From climate change to measles to the epidemic of motion-smoothing on TV sets, I know we have many, many more important things to worry about. But in the moments before your beach house is inundated by rising seas, spare a thought for the slow-motion pratfall that is this year’s Oscars ceremony.
The awards, to be broadcast on ABC on this Sunday (Feb. 24), have been bungled from the start. Let’s recap: A proposal to add a new award for Best Popular Film (alternate name: Best Movie That’s Not That Great But That Some of You Might Actually Have Seen) was quickly withdrawn after a withering reception. Then host Kevin Hart stepped down in the wake of criticism for homophobic jokes from his past. More recently, someone at the academy (or was it ABC? Or Disney, which owns ABC?) announced they would feature only two of the nominated songs during the show and would give out certain awards during commercial breaks and summarize the winning speeches later.
The aftermath: There’s no host, all the songs and categories are back in after public backlash, and the show will last seven hours. All right, maybe not seven, but ABC will have a hard time trying to make its three-hour target.
And why should it? Aren’t the Oscars supposed to be sprawling and splashy and overdone? Nobody wants a tidy, respectable Oscar ceremony. As for the awards, there’s more suspense than usual this year, with all kinds of snubs and score-settling going on. The big prizes are up for grabs, so stockpile in some extra popcorn and hedge your bets a little.
Here are my annual predictions. As always, these aren’t the films I think should win, but guesses about what the Academy might actually choose.
I guess I’m going to stick with my hunch that this will become the first foreign-language film to win the top award, but I’m not as confident as I was a month ago. Critics loved Roma, but showbiz prognosticators are reporting that Oscar voters are not really “getting” the movie—and Hollywood has an attitude about Netflix horning in on its game. Also, the Oscars have a preferential-balloting system for this category only: Voters rank the nominees, and through a complicated winnowing system, it’s possible that the movie that gets the most #2 and #3 votes, rather than the most #1s, could win. (I’m confused, too.) The most likely beneficiary of this system is Green Book, which reportedly is well-liked among more old-fashioned voters—but be on the lookout for BlacKkKlansman as a possible surprise. The other nominees are Black Panther (not out of the question as a compromise choice), Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, A Star Is Born, and Vice.
Glenn Close – The Wife
The Wife—in which Close plays the long-suffering spouse of a famous writer—came in under the radar. But this is one of those gold watch opportunities: How did Glenn Close go this long without winning an Oscar, and how can we deny her now? Her biggest rival is Olivia Colman (The Favourite), who could definitely win (Oscar voters tend to get wobbly-kneed around British thespians), and there’s also Lady Gaga, although the initial enthusiasm around A Star Is Born has thankfully cooled. Less likely: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?).
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
The Oscars love it when someone transforms themselves to play a real-life person, which is why Malek’s single-note turn as Freddie Mercury is an otherwise mystifying odds-on favorite—and why Christian Bale is the runner-up for playing Dick Cheney in Vice. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book) appear to be longshots. The only nominee not playing a real-life character is Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born (and he’d only win out of sympathy for not getting nominated as Best Director for that film).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Beale Street boasts an excellent turn by King as a fierce mother, and she’s been winnings lots of awards on the circuit. The other actor with a shot is Amy Adams for Vice, if only because this is her sixth nomination without a win. Also on the slate: Two already-Oscar-ed actresses from The Favorite—Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz—and Marina de Tavira from Roma.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
All the indicators suggest that Ali will get a second Oscar (after Moonlight) for his role as fussy pianist Don Shirley. Some interesting alternatives: There is surely sentiment for 71-year-old Sam Elliott, with his first Oscar nomination for an emotional performance in A Star Is Born, and the delicious British actor Richard E. Grant finally got Oscar notice for his flashy turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? This is not the year for Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman) or last year’s winner in this category, Sam Rockwell (Vice).
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
The director of Gravity gives us a lesson in how to make an intimate story feel epic with Roma. The only other possibility here is if the Academy decides that Spike Lee has been ignored long enough (this is his first nomination in the Director category), and BlacKkKlansman takes it. It’s always hard to know what voters are thinking—how do they come up with both ham-handed Adam McKay (Vice) and delicate Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)? Also on the list: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Favourite – Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
This category baffles me. The Favourite is the pick, being a film full of witty dialogue. Ordinarily I’d pick Roma, but I’m guessing the voters will bypass it because its visual emphasis does not shout “great writing” to people. The award could go to Green Book as a not-winning-Best-Picture consolation prize, but that film has stoked controversy in a variety of ways. It would be cool if the well-traveled screenwriter Paul Schrader won for First Reformed, but it’s not likely, and Vice is an odd choice to even be nominated in this category.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
BlacKkKlansman – Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee
Here’s the most likely consolation prize for this movie, although it could be a close call with the well-received Can You Ever Forgive Me? and If Beale Street Could Talk. The Coen brothers probably won’t win for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and the Academy wouldn’t give it to the between-song mumblings of A Star Is Born—would they?
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Anything other than Spider-Verse would be an upset, as this innovative superhero movie has been universally beloved. (Except by me, that is.) The Academy has sometimes gone for the artier entries in this category, but this year the Japanese Mirai and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs don’t seem to have much buzz. Also nominated: Ralph Breaks the Internet and Incredibles 2.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Free Solo’s exciting tale of a death-defying climber has both thrills and psychology. But if politics rules the day, look for a win for RBG, a strong if conventional profile of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Less probable are Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons, or Hale County This Morning, This Evening.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Well, it has to be Roma, right? With ten nominations and a possible Best Picture win? Probably. But don’t forget the year Pan’s Labyrinth got a bunch of nominations—making it the obvious choice for Foreign Language Film—The Lives of Others won in an upset. That could happen here with Cold War (Poland), a very well-liked movie. Actually, the director of The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, has a nominated film in this category, Never Look Away, representing Germany. There’s just one thing going against it: It’s bad. Also nominated: Capernaum (Lebanon) and Shoplifters (Japan).
BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell
This is just a guess in a wide-open category, because Beale Street has a big, lush score. An award would be a nice gesture to Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman), who’s done good work on Spike Lee’s films over the years. The other nominees: Black Panther, Isle of Dogs, and Mary Poppins Returns.
“Shallow” from A Star Is Born
There is apparently no denying this bulldozer. But look out for “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns, a song that turns all listeners into jelly. Tunes from Black Panther, RBG, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are probably out of luck.