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And the Oscar for Best Picture Goes To…

It’s becoming a struggle to remember the last time we had an Oscars ceremony which didn’t have at least some kind of controversy hanging over it. From #OscarsSoWhite to #OscarsSoMale to this year’s #OscarsSoShitShow – not a real hashtag, but it fits – the world’s leading movie awards show is now defined by perpetual chaos and outrage. The net result, however, of so much intellectual bandwidth being devoted to the Academy’s many self-inflicted wounds is that there’s precious little time left to actually talk about the movies.

But, remember, we are looking at the most popular – as measured by combined box office gross – set of nominees in years, and for the first time in recent memory there genuinely isn’t a single front-runner or at least handful of front-runners for Best Picture.

As Vox just meticulously laid out, you can make a pretty solid argument that of the 8 nominees Vice is the only one which legitimately has zero chance of winning. Otherwise, a win by either Roma, BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, The Favourite, Green Book, A Star is Born, or Bohemian Rhapsody wouldn’t register as completely shocking.

That, in theory, should equal higher ratings and excitement. The one thing you most want out of an awards show is spontaneity and surprise, and this year’s horse race has no heavy favorite. We should want to tune in just to see who wins. Yet, the Academy has somehow managed to still squander this genuine unpredictability thanks to a series of PR snafus which have overshadowed everything else about the Oscars.

Now, a lot of people are probably going to hate-watch the Oscars in the hopes of witnessing a trainwreck. Others will watch because they always do no matter what. Yet others will watch in the hopes of seeing their favorites win. Whatever your motivations, one thing is certain: a bunch of people are about win awards, office voting pools are about to busted wide open by the handful of surprise wins the Oscars always seem to deliver, and a year from now the majority of the public won’t remember who won what.

Most of my own personal picks for Best Picture – Eighth Grade and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – aren’t even nominated for the night’s big prize. However, I admit: I’m stoked that I don’t really know with any degree of certainty which group of producers are going to take the stage at the end of the night.

From a schadenfreude standpoint, this year’s Oscars feels like it deserves a Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody Best Picture win, thus capping a year of controversial decisions with arguably the most controversial choice possible. #FilmTwitter would have a field day, although doesn’t it always? I struggle to see that happening for Bohemian Rhapsody, but Green Book has been Teflon Don-esque in its ability to shurk off one controversy after another. A Best Picture win is a very real possibility.

But we have to talk about the most important factor: the preferential ballot.

Here’s the balloting system explained as in relation to last year’s nominees:

Thanks to the sweeping changes to its membership in recent years, the Academy is an entity at war with itself, as reflected in a set of nominees this year which simultaneously hew almost nauseatingly traditional and wildly progressive. In the Best Picture race, this trend would seem to favor not the film which evokes the most passion but instead the one which inspires the least amount of hate. The preferential ballot voting system will thus be key here.

Because of that many are predicting an upset win for BlacKkKlansman. It is still the only film this year to at least be nominated by all of the major precursor awards, which suggests broad support. Granted, it also seems to lose everywhere it goes, but almost none of those other shows utilize a preferential ballot. When finally exposed to such a “I at least liked it, didn’t hate it” voting system, BlacKkKlansman might emerge as the one left standing at the end by virtue of being the least vulnerable to a smear campaign:

  • It’s not a comic book movie (Black Panther).
  • It’s not a Netflix movie (Roma) and thus indicative of an existential threat to the moviegoing experience.
  • It’s not vaguely sexist nor does it star two actors who have committed the awards season sin of repeatedly seeming less than sincere (A Star is Born).
  • It’s not too British or strange for its own good (The Favourite).
  • It’s not a mediocre movie with a horribly problematic production history (Bohemian Rhapsody).
  • It’s not beset by controversy and an Old Hollywood approach to racism like Green Book.
  • It’s not Vice.

Plus, as the Best Picture award morphs from recognition of greatness to a more malleable recognition of the film which most effectively speaks to injustice in the world, BlacKkKlansman fits the bill as the movie which speaks to racism in the least objectionable way out of all the nominees (Boots Riley disagrees, obviously). That might be enough to turn this into Spike Lee’s The Departed – far from his best work, but the one which finally gets him his Best Picture Oscar.

Or so the argument goes.

I don’t know how much I buy it simply because when it comes to the Oscars I’m a big believer in momentum. BlacKkKlansman losing genuinely everywhere it goes except for the Oscars flies the face of that. In such an atypical year, that would seem fitting. However, I’m not willing to go that far.

Instead, I’m playing it safe and predicting Roma will win, although this isn’t quite the ultra-safe choice it might appear to be. Yes, the same woman responsible for helping engineer Moonlight’s Best Picture win is handling Roma’s campaign, which is said to be one of the most expensive in Oscars history. Combine that with the film’s rapturous critical response and this would seem like a no-brainer…if not for the Netflix connection. It is surprisingly easy to imagine Academy members voting against Roma just to stick it to Netflix the same way Emmy voters have done to deny the streaming service a Best Comedy or Drama win.

Not helping matters: No foreign language film has ever won Best Picture, and The Artist is the last black & white movie to do so.

So, to recap:

  • Foreign language.
  • Black & white.
  • Netflix.
  • And it doesn’t star anyone you’ve ever heard of. When, for example, Yalitza Aparicio scored a slightly surprising nomination for Best Actress there were members of the Academy who admitted, anonymously of course, to not knowing which character she plays in the movie – the mother or the maid?

Picking Roma to win is thus a slightly more radical choice than it might seem. However, so much of this comes down to feel for me, as in what feels like the movie everyone has loved the longest with the least objections. What seems like the most boring, least surprising choice possible simply because by the time the Oscars roll around everyone has already anointed the movie an instant classic and granted it nearly unwavering support?

The great thing about this awards season is no movie totally fits that description. However, Roma comes the closest for me, and I do wonder if we’re just talking ourselves into hyping this year’s unpredictability when in fact Best Picture will go to Roma as it was always going to.

Then again, I predicted Get Out would win last year.

My other predictions

BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close, The Wife. Remember this when whenever anyone says the Golden Globes don’t matter. Close’s stirring acceptance speech on that telecast has catapulted into her an unbeatable force throughout awards season for a movie almost no one has actually seen.

BEST ACTOR: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?. It’s crazy to against the grain now, but I think this is the night the Green Book-backlash finally catches up to the movie and costs Mahershala Ali what would be his second Oscar.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: The Favourite

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: BlacKkKlansman

BEST ANIMATED FILM: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Disney’s reign of dominance in this category is very real, but Spider-Man’s greatness and advancement of the form is just too big to be ignored.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Roma

BEST DOCUMENTARY: RBG

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roma

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Black Panther

BEST EDITING: Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST MAKEUP/HAIR: Vice

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Favourite

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: BlacKkKlansman. Will double as a career achievement award for Terence Blanchard.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Shallow” from A Star is Born. Vote against this song in your Oscars pool at your own peril.

BEST SOUND EDITING & SOUND MIXING: Bohemian Rhapsody. Should go to A Quiet Place, but everyone in the Academy seems especially enamored with the way Bohemian turned Rami Malek’s lip synching into a seamless mixture of vintage Freddy Mercury audio and sound alike singers.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: First Man. The Academy’s anti-Marvel special effects stance continues.

I abstain on the short film categories.

What about you? What do your predictions look like? And which film do you expect and/or want to see take home Best Picture? Or do you only care about the Oscars when they screw things up? If so, this year’s telecast does have all the makings of an epic trainwreck.

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7 comments

  1. I want that Infinity war finally gets the visual effects award Marvel deserved for so long. It is the obvious winner.

    I always felt that Disney’s dominance in the animated category was always a little bit overstated. They usually win there because they actually release the best movies of the years. There is, though, a general advantage for American productions over foreign productions in this category, due to a lack of exposure.

    I have a slight hope that Black Panther might get production design…I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t (though I would be extremely upset if it doesn’t get best costume), but it would be a nice bonus.

    I wouldn’t bet on shallow. Honestly, I have the feeling that A star is born has lost so much traction, it might be snubbed everywhere.

    1. I’m with you on Infinity War, but the argument I’ve seen made by awards pundits is that hardly anyone in the Academy truly understands visual effects. It’s a common problem with the below the line categories, and in this specific situation, the Academy tends to just vote for the movie which is either also a Best Picture nominee or closest to it. See recent wins for Blade Runner: 2049, Ex Machina, Interstellar, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, and Inception. Other than The Jungle Book two years ago, the Academy rewards not the movie with the most impressive special effects but instead the one with possibly the most subtle use of it. To a lot of voters, blockbuster movies are just glorified cartoons now, with one comic book movie’s effects being interchangeable with another. So, they like to use this category to ignore those and reward the movie where the special effects were integrated the most seamlessly with tacticle, physical production. This year, that means First Man. Personally, though, I think the award should go to a movie they didn’t even nominate: Aquaman.

      “I always felt that Disney’s dominance in the animated category was always a little bit overstated. They usually win there because they actually release the best movies of the years.”

      Sometimes it’s not even a case of “best” as it is quantity. They simply have a higher capacity for production than the competition and churn out worthwhile films every single year.

      “I have a slight hope that Black Panther might get production design…I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t (though I would be extremely upset if it doesn’t get best costume), but it would be a nice bonus.”

      I actually think Black Panther should win in both of those categories. Like visual effects, production design tends to be another proxy for Best Picture, which means Black Panther certainly has a chance. However, despite all the recent changes to the Academy’s membership, the overall makeup of the voting body is still overwhelmingly old white dudes, and I sense there still might be a bias against comic book movies among that crowd. Among the other nominees, The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns are the most obviously visually stunning of the group, but the fact that people actually liked The Favourite and were way more divided on Mary Poppins tips things over to the former for me.

      “I wouldn’t bet on shallow. Honestly, I have the feeling that A star is born has lost so much traction, it might be snubbed everywhere.”

      This is where we truly part ways. I would be genuinely stunned to see “Shallow” lose. I know the Star is Born backlash is quite real, but I don’t that it’s heated enough to also rob it of Best Song, especially not in a year when there’s not a single other nominee in the category that people even really remember. The closest is the Black Panther song, and if there’s an upset I could see it going that direction. However, the way Kendrick Lamar has basically refused to campaign and ceded the category to A Star is Born certainly didn’t help his case.

      1. I think what most people tend to forget is that Disney didn’t get it’s first academy award for best animated movie before 2007 – PIXAR won twice beforehand, but Disney only purchased them in 2006. And the Disney animation studio didn’t get a single award until Frozen.

        Well, Black Panther did well and got production design. Makes me happy. That Infinity war got snubbed for best special effect, not so much. Frankly, one would think that the academy voters would at least take a look at what the guild had to say. They should know after all.

      2. I think most people probably tend to forget that Pixar hasn’t always been owned by Disney. Because they had that distribution deal Pixar has been associated with Disney since Toy Story. So, it feels like Disney has owned the Animated film category when in fact for those first couple of years it was totally random. DreamWorks would win one year, a Japanese masterpiece the next year, then Pixar, then a WB movie like Happy Feet. It’s really once Disney got John Lasseter in house and had him relaunch Disney Animation that they became a two-headed monster sure to dominated the Animated Film category since if Pixar had a lull or a miss Disney Animation could pick up the slack.

        Fair point about Infinity War’s award going to the Guild. You’d think more people in the Academy would listen to a thing like that. I just know that all of the awards pundits who have actual access to Academy members, like THR’s Scott Feinberg, predicted First Man would win, and as I laid out there’s a strong historical argument for why that is. There’s less of a merit-based argument, of course, since the more impressive work has usually been done in the films which lose.

        But, hey, Black Panther took home Marvel’s first ever Oscars. Perhaps that VFX wall will be the next to fall. So many people make noise about Glenn Close, Amy Adams, or other long-tenured, high profile personalities not having an Oscar. Which, agree completely. But it is almost equally apalling to me that Victoria Alonso does not have an Oscar yet. Her post-production team basically makes those movies for the directors (the weaker ones, at least) and the ways they’ve advanced the form and made comic book visuals a reality deserves to be rewarded. As Don Draper would say, though, “That’s what the money is for!!!!!!”

      3. I think that all technical awards should be decided on by the guilt or by a system which weights the opinion of the guilt higher. Because, let’s be honest here, what does the standard person know about special effects or sound mixing or whatever? Best song or best acting is something different, because those are very emotional categories, but special effects, that isn’t.

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