#OscarsSoClose. The Academy Awards are the ultimate gold standard for film as an art form. Winning an Oscar assures a place in history – and whether the Academy gets it right or wrong, history is written by the victors! This year’s Oscar race is especially exciting. Over the past 3 years the Academy has embarked on a massive effort to update itself by opening its membership floodgates, in an effort to dilute the staid homogeneity of its older white male core. The first result of those efforts was seen in 2017, when Moonlight shocked the world by winning the Best Picture Oscar that everyone – even the announcers – thought belonged to La La Land.
We can definitely see the footprints of the different factions of the Academy in this year’s nominees. The more traditional members were probably most responsible for nominating Green Book (with its similarities to the 1989 winner Driving Miss Daisy), Vice (with its preach-to-the-choir liberal swipes at unsympathetic conservatives) and The Favourite (British costume dramas having a long tradition of appeal). The very new group of younger, more racially diversified, more international and more female members? They most probably backed the first-ever comic-book-based blockbuster nominee, Black Panther; the epic/intimate Spanish-language Roma; and were able to see and value the brilliance of Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman, unlike the 1989 membership, who largely ignored Do The Right Thing.
The question now is: who is going to win? With the volatility of an Academy membership in the active throes of defining its new personality, predicting the Oscars and winning that office pool is more difficult than ever, and therefore that much more exciting! Below I offer my humble salvos in a number of Oscar categories that I’m most interested in (bookmark this page to come back and ridicule me after the Feb. 24th ceremony, when the Oscars inevitably upend all conventional wisdom, LOL!)
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: Green Book
Should Win: Blackkklansman
One thing that hasn’t changed about the Oscars: the Academy loves to tell a good story! Roma is the most likely winner because if it does, it will have the distinction of being the first foreign language film to ever win this category, and who can resist the chance to cast a history-making vote? Another plus is that although it is “foreign”, its creator Alfonso Cuarón is actually something of a Hollywood insider, having directed Gravity and a Harry Potter film. If not Roma, then Green Book is the next most likely choice, with its middle-of-the-road, feel-good fuzzies. Personally, I always gravitate to the radical – and the edgy, incinerating Blackkklansman is the most smelling-salts, slap-in-the-face worthy of this group. And how many Oscars does Cuarón need, anyway? He’s already won 2 for Gravity, and he’s likely to pick up at least another 3 out of the 4 nominations he has received for Roma. The Academy will most likely find a way to give Spike Lee at least one competitive Oscar for this masterpiece – probably the consolation prize of Best Adapted Screenplay, or possibly even Best Director. It will be a horror show on Twitter if they don’t give Spike anything at all!
Will Win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Christian Bale, Vice
Should Win: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the weakest-reviewed Best Picture nominees in recent memory but guess what? The public loves it (highest grossing music bio-pic of all time) and apparently so does everyone in the industry who is not a critic, so I’m certain the Academy is determined to honor the movie with at least one win. The best chance to do that would be to honor Rami Malek for his energetic impersonation of the larger-than-life Freddie Mercury, and here’s another great story – this wonderful young actor, heretofore known primarily for his breakthrough role in television’s “Mr. Robot”, springs out of “nowhere” to the top podium of the cinema game. I like Malek a lot, but I especially love Willem Dafoe’s interpretation of Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate – and after the heartbreak of Dafoe not winning last year for The Florida Project, he really deserves an Oscar of his own at some point. Extremely doubtful it will be this year.
Will Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Could Win: Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Should Win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
A lot has been said of Amy Adams being nominated six times and not yet having won; like Glenn Close in the Best Actress category (likely headed for her first win there for The Wife, on her seventh nomination), I think Adams is going to have to wait for the role that the Academy really wants to honor her for, and I don’t think Lynne Cheney is the one. Regina King is magnificent in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk and her maternal warmth will most likely melt the most Oscar hearts. But watch out for Rachel Weisz! The Favourite is a delicious movie, largely due to the three great actresses in the leading roles and with 10 nominations, the Academy will want to honor it somewhere. Olivia Coleman is fantastic and could take Best Actress (the Academy can be quite cruel to its older actresses – just ask Annette Benning), but probably the most enjoyable character in the film is Weisz’s Lady Sarah, and it’s been a long 13 years since her only other Oscar win (whereas co-star Emma Stone just won her Oscar two years ago).
Will Win: Free Solo
Could Win: RBG
Should Win: Free Solo, Minding the Gap, RBG (three-way tie!)
Documentaries are some of the hottest films in the art house cinema market these days, with a staggering four documentaries alone grossing more than $10 million each at last year’s box office – and two of them are nominated for this year’s Oscar. It’s an incredibly tough call to make between Free Solo and RBG, both of them are extremely popular – but I would give the slight edge to Free Solo as Academy voters might respond to the one-of-a-kind subject and footage, much like they did in 2008 when they gave the Oscar in this category to Man on Wire. But never count out Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s rock-star like status. I’m so glad I’m not an actual Academy voter because I would have an impossible time choosing one over the other – I love them both! And I also equally love Bing Liu’s devastating and important portrait of suburban America, Minding the Gap.
Will Win: Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Could Win: Terence Blanchard, Blackkklansman
Should Win: Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther; Terence Blanchard, Blackkklansman; Nicolas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk (another three-way tie!)
Here’s another category that makes me happy not to be an Oscar voter (and therefore have to make a choice). This category contains what is in my opinion three of the best original scores of the entire decade, never mind just 2019! All three scores are brilliant as stand-alone listening experiences, but even more extraordinary when you feel how superbly they fit their respective films’ characters. Watch the waterfall fight scene in Black Panther and just try to imagine it without Ludwig Goransson’s stirring music; for that scene alone, I’d give the edge to Ludwig Goransson winning this category. Less obvious but just as deeply affecting are Terence Blanchard and Nicolas Britell’s work in Blackkklansman and if Beale Street Could Talk, respectively; in a perfect world, all 3 of these composers would tie and each get to take home an Oscar this year.
These are five of the categories I’ll be watching most closely on Sunday Feb. 24th, but every category has its own particular drama. Watch out for Miami’s own Phil Lord to pick up an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature category for Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse! For a complete list of nominees, check here.