The awards race is officially on, and already the victorious are riding to glory on the horizon and leaving the defeated in their dust, their own shots at tasting sweet glory fading by the second as the lonely darkness of forgetting consumes them. Alright, it might not be that dramatic. Hell, winning a Gotham Award hardly puts you ahead of the rest of the pack – but indeed – the awards race is heating up with the first batch of award winners and nominees being announced. Though a winner is hardly coming out front and center in most categories, we now have a much better picture of what movies stand a chance of making it to the big show – the Oscars.
In the last week or so the Golden Globes, Gotham Awards, National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, AFI and more have announced their end-of-the-year winners or nominees, with the wealth being spread around considerably. Gotham, awarding indie fare, gave prizes to FIRST REFORMED, EIGHTH GRADE and more, with the former coming out strongest. Ethan Hawke won Best Actor for his work, as he did at NYFCC, giving him a strong footing going into future races. Meanwhile, top prizes were spread around for movies like THE RIDER (Gotham), GREEN BOOK (NBR) and ROMA (NYFCC), once again proving why the early awards aren’t always the best indicator of a clear frontrunner. Do they give a good idea of what’s in play? Sure. GREEN BOOK may not be making a big dent in the box office, and many are rebuking it as a problematic, dated film, but its place on many top 10 lists and wins proves there’s a strong contingency across the organizations that love it dearly, and that can easily push it to the end game. Then there’s AFI, which names their top 10 movies every year, giving each some major clout. Finally, the Globes came out yesterday morning, giving a big boost to VICE, which led with six nominations.
About two months ago I dished out my predictions of what movies I thought would be making it to the final rounds in the top categories, with movies like A STAR IS BORN, ROMA, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK and more having firm spots across the board. The race, for the most part, hasn’t shifted, but now that most of these movies have hit theaters one element has started to come to light that wasn’t quite there when most of these movies had only screened at TIFF and other festivals: Public perception.
A lot of these movies have hit theaters, and not only has the box office spoken for them but so has their lasting impact through reactions and reception. For example, while Damien Chazelle’s FIRST MAN came out of TIFF with critical acclaim – a level of praise that held as the movie released wide – audiences were much less responsive. The movie has made $44 million domestically and $100 million worldwide off a $60 million budget (before promotion costs), pennies compared to the $446 million global cume of Chazelle’s last movie, LA LA LAND, made in 2016. Since the lukewarm reception, the movie’s engines have cooled and it didn’t make it into the AFI and was snubbed for Best Picture and Director at the Globes. Though I don’t think it’s enough to totally count out Oscar chances for Claire Foy and its place in the tech categories, I’d equate its standing to that of last year’s THE POST: Great team in front of and behind the camera that signals an Oscar juggernaut, but one that now merely exists in the race.
Other movies are thriving at the limited box office, like THE FAVOURITE, which capitalized on strong word of mouth to make $400,000 dollars its opening weekend – across 4 theaters – giving it one of the best limited openings ever. Will that translate into big bucks like some other indie, Oscar favorites that broke out? Perhaps. It’s not a conventionally appealing movie (nor is Yorgos Lanthimos’ past work), but this is a movie critics are loving, audiences are loving so far, and has enough going for it to take advantage of the steam to be a serious contender going forward. On top of all that greatness, the movie also won a record 10 British Independent Film awards, on top of several GG nominations.
Meanwhile, there are still some contenders that have yet to hit theaters but have screened for pundits and critics. Two notable standouts are Adam McKay’s VICE and Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS starring Emily Blunt. The former is being considered another success for McKay, with stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams considered locks for Best Actor and Best Actress for playing Dick and Lynne Cheney. As for POPPINS, those who have seen it are hailing it as a visual marvel that recaptures the magic of the original. Time remains to be seen if it’s the kind of movie that can crack Best Picture but expect it to have a strong footing in the tech categories and a nod for Blunt in the lead role. They already have big GG nominations, so their place in the race is strong indeed.
Also of note, as BLACK PANTHER continues to gain some attention from major outlets (it made the top 10 on both NBR and AFI and earned a Best Picture nom at the GGs), it’s becoming clearer that it has a very strong chance to get a Best Picture nomination. We can point to movies like THE DARK KNIGHT and WONDER WOMAN as examples of this happening in past races, only to miss out on BP (and everything else, in WW’s case), but I think everyone knows this year is different. It has more craft categories to capitalize on, which helps builds its case up to Best Picture, with it even having a shot at noms for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Director. It still has a long way to go, but things are looking bright for the Marvel juggernaut.
A lot has happened to influence the race over the last two months, and I could talk about it for a long while, but let’s just get down to it. Like last time, below I have placed my predictions for what I think the Oscar nominations will look like (doing 10 for BP, though it’s likely only to have 8 like past years), with my pick for the most likely to win (in my opinion), and a short reasoning proceeding each. All in all, my picks don’t look that different, but there are some noticeable changes scattered throughout.
Best Picture always takes the longest to have a front-runner come forward, what with so many different organizations handing out the top prize to several movies (it’s already happening). However, no other movie represents the strongest threat than A STAR IS BORN, a movie that critics and audiences are rallying around. Now now, that same could be said for movies like LA LA LAND, which was the top favorite basically until the night of, when the Academy went for indie darling MOONLIGHT for the top prize. But this year feels different. There’s more pressure to give the love to a movie that audiences actually saw, lest the awards continue to feel out of touch. This leaves room for blockbusters like BLACK PANTHER and MARY POPPINS and even RHAPSODY, but A STAR IS BORN checks off more boxes befitting for an “Oscar movie.” Should it win, it’s $191 million total (currently) would make it the highest grossing Best Picture winner of the century after only RETURN OF THE KING ($380 million), trumping movies like GLADIATOR ($187 million), A BEAUTIFUL MIND and CHICAGO (both $170 million), THE KING’S SPEECH ($138 million) and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE ($141 million). Don’t count out smaller movies, though, with ROMA posing some HEAVY competition, with only the Netflix brand stopping it from being the major frontrunner.
- A STAR IS BORN
- BLACK PANTHER
- EIGHTH GRADE
- THE FAVOURITE
- FIRST MAN (but teetering)
- GREEN BOOK
- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Contenders: MARY POPPINS RETURNS, WIDOWS, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, A QUIET PLACE, FIRST REFORMED, BOY ERASED, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, BEAUTIFUL BOY, LEAVE NO TRACE, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY.
While some have hypothesized this could be a year where a movie could win Best Picture, and its leading man (Bradley Cooper) could also win for Best Director. We were very close to having that happen with ARGO before Ben Affleck was shut out for Best Director. Anything can happen at the Oscars, but it seems Cooper is on track to earn a nomination for directing (as well as acting), but right now, this is Alfonso Cuaron’s award to lose. I said the same last session, and it holds now. I have yet to see the movie but you can tell from the trailers how beautifully Cuaron captures the landscape and gives this story about a family living in Mexico City a sense of scope. To fill out the rest of the card you have to look for the strongest contenders in the BP field, which means spots for Yorgos Lanthimos for THE FAVOURITE, Barry Jenkins for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, Spike Lee for BLACKKKLANSMAN, Ryan Coogler for BLACK PANTHER, Adam McKay for VICE, Damien Chazelle for FIRST MAN and Peter Farrelly for GREEN BOOK. While last year people called attention to the lack of female directors in the pool with Greta Gerwig being the only one to get any notice (LADY BIRD), this year it’s looking to be all men once again, sadly. There’s plenty of fantastic work across the board, like Lynne Ramsay for YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, Marielle Heller for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and lots of people giving love to Karyn Kusama for DESTROYER.
Contenders: Damien Chazelle, FIRST MAN; Ryan Coogler, BLACK PANTHER; John Krasinski, A QUIET PLACE; Adam McKay, VICE; Peter Farrelly, GREEN BOOK; Paul Schrader, FIRST REFORMED; Debra Granik, LEAVE NO TRACE; Marielle Heller, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
This race is one that’s really starting to heat up. While I thought it would be Cooper by a wider margin, there’s been some rallying around other performances. The movie may have its mix of lovers and detractors, but people are legit behind Viggo Mortensen for GREEN BOOK, and he’s had his supporters backing him for movies like EASTERN PROMISES and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC in the past, and he could break through here. Also now that people have seen VICE Christian Bale’s name has come into play in a major way, with many believing it’s now down to him and Cooper. As well, Ethan Hawke’s name has remained dormant for a while as FIRST REFORMED came, went, and other movies dominated the conversation. Now that indie awards have come and lauded the movie his name is back in the fold, and he looks like a solid bet for a nomination. Bale and Hawke have come and stolen some thunder away from another once-sure bet, Ryan Gosling for FIRST MAN. As everyone cools on that movie so has attention for his work as Neil Armstrong, and though I think it has a great shot in other categories, I believe Gosling won’t be making a giant leap onto the stage. Oh, and how can we forget Rami Malek in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY? Critics and pundits may be split on the movie, but everyone seems to be in agreeance that Malek elevated the movie to something spectacular. All that in mind, my money is on Bale to make a mad dash for the win, with his transformative work sure to win over voters.
Contenders: Willem Dafoe, AT ETERNITY’S GATE; Lucas Hedges, BEN IS BACK/BOY ERASED; John David Washington, BLACKKKLANSMAN; Ryan Gosling, FIRST MAN; Robert Redford, THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN; Hugh Jackman, THE FRONT RUNNER;
While Cooper may have to sit out a win for Best Actor, his co-star, Lady Gaga, seems to be poised to win a trophy for her magnetic work in A STAR IS BORN. Everyone loves her in this movie, and how can you not? She’s amazing in it! Her competition, like Best Actor, is vast and growing, with love spread out to Olivia Colman for THE FAVOURITE, Emily Blunt for MARY POPPINS RETURNS, Glenn Close for THE WIFE, Yalitza Aparicio for ROMA, Melissa McCarthy for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and Viola Davis for WIDOWS. Out of the woodwork is Regina Hall for a movie called SUPPORT THE GIRLS, and she’s being noticed by recent critics awards. This could be as up in the air as Actor, but still, my money is on Gaga.
Contenders: Yalitza Aparicio, ROMA; Viola Davis, WIDOWS; Charlize Theron, TULLY; Regina Hall, SUPPORT THE GIRLS; Kathryn Hahn, PRIVATE LIFE; Julia Roberts, BEN IS BACK; Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE; Toni Collette, HEREDITARY; Nicole Kidman, DESTROYER; Saoirse Ronan, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS.
Best Supporting Actor:
Back in my last piece, I said this year was all about Timothee Chalamet for BEAUTIFUL BOY, and indeed, that seemed correct. His movie and his work were the talks of the town…and then it came out. Critics were mixed, and audiences weren’t biting, thus it stepped out of the bubble. Though his name still remains in play, things have cooled around him, and attention has shifted to Sam Elliott in A STAR IS BORN and Mahershala Ali in GREEN BOOK. Both are strong contenders in movies getting a lot of buzz, one being an industry legend and another a recent Oscar winner. Coming up the rear is Richard E. Grant for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? He gives an endearing, charming, heartbreaking performance in the movie, complementing McCarthy in an also incredible performance. This race seems poised for a strong competition, but right now the safe bet seems to be on Ali winning a second Oscar in this category, with Elliott a strong alternative.
Contenders: Michael B. Jordan, BLACK PANTHER; Daniel Kaluuya, WIDOWS; Sam Rockwell, VICE; Steve Carell, VICE; Hugh Grant, PADDINGTON 2; Russell Hornsby, THE HATE U GIVE.
Best Supporting Actress:
Unlike the category above, I was a little bit more unsure about this race in the past. There had been no clear frontrunner at the time, so I went with Claire Foy for FIRST MAN as the top contender. She is still in the game, but Regina King has emerged as the actress to beat in this category for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. She’s won some smaller awards already, and she’s got the heat to keep the praise coming. While Colman has the spot in Best Actress, this category has both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in play for THE FAVOURITE, and they both stand a chance to earn a nomination. But like with Bale in Actor, Amy Adams is ready to earn yet another nomination for VICE, and could even take some thunder away from King.
Contenders: Michelle Yeoh, CRAZY RICH ASIANS; Nicole Kidman, BOY ERASED; Emily Blunt, A QUIET PLACE; Marina de Tavira, ROMA; Margot Robbie, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS;
Best Adapted Screenplay:
My lineup for this category hasn’t changed all that much. While I think Barry Jenkins’ work on IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK will take home the prize at this point, the script for BLACKKKLANSMAN is a very close runner-up. Could go either way very easily. A STAR IS BORN from Eric Roth is also on solid footing, as is Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s work for CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Damien Chazelle could score yet another screenplay nomination for FIRST MAN, but part of me also hopes that slot goes to Armando Iannucci‘s THE DEATH OF STALIN.
- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
- A STAR IS BORN
- CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
- FIRST MAN
Contenders: THE DEATH OF STALIN, WIDOWS, BLACK PANTHER, LEAVE NO TRACE, CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Best Original Screenplay:
I firmly believe that if Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE FAVOURITE walks away with anything it will be for this category. Other movies like FIRST REFORMED, VICE, ROMA, GREEN BOOK, EIGHTH GRADE, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, A QUIET PLACE are close behind, with Paul Schrader’s REFORMED perhaps the closest. These are all very strong scripts with unique voices behind them, so at the very least it will be an interesting race.
- THE FAVOURITE
- FIRST REFORMED
- GREEN BOOK
Contenders: EIGHTH GRADE, A QUIET PLACE, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
Best Animated Movie:
My money is still on INCREDIBLES 2 because you should never bet against Pixar, but the love for SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE has been overwhelming since it screened. Maintaining a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (with 60 reviews as of this writing), critics are going head-over-heels for the animated comic book movie, some hailing it as the best Spidey movie ever, which includes SPIDER-MAN 2 and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Is INCREDIBLES 2 too strong to topple? Yes. Probably. But if anyone can match the giant, it’s Spider-Man
- INCREDIBLES 2
- SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
- ISLE OF DOGS
- RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
Contenders: EARLY MAN, THE GRINCH, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3, SMALLFOOT
So, there you are. We have a better sense of the race now that the critic associations are announcing winners along with some major organizations, and though none of those wins means anything definite, it’s all starting to give shape to the race. Some conclusions: A STAR IS BORN has what it takes to go all the way; ROMA will likely be the first Netflix film to be nominated for Best Picture; BLACK PANTHER will likely be the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture; Bradley Cooper – the douchey bad guy from WEDDING CRASHERS – will add about five more Oscar nominations to his resume and; We will soon have to start saying “Oscar winner Lady Gaga,” which I’m fine with. This is going to be a big, strange year for the Oscars, and it’s sort of amazing.
The Oscars will air on ABC February 24, 2019, with a host TBD.