Well, it’s almost over.
After an awards season that felt especially unmoored and unhinged, the 91st Academy Awards are set for this coming Sunday. After seeing all of the films in contention for Best Picture, and some key others in other races, and examining the state of the races and campaigns, here are my predictions for who will be taking home that little gold man in some key categories Sunday night, and who should be.
This category is a mess. Normally, messes are fun and adds some much-needed excitement to what can be a tedious and exhausting season. However, this year’s mess has been downright unpleasant, marred by mud-slinging, scandal, accusations, and an interest in king making prognostications instead of honoring exemplary work. All of this has made the biggest category of all difficult to pin down. There is clear industry support for Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, even with all of the issues fluttering around their edges (inaccuracies, outdated racial politics, outdated queer politics, troubled production, casual use of the N-word, sexual abuse allegations, to name a few). However, perception is everything, and it is doubtful the Academy will crown of its problem children the film of the year. Less controversial but still polarized is Vice, a film that feels like an overcomplicated political pastiche of The Big Short that lacks any real insight into Dick Cheney. Black Panther is a legitimate cultural phenomenon, and as exciting and game-changing a win would be, I doubt the Academy will overcome their superhero film biases to consider it.
There are four films with a real shot, with different paths of getting there. This season’s highest-profile underperformer A Star is Born can leverage that dubious status (and Bradley Cooper’s Best Director snub) as a rallying cry for its supporters to get and vote. The Favourite scored 10 nominations, indicating strong Academy support, even though it has been fairly low key, claiming few big pre-cursor wins. BlacKkKlansman has held firm since its summer release, and could ride its cultural relevance and Spike Lee goodwill to a possible upset. And then there is Roma. Alfonso Cuarón’s singular work has swept through the awards season with ease, building momentum up to tie The Favourite for the most nominations this year, including surprise nods in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Frankly, the Academy’s support of the film is surprising, considering the industry’s hesitance to acknowledge streaming-only films. It can still serve as a hurdle; just because the nominating committee was willing to acknowledge the film, doesn’t mean the broader Academy is willing to coronate a film – no matter triumphant – from Netflix. If Roma becomes the first streaming film (and foreign language film) to win an Oscar, it will be on the back of the Academy’s post #OscarsSoWhite influx of newer, younger voters. Assuming this voting bloc is as strong as the Academy hopes it is (lest there be another debacle), Roma is the film to beat. My personal preference? A Star is Born is quintessential Hollywood (for better or worse), drawing excellent performances from its leads, and delivering one of the year’s most iconic scenes. There are a lot of factors as to why it lost steam this season, and they are all unfair.
The Mexican director domination will continue with Alfonso Cuarón and his love letter to his childhood Roma. He wields his camera with astounding confidence and appreciation for his subjects, tapping into deep wells of emotion with nearly every shot. Streaming bias might possibly hold Roma back from the big prize, but it is highly unlikely audiences will deny Cuarón his second statuette. That is unless Spike Lee is able to break through with his potent narrative of being long overdue for Academy recognition. Not only is BlacKkKlansman one of the best-reviewed Spike Lee films in years, it is also the first film that he’s been nominated for in this category, after three decades in the business (he recently received an honorary Oscar). In a post #OscarsSoWhite world, a win for Lee would be both lifetime recognition and artistic triumph. However, Cuarón is undeniable.
The opinions about Bohemian Rhapsody are starkly divided, but everyone can agree that Rami Malek’s performance as the legendary Freddie Mercury transcends the limits of the plot, the historical inaccuracies, and even the attempts at sanitizing his life. Malek pounded the campaign pavement harder than his competition, despite the swirl of controversies and sexual assault allegations surrounding director Bryan Singer. To his credit, he’s handled the scandal well (minus an odd comment about Freddie Mercury’s ghost shielding him from Singer’s accusations). If Malek can strut him way across a Live Aid stage, and through the Singer storm, then walking across the Oscars stage should be a cake walk. I can’t help but feel, though, that Bradley Cooper essentially tossed away his shot at his first (and likely his only) Oscar for his lived-in, thoughtful performance in A Star is Born. The Best Director snub could possibly corral him some votes, but it is Malek’s to lose.
Aside from Best Original Song, this category is the easiest to telegraph: Glenn Close, after seven nominations, will claim her first Oscar, for her role as the unfulfilled spouse of a Nobel Prize-winning author in The Wife. Close’s performance – modulating between regret, disappointment, admiration, and thinly-veiled rage – is astonishing, and her Golden Globes speech sent her awards campaign into overdrive. Whatever points can be made about the career or consolation Oscar, Close’s impending win is long-overdue and well-deserved. That said, if the Academy really wanted to make amends for this astonishingly bad season, they would follow my advice and recreate the famous Hepburn/Streisand tie, with Lady Gaga.
Best Supporting Actor
I will forever be frustrated by the Academy’s seeming unwillingness to acknowledge Timothée Chalamet. With that said, look for Mahershala Ali to claim his second Oscar in three years for his elegant, layered portrayal of gifted Black pianist Don Shirley in Green Book. It’s a credit to his charming, thoughtful persona that he has largely been unaffected by the myriad controversies and complicated politics surrounding the film (and the fact that it is not that great). Ali really has no competition, unless Richard E. Grant’s charm offensive and Barbra Streisand sign-off has done enough to get more eyeballs on Can You Ever Forgive Me.
Best Supporting Actress
This category might be one of the biggest mysteries that the night will offer. For all intents and purposes, Regina King is best poised to take home the Oscar for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk. However, there are some marks against her: she missed key nominations from SAG and BAFTA, and her film greatly underperformed in other categories. That leaves for some complicated chances for an upset. Even through Rachel Weisz edged out her Favourite co-star Emma Stone for the BAFTA, it is highly likely they will split votes. Amy Adams was briefly considered a potential upset for her turn as Lynne Cheney in Vice, but after losing to Emily Blunt at the SAG and King at the Globes, this year appears to be another bridesmaid year for her. That leaves surprise nominee Marina de Tavira of Roma to ride the film’s huge success to a thoroughly shocking win if King doesn’t pull a Marcia Gay Harden.