This year, I thought it would be fun to look more closely at the nominees for the big categories (Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor) at the Academy Awards in advance of the ceremony instead of only doing a look back once the dust has settled.
This time around, we’re looking at the field for the Best Picture.
Update: the winner is in and you can see how they compare to other winners of this decade here.
Comic book movies are still entertaining but they’ve become so common that they feel stale. Black Panther felt like a shot in the arm, telling the story of an African prince struggling with systemic racism and issues of globalism. There was danger that this could have turned into the Star Wars prequels and their stultifying talk of trade disputes, but instead Black Panther feels like both an entertaining movie and an important piece of the cultural conversation today.
Perhaps no movie felt more urgent for the political climate of 2018 than Spike Lee’s searing BlacKkKlansman, which uses the true story of an African American cop in the 1970s who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. It’s shocking (not to mention disappointing) that you could easily change the year to the present and it would still be believable. At times, this movie feels a little too pointed, but you just can’t deny it’s urgency.
Jesus fucking Christ, I can’t with this movie. Rami Malek (a nominee–and likely winner–for Best Actor) does a fine job portraying Freddie Mercury but the rest of the movie is a godforsaken mess. It’s so adherent to music biopic tropes that it almost feels like a satire but it’s alarmingly serious. The story plays so fast and loose with what actually happened, and panders so hard to the surviving members of Queen, that it actually manages to become homophobic. This is not the legacy Freddie Mercury deserves. Inexplicably, audiences love this movie, though.
Deliciously sharp and cruel, and featuring astonishingly good performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, and Emma Stone, The Favourite is perhaps the closest thing I would allow to a remake of All About Eve. Weisz and Stone play cousins warring for the favor of Colman’s Queen Anne. Bette Davis would be proud of this movie.
I have not yet seen Green Book because it feels like a Driving Miss Daisy retread we really didn’t need–an overly simplistic buddy movie in which a black person and a white person in a car solve racism because everything would be fine if we just talked to each other? Let’s just hope this isn’t going to be a repeat of Driving Miss Daisy winning Best Picture over a Spike Lee movie that actually grapples with racism in an intelligent way. Not to mention the comic book movie that does a deeper dive into racism.
There are a lot of marks against Roma in this race. First, no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture. Second, Netflix is reviled by most branches of the Academy. And third, in Trump’s America, this is a deeply humane movie about Mexicans. There’s a stubborn Trump voter aesthetic in the awards voting this year, with an astonishing number of people stubbornly going for problematic movies like Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody instead of the more astute, less egregious movies like Roma. And while I can’t argue with those who found Roma to be overly ponderous and slow, I would also point out that this is the contender that I’ve thought the most about.
A Star is Born
It’s not often that a movie can be as bleak and heartbreaking as A Star is Born and still somehow manage to be deeply engaging. Following the rise of a singer who is in love with a man whose star is fading, this is the fourth time A Star is Born has hit theaters (first with Janet Gaynor, then with Judy Garland, and then again with Barbra Streisand, and now with Lady Gaga), but it is the first time the film has had a real shot at some prizes outside of Best Original Song. It’s also arguably the best iteration yet.
I don’t respond well to the aesthetic of Adam McKay, but Vice is a marked improvement over The Big Short for me. It’s still a little too quirky and it’s so pointed that it frequently feels like it’s shouting at you to prove its point, but the performances are uniformly great. It’s also refreshing that people may be catching on to the horrible things that the George W. Bush presidency did to both this country and its politics thanks to his Vice President, Dick Cheney, but in Trump’s America it also feels like we have too many more pressing concerns.
Should Win/Will Win
I’m not that enthusiastic about anything this year, to be honest, but I think Roma deserves it. I would be happy to see either BlacKkKlansman or Black Panther get it, though–really, anything that prevents a Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody win will make me happy.
I think Roma has the edge out here in the real world, but I’m braced for the worst Best Picture winner since Crash if either Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody take this.
My Personal Nominations
Keeping it to a field of 8, I would remove Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Vice. My replacements would be Can You Ever Forgive Me?, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Quiet Place.