The nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards are out, but the ceremony on February 24th seems a way off, so why not find out now who’s going to win?
The nominations list contains some fascinating battles, and some surprises. Lots has already been written about those who surprisingly didn’t make it (Damian Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man only nominated in technical categories, Mary Queen of Scots likewise despite two in vogue actresses facing off.). And Bohemian Rhapsody‘s already celebrating being one that surprisingly did. From well before shooting started, this was a film that looked properly doomed: stars who wouldn’t star, rumours that the rest of Queen were neutering the story, and then a director getting fired halfway through. Even when it did reach cinemas, reviews of Bohemian Rhapsody weren’t universally good. But lots of people enjoyed the film, and everyone thought Rami Malek’s take on Freddie was extraordinary, and suddenly it was winning Golden Globes and now it’s got a handful of Oscar nominations. Sometimes Hollywood likes to remind itself that it’s in the entertainment business.
The biggest – and bizarrest – disappointment is of course that, in a year when unusually the industry managed to fund a raft of impressive films by impressive female directors, none of those films and none of those directors was nominated. It’ll be interesting to see how the widespread criticism of that affects attitudes towards those that did make it.
A Star Is Born
Under current rules the Academy can nominate up to ten Best Pictures, and the fact they’ve only put up eight suggests the experts see this as a non-vintage year. But it’s a really interesting mix. Black Panther is the stand-out story, a superhero picture seen as pioneering because of its black protagonist, and which has now parlayed that renown and generally very positive reviews into a pioneering Best Picture nomination.
It’s a pretty even match-up between a bunch of generally very entertaining films. Sometimes the Academy likes to seem forward-looking (two films with Black in the title), sometimes the Academy likes costume (anarchic Queen Anne romp The Favourite, from a director both hip and respected), and more than sometimes the Academy likes to look in the mirror (A Star Is Born).
This is where any suggestion that the Academy still has something to prove – with #MeToo unsatisfied and a Director’s list that’s woefully old-style – might come into play. I suspect the best hint of the likely winner is that only two of the films are not in some way tongue-in-cheek or comic or entertainment-driven. (BlacKkKlansman really isn’t light, but has been oddly marketed light). Green Book, based on the true story of jazz pianist Don Shirley’s Deep South road trip, has had some criticism for its handling of the material. So let’s guess Roma, a serious and beautiful and almost universally praised film, by a favoured director, and Academy voters getting to feel terribly good about themselves.
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Any of these would be a popular winner, one way or another, and in most years could be. Olivia Colman is on the fast-track to National Treasure (final stop: actually becoming Judi Dench, just before beatification), but perhaps not yet for Americans. Surely, surely, it’s Glenn Close year: Hollywood royalty, in a genuinely classy and strong performance. (Otherwise she’ll tie with Richard Burton for seven nominations without a win, Peter O’Toole still out in front with eight…).
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Another fascinating contest, this. No landmark Lincoln-type performances, no old legends getting their lifetime achievement nod; just five generally popular actors in generally well-reviewed films, delivering in most cases a really distinctive performance. Remarkably, four out of the five are real-life characters (and the fifth, Cooper’s fading star, is so well known after three previous versions of the film that he might as well be).
Let’s make the same mistake as those making predictions for all the previous awards he went on to win, and say that the many voters who enjoyed Rami Malek’s performance wouldn’t feel right giving him the gong in this company; and perhaps Queen isn’t enough of a treasure for the American-dominated Academy. Christian Bale just keeps on giving extraordinary performances, but his Dick Cheney may seem too understated and too close to impersonation. Bradley Cooper has a good shout for A Star is Born, in lieu of the Director’s award he wasn’t nominated for and because doing a stylish skilful job on this generation’s version of the classic Hollywood fable is something like a community service.
But if the voters go serious in dark times, it’s down to the two lean grizzled warriors playing a little against type. Viggo Mortensen might suffer from the criticism of Green Book, and for a more understated role. So, a sneaky feeling it’s going to be long-shot Willem Dafoe: Hollywood loves her veterans, who pay their dues in everything from experimental theatre to Speed 2, and here’s a distinctive and moving and deeply worthy performance.
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Anything could happen here, but I suspect it’s down to two. Rachel Weisz (who won this in 2006) always gives the impression of being Oscar-material, a serious actress making interesting choices, but she and Emma Stone (who won Best Actress only two years ago) probably cancel each other out. It was a pleasant surprise that Marina de Tavira got nominated but, especially if they’ve done their bit by giving Roma one of the bigger awards, voters are likely to pick something closer to home here. So it’ll be either Amy Adams, because she’s so good so consistently and keeps being nominated and they’ve got to get it right sometime, or Regina King, as the mother in the under-nominated If Beale Street Could Talk.
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Really interesting mix, this. Ali’s is the most weighty performance on the surface and he won the Golden Globe for it, but he’s conceded there’s controversy over the script (he ‘did the best with the material’), and voters may feel he doesn’t need this award again so soon after winning for Moonlight. The same may hold for Rockwell, who won last year; and these days George W. Bush doesn’t seem as ridiculous as he did when Josh Brolin played him in W, so there’s less mileage in lampooning him. Adam Driver plays a more serious version of the Adam Driver part, which is always popular, and it’s a relatively substantial role – but perhaps not distinctive enough. British commentators have been talking up Richard E. Grant’s louche turn as forger’s accomplice in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (“Maybe she didn’t die; maybe she just moved back to the suburbs. I always confuse those two.”) – largely on the basis of ‘because Withnail’. That may resonate less with American voters, perhaps more likely to reward veteran character actor Elliott, especially if they didn’t give A Star Is Born one of the bigger prizes.
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice
This is an amazingly diverse list of directors, with three of the five non-Americans (not to mention the even balance of X and Y chromosomes), and a wide open competition. Pawlikowski’s Cold War has been highly praised, and Hollywood will have enjoyed McKay’s pillorying of Dick Cheney in Vice, but I guess voters will feel stronger claims elsewhere. With The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos has crowned an increasingly respected career with a film that’s entertaining and stylish. The credentials of Cuarón and Roma are immaculate, and it would be no surprise if he got his second statuette five years after Gravity. But although the Best Picture – Best Director double whammy has become typical, I’ve a suspicion this year might be an exception, with voters giving Roma the former and thus leaving the latter free as an informal lifetime achievement and significance award for Spike Lee (despite a film that, though powerful and genuinely important and generally stylish, is tonally a muddle).
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
The Favourite, Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay
Because this is a Script Hack, a word or two about scripts: no idea. Among the Adapted Screenplays, the longer shots are Buster Scruggs, because the Coens have already won twice and for better work, and BlacKkKlansman, because the studio have pitched it as more a comedy than the still-resonant relatively true story it really is. A Star is Born could win, particularly if it’s lost out elsewhere. Tossing a coin… and predicting the wit, and writing-about-writing appeal, of Can You Ever Forgive Me? over the heritage and worth of If Beale Street Could Talk.
The Original Screenplays are even more of an unknown. By process of elimination/making stuff up… This is where Green Book is most likely to suffer because of complaints about how the characters are represented. And, though a clean sweep is very possible, this might be one award where Roma seems less distinctive. The Favourite, serious-because-history but with a funky/rude modern tone, has perhaps its best chance of a major award here. The same is true of Vice, a story and a style Hollywood will have enjoyed, though it might be seen as more of an actors’ film than a writer’s. So let’s say a sentimental Oscar for the veteran Paul Schrader, four decades after Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and still waiting for an Oscar. Who knows?