Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Oscars 2019: Early reactions and predictions

The Oscar nominations were released a week ago on Tuesday, Jnauary 22, and while there still is not a host for the telecast itself , there is now a lot more clarity on this year's race. A lot of the heavy hitters that were expected to be there were nominated, but there still managed to be a few surprises - and there have been even a few more in the week since.

Here are my top five takeaways from this year's nominations, one week after the announcement:

1. As Mark Harris observed, the Academy is quite divided in its current iteration, and much like the American political system, there are really two groups: the younger, much more diverse, millennial-oriented generation; and the older, whiter, more male establishment. As has happened in each of the past few years, the overall nominations reflect a division between the more traditional "Oscar bait" (Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody) and more progressive fare (Black Panther, Roma), as represented by primary face-off between Green Book and Roma (more on that in a bit). 

2. White males are still firmly in control of this thing. Despite the fact that the favourites in both supporting categories are currently actors of color, they represent the entirety of the African-American acting nominees and half of the nominations for non-white actors. Add in an unhealthy dominance of nominations by white males in other key categories, and it adds up to a relatively risk-averse Academy that favours the establishment (more on that later). We're still a long way from better representation both in front of and especially behind the cameras.

3. The snub narrative this year will be shared by First Man and If Beale Street Could Talk, which I find interesting as their writers/directors (Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins) were involved in the infamous Best Picture mix-up two years ago. But there's one other surprise contender for this narrative in Black Panther, which, despite seven nominations including one for Best Picture, has a chance to participate in this narrative after missing out on several key categories (Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing). It has the angle of being somewhat snubbed as both a superhero/popular film and as an African-American film, and if it does not come away with any major awards, it will likely be the movie most remembered for not winning, therein taking hold of the snub narrative.

4. This has the potential to be a particularly controversial Oscars on several fronts, both in regard to the nominated films and the Oscars itself. Aside from the continually reinforced aforementioned white maleness of the nominees, there is the little issue of the telecast itself and who will host (a process which has not been without controversy already), as well as that snafu of the "Best Popular Film" Oscar from last summer (which seems to have faded into memory, thankfully).

There are a number of controversies both about the content of and filmmakers behind Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, The Favourite, and Vice are politically divisive to varying degrees. Roma is subject both to scrutiny as a product of Netflix and the streaming system and politically as a representative of Mexico as per the current American government's rhetoric. Only A Star Is Born is really devoid of any controversy, other than the fact that a month ago it seemed like an unstoppable juggernaut but that now seemed like it likely peaked too early.

5. The main competition of Green Book and Roma is indicative of higher stakes for the future of the Academy. Let's be honest - the Academy will always be the Academy to some degree, and there will always be "Oscar bait" that succeeds in various categories. But there has been significant hope that this could be the year in which the Oscars really embrace change after indications in the past five years that it was doing so. The next month will go a long way to determining whether there is change or not.

That said, this really is a wide-open year in many categories, with as many as four films that could conceivably win Best Picture. Roma is the early favourite overall, with Green Book close behind and A Star Is Born and Black Panther another half-step further behind. But this seems like one of those years without a dominant film in which the major awards are divided among the main nominees and the movie with the most Oscars gets as few as three.

By the way, I was actually fairly close with my estimations on nominations for the major contenders, including that The Favourite would lead with ten nominations (of which I incorrectly identified only one!). I thought Roma's Netflix origins might hurt it a bit more than it apparently did, and I missed out on a nomination each for Vice and A Star Is Born, but I'm fairly happy with my overall prediction of the nominations. But now onto some of my thoughts on the specific competitions in the main categories.

Predictions by category

Best Picture: There ended up being eight nominees, rather than nine, so my prediction that If Beale Street Could Talk would make it in despite not being nominated for a PGA was incorrect - but I did correctly identify the other eight. This is an interesting race, with Roma and Green Book leading the pack, which also provides an interesting dichotomy for the Oscars and seems like it really might answer the question of whether the Academy is looking backward by awarding a spiritual sequel to Driving Miss Daisy and Crash or forward to a future in which a movie in a foreign language that was released on a streaming service can win Best Picture. It does seem like a watershed year for the Academy, but I think that Roma's accomplishment is such that the Academy will want to be on the right side of history.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron is a lock. It's not even a question.

Best Actor: A month ago, I thought Bradley Cooper was a lock. Now, he seems like Warren Beatty, who never won an acting Oscar. A week ago, it seemed like Christian Bale was a lock, but then Rami Malek won at the SAG Awards over the weekend. I think this might actually be Malek's to lose at this point, but the next month should be interesting.

Best Actress: Glenn Close, arguably the greatest living actress without an Oscar (my apologies to Amy Adams), looks like she will remedy that this year. I thought Olivia Colman might have more momentum, but this seems like Close's to lose, despite the fact that very few people seem to have seen The Wife.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali will win this for Green Book. There's no other option.

Best Supporting Actress: This is an interesting category, as the frontrunner - Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk - was not nominated for the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, and the winner at SAG - Emily Blunt - was not nominated here. I think King still takes it, particularly because Glenn Close has taken the "it's her time" narrative from Amy Adams, who has been better in the past and likely will be again in the future.

Best Original Screenplay: It seems like this is where The Favourite will be acknowledged, but it is not impossible for Green Book to win here even with its controversy. That said, the writer's branch often likes to reward creativity, so I expect The Favourite to win.

Best Adapted Screenplay: While at one point I could have seen this being where A Star Is Born got an Oscar, I think that BlacKkKlansman will win here and that Spike Lee will finally win a competitive Oscar. Sure, it's not for Directing, but it's still meaningful.

Best Animated Feature: It seems like it comes down to two superhero movies: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Incredibles 2. Despite some late Spidey momentum, it seems more likely that Brad Bird will win his third (!) Oscar in this category for the return of his Pixar superheroes.

Bonus picks

Best Original Song: "Shallow" is where A Star Is Born - and Lady Gaga, who famously lost to Sam Smith's turgid Bond theme - gets its Oscar.

Foreign Language Film: It seems obvious that this would be Roma, and I think it will be, but there's a case to be made that if people think that Roma will win Best Picture that Cold War could win here. But I think Roma will win.

Cinematography: Cold War might win this category, but the crazy thing is that Alfonso Cuaron could win here, and if Roma really sweeps the night, it could be one of five Oscars (Cinematography, Picture - as Producer, Director, Writing, and Foreign Language Film) he wins for the movie. It's not likely, but the fact that it could happen is kind of nuts in itself.

Technical categories: I expect The Favourite to win a couple, Vice to win Makeup and Hairstyling, and Black Panther to win at least one, but I don't think there will be one dominant film in the technical categories this year.

Film Editing: Here's a weird stat: all five nominees here are nominated for Best Picture, but two of the most nominated films - Roma and A Star Is Born, the two early frontrunners - were not. The only time the Best Picture winner was not nominated in this category was Birdman in 2015, which was essentially shot in a few long takes, so Roma's leading despite this lack is quite interesting. This might be where Vice wins a second Oscar.

My personal record

This is now my fifteenth year of publicly predicting the Oscar winners, and I am happy overall with my results in that period (91/126 for 72.2% correct in the nine major categories) with one exception: I'm really bad at predicting Best Picture. I have a four-year-long streak of missing that category, including the last two of the last three which spoiled what would have been 9/9 sweeps. It's not quite as bad as it seems: at least two of those picks were defensible - The Revenant over Spotlight and La La Land over Moonlight - and my risk of taking Get Out over The Shape of Water last year would have been brilliant if it had happened. (Not choosing Birdman was just a product of being really out of tune that year.) But it's still pretty bad, and combined with a bad streak from 2005-2007, it makes it my worst category by far.

Here are my results by category and by year.

Results by category:
Best Picture: 6/14 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Best Director: 11/14 (missed 2011, 2013, 2015)
Best Actor: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2009, 2017)
Best Actress: 12/14 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 12/14 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 12/14 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Original Screenplay: 9/14 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 11/14 (missed 2008, 2010, 2015)
Best Animated Feature: 11/14 (missed 2007, 2013, 2015)

Results by year:
2018: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2017: 7/9 (missed Picture and Actor)
2016: 8/9 (missed Picture)
2015: 4/9 (missed Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, and Animated Feature)
2014: 8/9 (missed Original Screenplay)
2013: 6/9 (missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2012: 8/9 (missed Actress)
2011: 7/9 (missed Director and Original Screenplay)
2010: 6/9 (missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay)
2009: 8/9 (missed Actor)
2008: 6/9 (missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay)
2007: 5/9 (missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature)
2006: 7/9 (missed Picture and Supporting Actress)
2005: 7/9 (missed Picture and Original Screenplay)


This is turning into a very interesting year for the Academy, with the possibility of change looming ever larger over the possible winners this year. The next month should go a long way to determining whether that change is actually here, or whether the Academy will double down on its old favourite tropes. And, of course, if this will set a new low for the telecast itself, depending on who does (or does not) host.

As for me, I still have a number of films yet to watch: RomaA Star Is Born; The Favourite, BlacKkKlansmanBohemian Rhapsody; and, problematic though it may be, even Green Book. And I might try to rewatch Black Panther, too. And although there might be some personal changes (!) that interfere with these best-laid plans, I will do my best to make my final picks closer to the ceremony on February 24.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Oscars 2019: The pre-nomination storylines

The Academy Award nominations closed on Monday, and they will be tabulated over the next week before they are announced on Tuesday, January 22. But even though the nomination window is closed, there are still quite a few unresolved storylines that remain open. Here are some of my thoughts on five major storylines heading into the announcement of the nominations.

1. Which eight or nine movies will be nominated for Best Picture? The Oscars' flagship category is Best Picture, which is why it expanded the number of nominees in 2010, when it increased from five to ten for two years. In the seven years since the subsequent change from "ten" to "between five and ten" nominees, there have been five years with nine and two others with eight nominees, so it seems like a good chance that there will be either eight or nine again this year. My bet is on nine nominees, with seven that I think are locks: A Star Is Born; The Favourite; and Roma, the three "favourites", as well as BlacKkKlansman; Black Panther; Green Book; and Vice.

The Academy's Best Picture nominations have overlapped with films nominated by the Producers Guild of America (PGA) by between seven and nine spots (of the ten that appear on the PGA list) each year since the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees. All seven of the aforementioned "locks" are PGA nominees this year, which leaves one or two spots remaining, and a few interesting possibilities.

The Academy often uses one of those spots for an indie film: examples include Phantom Thread; A Serious Man; Winter's Bone; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Room; Amour; or Philomena. I think this year that honour will go to If Beale Street Could Talk over First Man and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (though I do expect some acting nominations for the latter two films).

The other spot often seems to go to some kind of Oscar biopic catnip kind of movie that also has some popular draw: Darkest Hour; The Blind Side; and Selma. This year, however, one of those kinds of movies was actually (surprisingly) listed by the PGA, and I think it will be nominated for Best Picture despite its checkered history behind the scenes, especially after its recent win at the Golden Globes: Bohemian Rhapsody.

My next pick - or if there were somehow to be a tenth nominee - would be A Quiet Place, which would likely leave Crazy Rich Asians as the only PGA-nominated film out of the Best Picture conversation this year. But even with a year that is this wide open, it just does not seem likely that there will be a full complement of nominees.

2. Just how many nominations will Black Panther get? With a Best Picture nomination seeming all but guaranteed for the first time for a Marvel movie, the question is how many nominations it can receive. I think the final number will be eight, to tie the superhero movie record held by The Dark Knight a decade ago. I'm hedging my bets a bit, as it could get nine or ten nominations, but I doubt director Ryan Coogler will be nominated, and I think that the movie will miss on at least one of the technical categories.

For the record, I think it gets to eight with nominations for Picture, Supporting Actor (Michael B. Jordan), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography (Rachael Morrison with her second consecutive nomination after 89 years of no female Directors of Photography being nominated), Art Direction, Costume Design, and two of Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects.

3. Which movie will lead in nominations and thus be declared the early frontrunner? In the last few years, the leading nominees have often been technically proficient movies that have had critical acclaim: Mad Max: Fury Road; The Revenant. The movie that most fits that bill is actually Black Panther, but something tells me that the movie that will lead in the nominations is The Favourite, with ten (Picture, Director, Screenplay, the three Actresses, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Film Editing).

For the record, I think that this year will have a number of movies with multiple nominations. In addition to Black Panther and The Favorite, I think the next most nominated film will be Roma with seven or eight nominations (Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Film Editing, and a technical award). I'm not sure whether its distribution through Netflix will hurt it other than perhaps having curtailed its reception somewhat; then again, I could also see Roma being the most-nominated film if it receives what seems to be well-deserved favour in the technical categories.

After those three, Vice should get six or seven nominations (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Makeup and Hairstyling, and maybe Supporting Actor), as should A Star Is Born (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Song, and maybe Supporting Actor), providing narratives for five favourites (when there are usually three).

4. Who gets the snub narrative this year? There are usually a couple of types of movies that dominate the snub talk after the nominations, but they take on different directions depending on the film. There's usually the "popular but it should really have gotten more attention" snub that has been quieter in recent years because the Academy has been nominating science fiction movies for the past decade. Think Straight Outta ComptonDeadpool, or even Blade Runner 2049. If Black Panther doesn't get the love that's expected, it will dominate this narrative, but my pick is A Quiet Place over Crazy Rich Asians, which has not received the kind of narrative that would place it in the Oscar conversation.

There's also the "indie that really should have gotten more attention" type of snub. There are, of course, many indies that are considered by some to be snubbed, but I'm referring to the movies that actually garner some semblance of momentum and then are left without many - if any - nominations. Think: Drive; Moonrise Kingdom; Inside Llewyn Davis. The most likely candidate here is First Man, which had a lot of buzz initially due to its pedigree (Oscar-winning director, biopic, Oscar-nominated star), but now seems like more of a bust. If First Man somehow breaks through, this corner could belong to Can You Ever Forgive Me?

5. Will Paul Schrader finally be nominated? It is unreal to me that the writer of Taxi DriverRaging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ - all films directed by Martin Scorsese that were nominated for Best Picture - has never been nominated for an Oscar. Schrader's spiritual sequel (pun intended) to Taxi DriverFirst Reformed, received critical acclaim, and it probably represents his last best chance to be nominated. For what it's worth, I think that Schrader will be nominated for Original Screenplay, along with a deserved Actor nomination for the movie's star, Ethan Hawke.

There will, of course, be many more storylines to come next week, depending on how the nominations go. Will Roma and A Star Is Born regain their erstwhile favourite status? Will Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody suffer a post-Globes backlash? Will A Quiet Place or First Man usurp some of their nominations? Will there be any surprises in the acting nominations, or will this be another year of mostly straightforward competitions that already seem decided? And can Disney win its first ever Best Picture Oscar (it's hard to believe, I know!) with a Marvel movie? Stay tuned...


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