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The Oscars: 24 Predictions and 24 Useful Observations

Picking Best Picture is the least of the Academy Awards’ problems in 2019

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Predicting the results of the Oscars is like predicting the shades of a sunset. Sometimes you recline beneath a majestic rose-mauve skyline. Sometimes you toil under a gray mass of clouded doom. It’s always different, but the unpredictability never changes. The Oscars operate similarly, because anything can happen when dealing with a small collection of private people seeking consensus on ill-defined notions of greatness. We use the Oscars not just to craft the first draft of film history, but to underline what movies—or, at least, those who make movies—stand for in their time. Last year’s winner, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, quickly became an emblem of the outcast, a stamp of approval for the obsessed believers who allow space in their lives for empathy in the face of oddity. One year before that, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight overcame enormous odds to win the biggest prize in movies for a humble story of a gay African American boy from a town in Florida most people had never heard of—the contrast was the story itself, a glamour moment for a delicately composed, personal story that showed how the changing Academy was redefining what it means to win Best Picture. What will 2019 tell us about the powerful 8,000 or so members of the organization and what they believe constitutes significance? It all depends on the winners.

Somehow, the Oscars have become more predictable and more confused, simultaneously. The show’s telecast has been contorting itself into bad ideas for six consecutive months, finding not a single significant change that its members or fans of the Oscars in the general public have deemed acceptable. This despite plummeting ratings and an air of panic around the future of the show, and movies writ large. And so Sunday night we will have, on ABC’s airwaves, a three-plus-hour show that sees 24 lucky winners receive a small golden man trophy and some songs and some montages commemorating movie history and then we will go to sleep thinking about the next Marvel movie. It will be the Oscars, in all their faded and exasperating glory—a museum constructed and desecrated in real time.

But the awards are still the reason to tune in, because that is where something real and weird can happen. Last year, I blinked at the zero hour and switched my Best Picture prediction from The Shape of Water to Get Out. It was a hopeful adjustment, and a foolish one. I’d been imagining a world in which Moonlight had changed everything, where outgoing Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs had shifted the membership so profoundly that a new day was upon us. That was wrong and so was I. It was chalk all the way down, so much so that I was able to correctly guess 21 of 24 and likely could have gotten a couple of more in there if I’d saved the sentiment for one of those purple sunsets. This year’s Best Picture race is the most wide-open in recent memory. The nominees comprise a series of movies standing in for all the stripes of modern moviedom: the relentless comic book revolution (Black Panther); the dying art of movie stardom (A Star Is Born); the unwoke bromantic issues picture (Green Book); the cockeyed costume drama (The Favourite); the political eye-poke (Vice); the head-smacking biopic (Bohemian Rhapsody); the “It’s time!” entrant (BlacKkKlansman); and the auteurist tour de force (Roma). The next-day narratives write themselves. But what about the other awards—what will they tell about Hollywood and moviemaking? Here are my picks for Sunday night, and some stray observations on what they might mean.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Infinity War, Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Dan Sudick
Christopher Robin, Christopher Lawrence, Michael Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
First Man, Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm
Ready Player One, Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy

The Pick: Avengers: Infinity War

The Point: A Marvel movie winning an award for special effects feels like a ho-hum way to kick off predictions, but, as a friend recently pointed out, the big, dumb, dominant action franchises almost never win in this category—last year the elegant Blade Runner 2049 took this category, and past winners include Life of Pi, Ex Machina, and Hugo. In some respects, the Visual Effects voters have been a bulwark against the incursion of mega-franchises. A superhero movie hasn’t won since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Infinity War has had the smart money for months, but if First Man sneaks up and snags this, it won’t be the stunner some tell you.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Border, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney

The Pick: Vice

The Point: Cannom is one of the most recognized unknown names outside Academy circles. A win on Sunday—heavily favored—would give him four statuettes, putting him in rare company with names like Katharine Hepburn and John Ford. Cannom has worked in makeup for nearly 40 years, and logged credits on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Big Top Pee-wee before winning his first Oscar for 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire. Don’t stop dreaming.

Animated Short Film

Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

The Pick: Bao

The Point: There’s a canard that Pixar runs this category, as it has for years in Best Animated Feature. Not so. If Domee Shi’s wistful, hunger-inducing Bao wins on Sunday, it will be just the third time Pixar has won in the short film category, joining Piper in 2017 and For the Birds in 2002. Bank on it.

Live Action Short

Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

The Pick: Marguerite

The Point: I’ll be honest, I never have a clue what’s going on in this category. It’s easy to see the films and make judgments, but the Oscars aren’t about that. If they were, we wouldn’t all be kvetching about Crash at this time of year. I’d imagined for years that this category was meant to act as a springboard—a farm system—for soon-to-be big filmmakers. But it’s been 13 years since Martin McDonagh won for his short film, Six Shooter. This category has become significantly more marginalized in recent years, perhaps one of the reasons it was selected as one of the four the Academy had planned to shunt from the broadcast, until that decision was reversed last week amid serious external and internal pressure. The least grim of this year’s bunch is Marguerite, and so it has our pick.

Documentary Short

Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

The Pick: Black Sheep

The Point: It’s a similarly dark and foreboding collection of nominees in this category, but Ed Perkins’s impressionistic portrait of racism in suburban England has garnered significant praise.

Sound Mixing

Black Panther, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
Bohemian Rhapsody, Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali
First Man, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
Roma, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio Gracía
A Star Is Born, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow

The Pick: Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Editing

Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay

The Pick: First Man

The Point: Bank on one music-driven crowd-pleaser and one artistic achievement splitting the two sound categories. First Man is the Blade Runner 2049 of this year, a film that is limited to the technical categories and may age into a beloved cult artifact over time. I feel the win here.

Costume Design

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

The Pick: Black Panther

The Point: Be wary of Powell, she of the 14 nominations and three wins in this category. There is a sentimental attachment to Carter, longtime Spike Lee collaborator and the mastercraftswoman behind the wearable tech in Wakanda. But The Favourite, with its 10 nominations and broad support, makes this a classically challenging toss-up category.

Production Design

Black Panther, Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton
First Man, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre and Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez

The Pick: The Favourite

The Point: See above. While Beachler is the first African American woman nominated in the history of this category and would become the first black woman to win a non-acting Oscar in three decades, The Favourite exists. I am merely splitting the vote in these two categories for the sake of betting odds. Call it the residue of design.

Film Editing

BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice, Hank Corwin

The Pick: Vice

The Point: It isn’t called Most Editing, but this category historically recognizes the flashiest, most visually dynamic films, among them Mad Max: Fury Road and last year’s winner, the triple-time-stacked Dunkirk. Corwin pioneered the flash-cutting, pop-cultural style that defines Adam McKay’s recent spate of films, building up a whirring speed on movies like JFK and Natural Born Killers. The same could be said for the music video aesthetic of Bohemian Rhapsody, which trucks along swiftly, if not always smoothly. The latter is the result of triage on a complex shoot mired in controversy, and so if it wins here—and it has won editing guild prizes this year already—it may be acknowledgment of the Herculean effort it took to complete the movie in the first place.

Cinematography

Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

The Pick: Roma

The Point: As it is for all Oscar nerds, this is among my favorite categories to follow, and the news that it would not be broadcast in full on the show was disheartening and confounding. But in hindsight, it’s not difficult to understand why Academy president John Bailey partook in this decision: Alfonso Cuarón is going to win. And while his achievement is profound—this is only his second film without Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki—it also won’t be the only time he strides upon the stage on Sunday. This felt like a true time saver gone deeply awry.

Original Score

Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman

The Pick: If Beale Street Could Talk

The Point: If Spotify streams were the metric by which this prize was awarded, Ludwig Goransson would take it in a walk. The composer-producer who helped craft the scores to five different films and just won a Grammy for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is the noisiest nominee here. But Nicholas Britell’s lush work on Barry Jenkins’s third film is among the most celebrated scores in recent history. Plus, the guy wrote the music for Succession.

Original Song

“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight,” RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Pick: “Shallow”

The Point: I’ll spare you the A Star Is Born speech. This is as close as the film has to a lock win. If “Shallow” loses, I expect Bradley Cooper to vanish from public view for a full year.

Best Documentary Feature

Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

The Pick: Free Solo

The Point: It’s been nearly a decade since the most high-profile film nominated in this category didn’t go on to win. Unfortunately, there are two films here that could qualify for that title: RBG and Free Solo. Miraculously, Free Solo has climbed to more than $16 million at the box office, and it will likely finish among the 15 biggest ever. The doc boom has been fascinating to observe, and Free Solo threads a narrow needle’s eye: gripping focus, extraordinary physical and technical achievement, insightful storytelling, and a few “holy shit” moments.

Foreign Language Film

Capernaum, Lebanon
Cold War, Poland
Never Look Away, Germany
Roma, Mexico
Shoplifters, Japan

The Pick: Roma

The Point: There’s something odd about the only true showdown at the Oscars between dueling content megaliths Netflix and Amazon occurring on a battleground occupied by a sensualist’s Polish period piece about his parents and an auteur’s Mexican period piece about his childhood caregiver. I, for one, welcome our new cineaste overlords.

Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The Pick: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The Point: Somewhere along the way, Spider-Verse became my favorite movie of 2018. This means nothing to the Oscar race, other than two-time winner Brad Bird has slowly transitioned from clear front-runner to underdog. Virtually every critics’ group really shifted the conversation on this movie, championing it despite its superheroic provenance and late release date. That’s how powerful and uniquely joyful it is.

Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and 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, and Will Fetters

The Pick: BlacKkKlansman

The Point: It has been 79 years since a film with four credited screenwriters won in this category, for 1942’s Mrs. Miniver. So in that light, BlacKkKlansman is an unlikely favorite. But this film has an X factor: a long-overdue Spike Lee and an Academy eager to make right for 40 years of overlooked work.

Original Screenplay

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

The Pick: The Favourite

The Point: There’s an if-then here. If Green Book wins, then Best Picture is not just in play, it becomes increasingly likely. In fact, the Best Picture winner has not carried a screenplay award just five times this century. That it did not win in this category at the Writer’s Guild Awards last week indicates weakness, and confirmation of The Favourite’s long-predicted triumph here. But the WGA is different from the Academy. Keep a close watch on this award in the third hour of the telecast.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

The Pick: Regina King

The Point: Twice this decade, a film in this category with two nominees has taken the prize. Vote-splitting isn’t as common as you’d think. And with Weisz’s late post-BAFTAs push, there is a real chance at odds-on favorite King being upset. I don’t see it, particularly given that Weisz already has a statuette from this category for 2005’s The Constant Gardener. But this feels like the only truly close acting race.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

The Pick: Mahershala Ali

The Point: While I admire Ali in virtually everything—including Alita: Battle Angel—the foregone nature of this race has been baffling. Every so often a Whoa! emerges at the Oscars, and occasionally in this race—see: Mark Rylance in 2016—and so maybe Elliott has an outside chance here to shock. But I’m not going to cry if he doesn’t. Seriously. I won’t. Not a little. I’m just going to pull out of my driveway, all calm and collected. Bye.

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

The Pick: Rami Malek

The Point: Conversely, the absence of Mortensen as a serious contender in this race has been a curious omission. Not based on merit, exactly, but you’d imagine the good will extended to Ali and even the screenplay would run right up to Mortensen’s lead performance. Then again, Bale and Malek are both playing real-life men in biopics, and that is frequently the case for winners here.

Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Pick: Glenn Close

The Point: I’ve seen The Wife.

Directing

BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee
Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski
The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

The Pick: Cuarón

The Point: It’s all over but the shouting. Cuarón will join a historic group of two-time director winners.

Best Picture

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

The Pick: Roma

The Point: This is a pick neither from the heart nor the head, nor even the alchemical math calculated during a six-month-long saga of movie tracking. But it is a pick in opposition to the outrage machine. Roma just feels right, and so little else does. Perhaps I simply fear another year of exhaustion around the ideas of propriety and decency in Best Picture. Maybe it’s the anxiety that comes with unpacking the Bryan Singer allegations while watching the victors skirt those very charges. Perhaps it’s the icky dynamics that have both haunted and vaunted Green Book, depending on the voter. (And there is certainly a contingent of successful, older voters who do not want to be told what they can and cannot vote for at their ceremony.) Perhaps it’s costume fatigue. Perhaps it’s the worry over a Marvel-induced spasm from the independent and specialty brands around the industry. Perhaps it’s the idea of rewarding Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman instead of Do the Right Thing or Malcolm X or 25th Hour. Perhaps it’s the vituperative agenda of a political film like Vice splitting a nation of movie lovers already convinced about Hollywood’s liberal agenda. Perhaps it’s the vanity police eager to let us know that Gaga can’t act or remakes shouldn’t win Oscars. Or perhaps it isn’t that simple for Roma. Perhaps this is the Netflix steamroller come to crunch down the rest of the playing field, an unstoppable juggernaut of content conquering that last vestige of moviedom. On Sunday night, a film will win Best Picture. But, well, I’ll let Nina Simone say the rest.

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