the catastrophe of Holmes & Watson.
Ali's strongest competition will come from Richard E. Grant, playing a kind of bon-vivant hobo in Can You Ever Forgive Me? It's funny, I never thought much of Grant until this film. When I saw him in previous films and shows (and if you look at his list of credits, that's damn near everything), I found him relatively forgettable. In fact, for several years, I thought he was the guy that played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Sorry, Brent Spiner.) Now, before the rabid fans of Withnail & I tear my head off, let me say that I'm changing my tune. He truly impresses as Melissa McCarthy's con-man confidant, an ascot-wearing street scamp who's been on the fringe so long that he can't really distinguish his marks from his friends. He's a gutter-dweller with the airs of an aristocrat and the aims of freeloader, who makes his identity (and his living) by defying definition. And as the best supporting characters do, he believes he's the star of his own movie.
Also in this race is Sam Exposition, I mean Sam Elliott, who pops up in A Star Is Born for the sole purpose of conveniently explaining Bradley Cooper's backstory to the audience. As soon as you start thinking, 'Gee, I wonder why Cooper's character has such a chip on his shoulder?', Elliott shows up to have a somewhat awkward chat about his demons. 'What on earth in Cooper's past could have possibly made him the way he is? Oh, here's Sam. I hope he has an inorganic and emotional conversation with Cooper about their childhood!' That said, I love the guy, and it's nice to see Elliott play something more than a parody of himself. In the hands of a lesser actor, the device would be much more transparent, but he handles it with grace and grit… all the way to an Oscar nomination.
I need someone to explain Adam Driver's nomination to me. On second thought, I need someone to explain Adam Driver to me, period. (Sam Exposition, you would come in really handy right about now.) In BlackkKlansman, he has one scene with fleeting poignancy; the rest of the time, he's just sort of… there. It feels like the dopey boyfriend from Girls just kinda wanders into the movie. I general, I think Spike Lee has a sharp eye for casting, so I kept waiting for Driver to bring something unique to the role, but it never happened. Literally anybody else in the role would have as good or better. I think of it in baseball terms: his Wins Above Replacement Player would have been exactly 0.0. (And of course, I spent the whole movie thinking, "He just CAN'T be Han Solo's son. He just CAN'T.")
There are plenty of other actors I would have preferred to see get nominated in place of Driver (and that's not even including Tim The Chalet or whatever the kid's name is.) Tim Blake Nelson is a hoot as a singin', strummin', sharp-shootin' outlaw in the otherwise dismissible The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. Jonathan Pryce plays refreshingly against type as a bold, confident, selfish (and somewhat misunderstood) jerk in The Wife. Cedric Antonio Kyles (aka The Entertainer) is nearly unrecognizable as a serious and influential reverend in First Reformed. (Despite doing nothing to change his appearance, I had no idea it was him until long after I had seen the film.) And Jimmy O. Yang, one of the best parts of Silicon Valley, would have been an amazing Oscar nominee for stealing scenes as 'the a-hole you shouldn't have invited to the party' in Crazy Rich Asians. One guy I'm glad DIDN'T take Driver's nomination: Ben Mendelsohn in Ready Player One - fantastic actor, terrible part, laughable performance.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
WILL WIN: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Natalie Portman (Vox Lux)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Gina Rodriguez (Annihilation)
Oh boy, the Screen Actors Guild Awards really threw a wrench into this one. They rewarded the ONE actress who isn't nominated (Emily Blunt, for A Quiet Place), and didn't even nominate the Oscar front-runner, Regina King, for If Beale Street Could Talk. And since the only reason the SAG Awards exist is to help ME make my Oscar predictions, they were totally worthless. So what does this mean? King is still a lock to win the Oscar, right? Not so fast. Usually I would tell you to ignore the BAFTAs (the British equivalent of the Academy Awards). But get this: The only real parallel to this situation is from 2015, when Sylvester Stallone was a heavy favorite to win the Oscar, but was completely snubbed by the SAGs (who crowned Idris Elba, who was not an Oscar nominee). And nobody worried when Stallone was also shut out from the BAFTAs ("They only pick Brits", pundits sniffed); he remained the popular Oscar pick. But then in a stunning upset, he lost the Oscar to Mark Rylance, who had won… you got it, the BAFTA. So who won this year's BAFTA, where Regina King was also shut out? Rachel Weisz, for The Favourite.
Following me? Great. So Weisz will win the Oscar, right? Not so fast. Like I said, I don't put a whole lot of stock in the BAFTAs when it comes to Oscar forecasting. I mean, Hugh Grant got a BAFTA nom last year for Paddington 2, which didn't exactly clean up at the Oscars. (And yes, they tend to pick Brits.) Weisz's BAFTA win was a bit of a make-up, after they denied her years ago for The Constant Gardener. She already has an Oscar (for, as you'd expect, The Constant Gardener), so voters won't be quick to hand her a second one (in only her second nomination, no less). And while Weisz had the home field (pitch?) advantage at the BAFTAs against castmate Emma Stone, you can count on Academy members who are fans of The Favourite splitting the votes between them. Others who can't decide among them will simply vote for someone else entirely. On the other hand, King, while not a big star internationally, has been a critical darling stateside. With a career of acclaimed work, several Golden Globe nominations, and three recent Emmy awards, she seems ripe for an Oscar win. And I mean, come on, she played Brenda on 227! Adorable little Brenda! But then again… this category is historically notorious for out-of-left-field upsets. Stone seems to charm every critic with a keyboard, certainly has an effect on Oscar voters (winning just a couple years ago for La La Land), and has earned plenty of glowing reviews for The Favourite. Or there's Marina de Tavira, the least-known of the bunch, for playing the tortured matriarch in Roma. Though I think her nomination is a reach, Roma could steamroll every category; besides, who would make a more shocking winner than the woman who was a shocking nominee?
With me? Okay, so de Tavira will win? No! Stone? No! Have you even been paying attention?! Why on earth would you ignore Amy Adams? With her role as Lynne Cheney in Vice, she should absolutely be the front-runner, having scored six nominations but never able to quite clutch the gold. Just about everyone agrees she's overdue. And what could be a more fitting way to win, in this politically-polarized world, than for a politically-polarizing movie?
Still following me? Didn't think so. Let's start over. Regina King will win the Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk. Was that so hard?
King's win will make me happy. But I think I'm actually going confuse you again and name Weisz as my personal choice. If I had an ACTUAL vote, I might hesitate, because she's already got an Oscar and I would be more likely to reward a body of work. But in The Favourite in particular, which happens to be my favourite film overall, Weisz is fantastic and utterly magnetic. She's a fabulous insult machine with compassion for the only person she truly loves: herself. And when dueling against Olivia Colman and Stone and chewing scenery by the yard, she's a total blast. (Please don't dismiss me as always picking Brits.)
SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)
Alfonso Cuarón has won all the Directing awards this year. All of them. Nobody else is really in the conversation. The only intriguing thing about this category is what it will mean when Cuarón wins for Roma: He'll be the first director to win for a foreign language film. He'll be the fifth Mexican in six years to claim this award. Assuming he also wins Best Cinematography (he took up the camera himself, instead of teaming up with frequent partner and 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel 'Chivo' Lubezki due to scheduling conflicts), he'll be the first person to win both categories in the same year. In fact, he'll be the only person to win the Cinematography award for a film they also directed. And if he wins Best Original Screenplay and sweeps his categories, he'll become the first person to win four Oscars for a single film; he'll tie Walt Disney for the only people to win four Oscars in one night (which he did in 1953, for four different films, three of which were shorts). And that's not even counting Best Foreign Language Film! Inexplicably, that award officially goes to the country, not the filmmaker - though you can bet Cuarón will be the one accepting the award (and in fact, his name will be engraved on the statuette). Had he managed to get a nomination for Best Editing, he'd pretty much be breaking every individual Oscar record there is.
Cuarón is getting the well-deserved raves for his uncommon technique on this film, eschewing traditional music and scenes (eg, cutting between masters / two-shots / close-ups) in favor of ambient sound and lingering wide shots. The result is voyeuristically effective: It feels like you're in the corner of the room or across the street, peeking in on the family and its environment. Personally, it resonates with me because I love black-and-white still photography, and it strikes me as a series of painstakingly composed photos. It's funny, it's what they teach you NOT to do in film school! You could almost call it lazy - it looks like what a lot of amateurs tend to do: stick the camera in one place without moving it and filming all the action in one shot. But for the story, it works; it somehow feels more immediate and immersive. He further deviates from tradition by incorporating unusual, incongruent sights and sounds, typically at the end of the scene. It seems like the intent is to give the viewer more of a sense of how the character feels in the moment, not necessarily to portray literal events (for example, the cacophonous marching band that randomly comes down the street and envelops the mother after her husband leaves her and the family). The effect is unnerving, but supports the specificity and overall "slightly faded memory" aesthetic of the film. Ultimately, the film combines elements that at face value seem unnatural, but come together to create a whole, without dramatic close-ups or perfectly-timed music cues; as a result, it feels more like real life than a movie.
Other directors deserve some recognition this year, too. I thoroughly enjoyed Yorgos Lanthimos's work on The Favourite. His trademark dry, acerbic wit and humor do wonders for this potentially dreary period piece, and frankly, they're right up my alley. (When you hear only one person laugh at an unusual moment in a crowded movie theater, it's probably me.) Where Cuarón strives for a stylized naturalness, Lanthimos wants nothing more than to remind you that you're watching a movie - specifically, his movie, filmed with his inimitable visual "voice". Lest you forget, the not-so-subtle fish-eye shots are there to remind you. It doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me. (Bonus: Believe it or not, he's not the only person named Yorgos that's nominated for an Oscar for this film - Yorgos "No, the Other One" Mavropsaridis is up for Best Editing).
And of course there's Spike Lee, nominated for BlackkKlansman. It's hard to believe that Lee hasn't been nominated for anything since Original Screenplay for Do The Right Thing in 1990 (his honorary Oscar in 2016 and his Best Documentary nomination from 1998 notwithstanding). Until now, he was arguably the most influential director working today without a Best Director nomination. He'll get a lot of votes here, but most people will save them for a different category. (Spoiler: He will win for Adapted Screenplay.)
Pawel Pawlikowski's nomination for Cold War is interesting for reasons beyond the film itself, alongside Cuarón's Roma. With Cold War in Polish and Roma in Spanish, it's only the third time that there have been two directors of non-English language films nominated in the same year. And it's the first time that the category includes two films that are also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Of course, if Pawlikowski wins, he would become the first Best Director winner of a foreign language film (instead of Cuarón). On top of that, both films are in black and white; having two Director nominees in the same year is unheard of since color pictures took over decades ago. It actually wasn't so long ago that a black and white film won in this category (The Artist in 2012), but before that, you have to go back to Schindler's List in 1994, then to The Apartment in 1961.
Considering his films have historically gotten more attention from the MTV Movie Awards than the Oscars, Adam McKay is probably as surprised as anyone by all the prestige-award attention he has gotten for directing Vice. (He can primarily thank Christian Bale and Amy Adams for that.) He has a small, fervent fan base in the Academy, but it won't be enough to give him any serious momentum here.
Just a few short months ago, everyone thought someone was going to win four Oscars… not Cuarón, but rather Bradley Cooper. At the very least, he seemed a shoo-in to get four nominations for A Star Is Born. If he had, he would have joined Warren Beatty as the only two people in history to be nominated in all of the Big 4 categories: Picture, Acting, Directing, and Screenplay. (Beatty did it twice, and ultimately won one award, for directing Reds.) But Cooper was shut out in the Best Director category, which came as a shock to everyone, except one person. I'm guessing it was an extremely tight race, and it would not surprise me if he was literally one vote short because he was left off the ballot by… Warren Beatty. (I have a theory, which has yet to be disproven, that in his retirement, Beatty is really bored and just likes messing up the Oscar results. I posit that he's actually becoming Bulworth.)
While my Snubbed choice here is John Krasinski for A Quiet Place, the person I really wanted to see get a Best Director nom was Orson Welles. That's right, 33 years after his death, 78 years after Citizen Kane, Welles was actually eligible for an Oscar nomination, for his recently completed film The Other Side Of The Wind. I'm confident that had he won, a god-like voice would have boomed down from the heavens and shouted a one-word acceptance speech: "Rosebud!"
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
WILL WIN: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Drew Goddard (Bad Times At The El Royale)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Scott Beck, John Krasinski, Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place)
Determining the favorite in this category is a bit of process of elimination. Right off the bat, you can toss out Paul Schrader's clergyman think-piece, First Reformed, which is the most challenging and interpretive of the bunch. The nomination itself was a bit of a coup, and it's somehow, inexplicably, the 72-year-old filmmaker's first ever Oscar nomination. Other classic films that he wrote (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Affliction) got noms and wins for others, but not for him. (Gee, his infamous Lindsay Lohan erotic thriller The Canyons was passed over by the Academy, too. Shocking.) This film, which he also directed, about a pastor at a crossroads, is probably his most personal film to date. If you've ever seen (or even heard of) any of Schrader's other films, you can probably guess that the story takes a dark turn (or 20) and doesn’t exactly end with rainbows. Though I was fully invested in the film and ultimately liked it, it lost me at a couple critical junctures where developments on screen don't feel fully earned. He intentionally tries to rattle the viewer (almost literally), using a technique that's been explained to me in terms of "Transcendental Style" (a phrase coined by Schrader, I think, but not a filmmaking style created by him) - which I don't fully understand, nor do I necessarily buy. And, of course, it comes with an ending that's up to interpretation. Does it represent redemptive love or destructive despair? Or both? Or neither? You can try to draw your own conclusion, but I suspect Schrader would tell you you're wrong no matter what… and he would use amazingly poetic dialogue while doing it.
Next, you can probably scratch off Vice, written by Adam McKay. He very recently won a Screenplay Oscar, for The Big Short, which was generally considered a sharper film. So nobody's exactly itching to give him another one. But more importantly, just as many people hate this film as love it - hey, you write a polarizing script, you get polarized responses.
Here's where it gets tricky… This is probably the category that Alfonso Cuarón is least likely to win, if for no other reason than Roma's achievements in the other categories seem more obvious than in the understated screenplay. Far from resembling a traditional script, he describes it like this: "I wasn’t concerned about narrative, I was concerned about memory. I was concerned about spaces, textures, and trusting that all of that together would interweave a narrative by itself… a cinematic narrative." Look for the Academy to reward a different film here, which won't win Picture or Director. (And you can be sure that future filmmakers will invoke Cuarón's term "cinematic narrative" when trying to pass off a lazy, meandering script as genius.) Also, points off for the movie not featuring Ricky Roma (Al Pacino's character from Glengarry Glen Ross) - seems like a missed opportunity.
So that will likely leave Green Book and The Favourite, the two Best Picture bridesmaids, to try to catch the bouquet here. They're both essentially fun movies; they both take a lighter approach to subjects that are typically treated with a heavy hand. With Green Book, Peter Farrelly's path to the Oscars was not unlike McKay's: Writer/director of silly low-brow comedies and creator of a lucrative 'brand' of humor gains critical praise when taking on a headier story based on historical events, demonstrating depth, wit, and drama. Green Book seemed to have the early edge, claiming Screenplay and Picture (Comedy) prizes at the Golden Globes along with a Writers Guild nomination. (Farrelly also made the film without his brother Bobby, a first, due to Bobby's family issues. If Green Book wins an Oscar, do you think that will come up at Thanksgiving?) But Farrelly's exclusion from (and The Favourite's surprise inclusion in) the Best Director Oscar category is telling. The Academy seems to be leaning away from Green Book. Both Green Book and The Favourite have been chided for historical inaccuracies; then again, they're not documentaries, and are ultimately more accurate than I would have believed. As screenplay categories often do, the Academy will reward the script that strives to be unique and feels brand new. While Green Book often falls back on convention (which is probably the right choice given the tightrope of subject matter and tone that it has to walk), The Favourite says to bloody hell with everything you've seen and know about British chamber pieces and serves up something that feels fresh, contemporary, and pioneering. In the end, the favorite here is… The Favourite.
The Favourite is also my personal favorite (though not by a lot). The Favourite and Green Book are both thoroughly enjoyable, but such different films. Green Book is angel food cake, The Favourite is devil's food cake. And be honest, if you could only have one, which would it be? The Favourite is a devious delight, a delicious game of one-upmanship for the trust and affections of a queen who cares more about her pet rabbits than settling Parliamentary disputes and ending wars. (The reason she does is just one of the fantastic elements of the script.) In order to draw us into its regal chess game, writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara surely knew that sticking to concrete facts would defeat the purpose of the film, so they didn't even try, and instead leaned into their liberties. Tawdry tales, illicit affairs, model good looks, vulgar language, and royal hysterics… can any of it be true? Who cares, when it's so much duplicitous fun?
The clear snub this year was A Quiet Place, written by Scott Beck, John Krasinski, and Bryan Woods. In fact, the entire Krasinski family got shut out this year: John for writing/directing/producing/acting in A Quiet Place, and his wife Emily Blunt for acting in Mary Poppins and A Quiet Place - all of which got plenty of attention from other awards bodies. (And let it be known that their kids didn't do anything particularly Oscar-worthy either, in my opinion.) I really thought A Quiet Place would get a screenplay nomination, for one of the most original story ideas of the year (but don't tell that to the writers of Bird Box).
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott (BlackkKlansman)
WILL WIN: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott (BlackkKlansman)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ernest Cline, Zak Penn (Ready Player One)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Alex Garland (Annihilation)
It's a pretty safe bet that Spike Lee will get his Oscar here, for BlackkKlansman. In my opinion, it's his best film of the decade, and probably his best film since Inside Man. With Picture and Director pretty much locked up by Alfonso Cuarón, voters will pile up their support for Lee in this category. Ultimately, voters are going to ask themselves, why SHOULDN'T I vote for Spike? Well, there are plenty of reasons why they probably WON'T vote for the other nominees…
A Star Is Born (written by Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth) would only stand a chance here if it was going to sweep all the categories, and I'm here to tell you, it won't. Is it sad when the only thing in the story that resonates with me is when Cooper's character complains about guys that don't wear socks? I nearly yelled out in the theater, "Right on, Coop!" Besides that, I spent so much time getting hung up on things that don't make any sense in the movie that I didn't get much else out of it. I could rant about any number of elements, but… man, I'm killed by the guys in Cooper's band (presumably called The Passive Diffidents). During the nonstop chaos driven by booze, irrational decisions, and petty arguments, all they ever do is stand around, without saying a word, and exchange dopey glances. Cooper keeps making drastic, last-minute changes to their live shows, going so far as to impulsively promote some random groupie as the #2 member of the band. Do they ever say, "Hey man, not to be rude or anything, but I don't know the chords to that song you just made up 10 seconds ago"? Nope. They literally have no dialogue in the movie. The only responses they can muster are sheepishly flashing semi-surprised looks, before dutifully playing their instruments. Nice to see an Oscar-nominated script with such strong characters.
Most of the hype around Can You Ever Forgive Me? has been for Melissa McCarthy, so victories in other categories are unlikely. Which is a bit of a shame - Richard E. Grant was particularly strong, and a nod for director Marielle Heller would have been a welcome surprise for handling such an odd but uncinematic story with a deft hand. While it won't get enough votes to win, it's nice to see the Screenplay nomination for Nicole Holofcener (along with Jeff Whitty); after nearly three decades on the indie film scene and behind acclaimed television shows, Holofcener is getting her due (for one of her few scripts that she didn't direct herself, as it happens). And she surprised prognosticators when this screenplay beat out BlackkKlansman for the Writers Guild Award, so that actually opens the door a crack for a shot at the Oscar.
Barry Jenkins just won a screenwriting award a couple years ago, for Moonlight, so If Beale Street Could Talk would need to be a strong Academy darling for it to claim this award. But it wasn't loved enough to get nominations for Best Picture or Best Director, so it's very improbable here. Voters will likely pour their love for the movie into Regina King's Best Supporting Actress bid.
With The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, is it possible that the Coen Brothers got nominated for 1/5 of a movie script? Well, voters aren't going to give an Oscar for a fraction of a script, especially when the Coens have a few of these awards, for better films. They're not going to get one for a movie most of movie-going America has never heard of.
Ready Player One should have been soooooo good: exceptional book, solid casting, ample budget, 80s nostalgia, and Steven Freaking Spielberg! And the author of the book, Ernest Cline, also wrote the screenplay (along with the talented Zak Penn), which is typically a good sign - he's not going to butcher his own book… right? But somehow, the movie and the script come off as incredibly cartoonish, instead of capturing the cerebral marvel of virtual reality conjured by the book. (It probably doesn't help that Spielberg eliminated about half of the possible 1980s references by keeping out elements from his own films.) In short, the movie seems like it's trying to please every possible audience member, while the book feels like it was written directly for me. A perfect example of an aspect that comes off as generic instead of specific is the music. Contrast that with the music from my snubbed choice (and a far better cinematic experience), Alex Garland's Annihilation. Ready Player One opens with the crowd-pleaser "Panama", by Van Halen. And Annihilation features Crosby Stills and Nash's "Helplessly Hoping", a dreamy ditty from the late 60s that most viewers have never heard. I'll take Van Halen (hell yeah!) any day over CSN (snooze), but the use of "Panama" in Ready Player One is lazy and uninspired; it just feels like someone said, "What's a cool guitar-heavy 80s song that we could run over the opening credits?", without any regard for how it would complement the story. The moment is forgotten immediately. On the other hand, "Helplessly Hoping" was clearly chosen passionately and painstakingly for Annihilation. It augments the scenes in the film so well that it feels like it was actually written for the movie itself; the effect is haunting, stays with the viewer after the movie is over, and even contains additional subtext that is revealed upon repeat viewings. The difference between the films is night and day: a movie about virtual reality that feels disappointingly remote, and a movie about an unknowable phenomenon that feels refreshingly immersive.