– by JD Westfall, VW’s movie connoisseur –
Around this time last year, I wrote an article offering my predictions for the then-upcoming 90th Academy Awards ceremony. In that article, I mentioned how there was a system you could use that would almost always give you the right answer about which films would win. It wasn’t a guaranteed system, but it was close. Let’s say a 98% success rate.
Last year threw a wrench in the plan. There was no single film that met all the criteria needed for my system to work. Two came close: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and The Shape of Water. Given a variety of circumstances, I finally chose The Shape of Water as the eventual winner, but it was a difficult choice. Happily though, it was the correct prediction.
This year though … wow, if I had known we would be facing a year like this, I never would have complained about last year. Not only do none of the nominated films match the criteria for my system to work, none of them come even close. When the Academy Award nominations were finally announced, it threw everything even further out of whack.
A Star is Born, for example, seemed like the obvious frontrunner for most of the awards season. But look what it lacks. No nomination for Best Director or Best Film Editing, two of the most important categories for a film to get to prepare it for a Best Picture win. So from there we moved to the next most obvious choice.
Green Book, a comedy/drama about race relations. Seems like classic Oscar bait, and had won many predecessor awards such as the Producers Guild Award for Best Film and the Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy, both of which have predicted a majority of eventual winners. But then again, on the morning of Oscar nominations, no mention of Green Book‘s director Peter Farrelly. This obviously weakened the film’s chances, so we look to the next most likely candidate for Best Picture.
Roma. A truly incredible, breathtaking film, and one I will be writing about at every single possible opportunity in the future. Despite being universally lauded by critics, however, it still never seemed like a realistic frontrunner for one very specific, though stupid, reason: It’s in Spanish, and no foreign language film has ever won the Best Picture Oscar. Thankfully, as the year progressed and more precursor awards heaped praises on Roma, it began to seem like maybe this was the frontrunner after all! Until, once more, the morning of the Academy Award nominations. While Roma scored big in almost every important category, one vital one was missing. Best Film Editing. How badly has this affected Roma‘s chances of taking the big prize? I’m still not sure, but it does shake my faith enough to convince me to move on to another frontrunner.
BlacKkKlansman. Looking seriously at this one, I began to feel maybe it is the real frontrunner. See for yourself. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. Not only that, it got a Best Ensemble nomination from the Screen Actors Guild (a nom that has been received by all but two Best Picture winners), and was nominated as Best Film by the Producers Guild, and was heavily represented at the Golden Globes. So we do actually have one film that ticks all the boxes needed! So surely this is our frontrunner!
Not so fast. Looking through the list we see that, yes, it got lots of nominations. But it hasn’t won anything, has it? Its most substantial win was a Screenplay award from the BAFTAs (the British Oscars essentially). Can a film with only one notable win on the awards war path really take home the ultimate prize? Maybe, but it seems unlikely to me. Which moves us along to our final potential winner.
The Favourite. Perhaps it was destined by the name*, but The Favourite has been making a strong showing throughout the circuit. At the Oscars it shares the vital Best Director and Best Film Editing nominations that advanced BlacKkKlansman in the race, but with an added bonus of a staggering ten total nominations, tying it with Roma as the most nominated film of the year. It also just had an amazing showing at the BAFTAs, winning seven separate awards. So is The Favourite really the favorite?
(* apologies to Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, you didn’t get the same advantage. At all.)
Honestly, I still don’t think so. Many of the problems faced by BlacKkKlansman face this film as well. While it’s been getting major love in the nominations, its wins are few and far between. Even at the BAFTAs where it cleaned up royally (pun not intended), it was overshadowed in the biggest categories by Roma, which it’s tied with at the Oscars, giving the Mexican film a slight edge. So which film will probably win? Are there any other potential winners?
While Black Panther has had a history making run through the awards season, I still think we’re a few years away from a superhero film winning the top prize (honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that never happens).
Meanwhile Vice and particularly Bohemian Rhapsody have stunningly bad reviews for a Best Picture nominee, so I’d put their chances of winning at the same level as a snowball’s in Hell. So where does this leave us? Can we reliably predict a winner this year?
No. We cannot. However, I’m going to try it anyway.
Best Picture: I’m going to say we have another history making event this year. A Best Picture Winner in a foreign language. Roma deserves the top prize, and I dare say the Academy will back me up on that. I still have a level of doubt and wonder if maybe Green Book has a devoted enough fan base to make it to the top, but I’m still leaning 60/40 in favor of Roma.
Best Director: This one is much easier to predict. Alfonso Cuaron has been an unstoppable force in every single precursor awards ceremony. I mean, Spike Lee may be a long distant second, but the odds of an upset on Oscar night in this category is the most unlikely thing I can think of.
Best Actor: Here we see a pretty even tie between Rami Malek’s uncanny transformation in Bohemian Rhapsody and Christian Bale’s uncanny transformation in Vice. While historically portrayals of real life politicians have a better chance of winning awards (Lincoln, The Queen, The Iron Lady, etc) I think in this instance Malek has the upper hand. Another 60/40 split for me, but favor goes to Rami Malek.
Best Actress: Glenn Close has been nominated time and time again without a win, and her recent performance in The Wife has been called a career best, so we can pretty safely give it to her. Olivia Colman also has some weight due to her stellar turn in The Favourite so again, a possible upset, but most likely Glenn Close.
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Original Screenplay: The Favourite
Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Best Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Best Foreign Language Film: Roma
Best Documentary – Feature: Free Solo (though RBG could easily take it. 50/50)
Best Documentary – Short Subject: Black Sheep
Best Live Action Short Film: Detainment
Best Animated Short Film: Bao
Best Original Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Original Song: Shallow (A Star is Born)
Best Sound Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Best Sound Mixing: A Star is Born
Best Production Design: The Favourite
Best Cinematography: Roma
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Best Costume Design: The Favourite
Best Film Editing: Vice (though again, possible steal by The Favourite. 50/50)
Best Visual Effects: Avengers – Infinity War
All in all, this has been a strange year. But despite some highly questionable choices amongst the nominees (Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, and Vice are all poster boys of mediocrity in film to me) this bizarre range actually gives me more respect for the Academy. Here’s why.
No other organization that I can think of reacts as quickly to criticism and legitimate complaints as they do. As soon as the general populace pointed out the dominance of white performers and directors, they took almost immediate action to deal with the problem. They haven’t solved it yet, obviously, but we’re seeing progress. Compare their list of nominees with other awards groups, such as the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, and be amazed at how much better the Academy is at diversity (you think only five women and six black men getting Director nominations is bad? Take a look at those other two. The Globes didn’t even give Kathryn Bigelow a win)
Aside from diversity issues, whenever I hear people complain about the Oscars, it’s usually one of these. Either “I’ve never even heard of any of these movies! Why don’t they nominate movies people actually watch?!” or “They only nominate popular crowd pleasing movies! American movies about American men doing American things! Why don’t they nominate the movies that are actually good?!”
We can immediately see the absolute hypocrisy of these complaints and how they cancel one another out, and yet, what are we seeing? For the ones complaining popular movies don’t get nominated, we see three films that earned $200 million in the USA alone (A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, and obviously Black Panther).
For the ones complaining that only popular movies get nominated and the truly good (and international) movies get ignored, we have Roma and The Favourite, the lowest grossing of the nominees, also scoring the biggest presence this year. Not only that, we see two other foreign language movies getting a surprising presence, with Cold War getting a shocking Best Director nom, and Never Look Away in the cinematography race (alongside Cold War and Roma)
So can we please just all agree that while the Oscars are obviously flawed, they’re doing better than most, and we should all just leave them alone and let them nominate what they want? Thank you.