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The Battle for Hollywood’s Future: What the Oscar Nominations Mean for ‘Roma,’ ‘Green Book,’ and the Popular Film Debate

Amanda Dobbins and Chris Ryan break down the 2019 Oscar nominations and narratives

Netflix/Ringer illustration

The Academy announced its 2019 Oscar nominations Tuesday morning, handing out 10 nominations each to Roma and The Favourite, and a Best Picture nod to fan-favorite Black Panther. With no set host and no clear Best Picture front-runner, the 91st Oscars may be more unpredictable than usual. In an attempt to sort through the morning’s nominations, The Big Picture’s Amanda Dobbins enlisted Chris Ryan to break down everything from the Green Book controversy to the Best Popular Film debate.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Amanda Dobbins: When we started this Oscar pod, we talked about this larger narrative of Old Hollywood versus New Hollywood—Roma representing Netflix, and the way that people see movies changing and the industry at large changing, versus A Star Is Born, which is an Old Hollywood classic movie with movie stars, and romance, and melodrama, a typical Oscar favorite. We thought that the narrative would be this battle between what Hollywood was, and what Hollywood can or will be. It’s interesting, because we do have that debate now, but it’s between Green Book and Roma.

Chris Ryan: Yeah, and even if you want to go back even further to BC times, before this podcast … after Black Panther came out, and the trailer for A Star Is Born came out, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be a great Oscars if it was this old-school Hollywood musical against this box office phenomenon?” And then we were back to Driving Miss Daisy, and I think that we were all a little bit defeated by it. So in some ways, the Roma rush this morning is kind of like buoying. It makes me a little bit more happy to be engaged with this process.

AD: I will say, I still feel a bit of worry. I would say that Roma is the favorite right now, and we’ll talk more about betting odds, but I’m with you, I’m feeling better than I was yesterday. I am nervous about the next six weeks, because I still think it is this Old versus New Hollywood discussion. In a lot of different ways, it’s Green Book versus Roma, as you pointed out. There’s also an element to this of the host stuff, which … there’s still no host. I guess we’re just not gonna have a host. That’s fine.

CR: Ethan Hawke’s free. I’m just saying.

AD: It’s true. We don’t really have to talk about it anymore, but I have found myself thinking a lot about the Kevin Hart interview with Ellen, which was jarring in this “protect the castle” moment between two celebrities—“How dare you speak to us this way? How dare you question our ability to do these things?” There is a little bit of a similar conversation settling around Green Book, and particularly the people who are still advocating for Green Book, and there is this question of, “Are people advocating for it because they feel threatened?” There’s this, “It’s just a movie” line, which I don’t endorse. It’s not just a movie. If these were all just movies, we wouldn’t do this podcast. There is this “Hollywood under siege” aspect that I think applies to Green Book, and I think that might get uglier before it gets better.

CR: Right, and I think that this is at once the exhilarating and nauseating part of engaging with the Oscar race, because what we’re really talking about is what these races say about America. What we’re seeing, and I think you’re alluding to, is this idea that there is a contingent of people who support Green Book who are tired of being told not to support Green Book, and thus will support Green Book even more. That was maybe what the PGAs were about, but obviously there is this huge wave of Roma support. What will also be fascinating is what the awards season infrastructure will be for Roma. We’ll see how far along Netflix is in the process of understanding how to advocate and position and shape narratives—and possibly even how to put out counternarratives for other movies—but it’ll be fascinating to see what people try to say is wrong with Roma. The only piece I’ve read that even tries, aside from some Twitter chatter, has been that Believer piece that was like, “This film is privileged in and of itself.” I don’t know whether or not that will be something that emerges as a stronger narrative against Roma, because so far there haven’t been too many arrows shot in its direction.

AD: That’s true, because in large part, it has not really been at the forefront of conversation. It won at the Critics Choice Awards and it won a lot of critical bodies awards, but it couldn’t compete in either Best Picture category at the Golden Globes. It’s just been waiting for the Oscar nominations to take its place at the front of the pack, and now it has, and we have about a month until the Oscars. I don’t know how someone is going to take a swing at Roma, but I’m sure someone will. The Roma campaign, I believe, is one of the most expensive Oscar campaigns in history; they’re definitely campaigning it an old-school way. It’s a new studio, and they will very much still be out on the campaign trail, and when you are that prominent is when people decide to take a closer look.

CR: I’m really fascinated to see what happens when Netflix’s super-chatty Twitter account gets involved, and they’re just like, “Fam, we won the Oscar,” and then it’s a picture of an egg. Whatever those crazy kids want to get up to, I’m down for it.

AD: Some other things to note: As you mentioned, Black Panther got its Best Picture nomination. Thank you to Oprah and her friend Bobby. Also, Into the Spider-Verse. Superheroes finally getting their respect. We should also note, Incredibles 2 is technically a superhero movie, even though it’s not from one of the main universes. The Oscars like superheroes now.

CR: They have no choice. These are the movies that people are going to see, and if they want anyone to watch this broadcast, they’re going to have to have some people in capes up there, whether it’s animated or Michael B. Jordan.

AD: That’s true. That’s a positive development. How does that affect your Popular Oscar theory?

CR: The Best Popular Film Oscar was obviously an idea that was tossed out there. The Academy had not quite outlined what that meant, and it was rejected so soundly that they pulled it off the table. But [Academy president] John Bailey basically said that for as roundly rejected as it was, it’s not totally dead yet, and it still has some support. Ethan Hawke, who won’t be joining us on Oscar evening in any meaningful capacity, but lives in our hearts, pointed out that there already is a Best Popular Film Oscar, and it’s called the box office. I think that was ultimately the most sane way of reacting to this idea, but I do wonder whether this year’s nominations are essentially the PowerPoint presentation John Bailey will use for next year when he’s like, “This is why no one watched the Oscars.” That’s because there’s no Crazy Rich Asians, and there’s no A Quiet Place, and there’s no Mary Poppins in the Best Picture category. Now, I don’t necessarily think all three of those films should’ve gotten Best Picture nominations. There are a lot of movies before those that I would’ve given a nomination to, but it is a really compelling case to say—Hey, you want this to be relevant. We can’t even get someone to host this damn thing. We’ve got a couple of movies here that no one’s seen or heard about. Maybe we should get Emily Blunt floating down from the ceiling every once in awhile.

AD: I would agree with that, except the counterpoint is that Black Panther is here in Best Picture, and if Black Panther cannot bring an audience to the Oscars, then I don’t really think Mary Poppins can.

CR: I don’t think [John] Krasinski can, either. To be fair, they didn’t nominate a bunch of five-dollar box office art films here. Bohemian Rhapsody, against a lot of people’s better judgment, is in this category, and it is an enormously popular film. Black Panther, also an enormously popular film. Roma, I’m sure Twitter will tell us, has been watched by a billion people.

AD: Twitter won’t tell us that. Netflix will, and then we’ll never be able to verify it.

CR: A Star Is Born did very well. I think BlacKkKlansman had legs, and Green Book obviously is Green Book, so it’s not like they nominated a bunch of films nobody had ever heard of. But I don’t think that the Popular Oscar debate is dead yet, and I think that these nominations are going to unintentionally restart it.