Here are some talking points for this year’s Oscar ceremony. There’s a separate section for the Best Picture nominees.
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Spike Lee has been making movies in Hollywood since She’s Gotta Have It in 1985, but this is his first nomination. Pawlikowski, Lanthimos, and Adam McKay are no less heavy-handed with their direction, but all three of them are nominated for movies that are inferior to their previous films (Ida, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Big Short). Cuarón has a Best Director Oscar already, for Gravity. The bookies are saying he’s a lock for this category, but I think Spike deserves this one.
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)
I’ve always liked Viggo Mortensen—after all, he married Exene Cervenka in the eighties and in 2003 he was basically the only Hollywood actor to come out against the Iraq war. Bradley Cooper’s been nominated twice before and both times lost to English dudes. If Christian Bale wins, which he probably will, that’ll make three. (I’m rooting for Cooper, personally.)
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 Best Actor award tends to go to men in their forties and fifties, guys who have built up a steady body of work for a long time. (The youngest winner, Adrien Brody, was 30.) This is soooo not the case with Best Actress! Actresses in their twenties frequently win – in the last ten years there was Jennifer Lawrence (22), Brie Larson (26), Emma Stone (28), and Natalie Portman (29) – and the other trophies go to elder stateswomen like Julianne Moore (54), Frances McDormand (60), or Meryl Streep (62).
That’s probably bad news for Olivia Colman (45) and Melissa McCarthy (48), as good as they both are. It’s also not promising for Lady Gaga (33), who has the added burden of being a singer in an acting category. They tend not to like that. That leaves Yalitza Aparicio, a 25-year old who never acted before, and Glenn Close, who is 71. The Wife looked like a real snoozefest and wasn’t particularly popular, but remember when Julianne Moore won for Still Alice? I’m still not convinced anybody actually watched that one.
Speaking of Julianne Moore, it’s worth remembering that she and Chris O’Dowd were very nearly the stars of Can You Ever Forgive Me. How weird would that have been?
Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes and Shannon Dill)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, Joslyn Barnes and Su Kim)
Minding the Gap (Bing Liu and Diane Quon)
Of Fathers and Sons (Talal Derki, Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme and Tobias N. Siebert)
RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen)
The documentary Hale County This Morning, This Evening was a surprise nominee this year. It was made by Providence filmmaker RaMell Ross, and you should root for it. (It’s streaming on PBS right now, if you want to see what you’re rooting for.) In what might be an Oscar first, not one of the five nominees in this category was directed by a white man. Of the summer’s three big hit documentaries, only RBG scored a nomination in this category, surprising fans of Mr. Rogers and those identical triplets. Another popular choice is Free Solo, which came out a little later and which might have the momentum to fend off Judge Ginsberg. Minding the Gap is about child abuse in Rockford, Illinois (a city I mostly associate with A League of Their Own); Of Fathers and Sons is about a journalist posing as a Jihadist in northern Syria.
Best Foreign Film
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Cold War is up for three awards, and might lose all three of them to Roma. This is the rare year when most of the Foreign Language Film nominees have actually been out in the United States for a while. Shoplifters (Japan) and Cold War (Poland) were both hits, the latter picking up an unexpected three nominations. German nominee Never Look Away is also up in the Cinematography category. With ten nominations, Roma (Mexico) is the clear favorite, although Academy voters might possibly take this opportunity to vote for something else instead.
Best Animated Film
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The possibilities are pretty limitless when it comes to animation in film, so it’s pretty sad that three of this year’s five nominees are based on pre-existing material. My heart is with Isle of Dogs, , but the momentum seems to be behind Golden Globe winner Spider-Man. Remember, though: the Golden Globes are decided by about 90 foreign journalists and the Oscars are decided by hundreds of animators. Also remember: in the last ten years only one film (Rango) wasn’t from the Disney/Pixar stable, meaning The Incredibles 2 might take it away from Peter Porker and Spider-Girl.
Best Original Screenplay
The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)
First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Green Book (Nick Vallelonga & Brian Hayes Currie & Peter Farrelly)
Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
Vice (Adam McKay)
The first female winner of the Best Original Screenplay Award was Muriel Box, who shared the award with her husband Sydney in 1946. The last woman to win the award was Diablo Cody for Juno in 2007, which was twelve years ago. Can Deborah Davis from The Favourite break that cycle? Roma’s considered the favorite, though until now no foreign-language film has won the award, ever.
Three of this year’s five nominees for Best Original Screenplay are about real people: Don Shirley, Dick Cheney, and Queen Anne all lived and breathed and did important things, for better or for worse. Since Roma’s also heavily auto biographical, that means only First Reformed is “original” in the sense that it’s not based on something previously documented. This year’s screenplay nominees are all first-timers with the exception of Alfonso Cuarón, a 2002 nominee for the great Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Best Adapted Screenplay
A Star Is Born (Eric Roth, Will Fetters & Bradley Cooper)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
BlacKkKlansman (Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)
Here’s a piece of trivia for you. The oldest Oscar winner in this category is James Ivory, who at age 89 won the award for Call Me By Your Name, a film about a seventeen year old on an extended vacation. The youngest winner in the Adapted Screenplay category is Ernest Thompson, who at age 32 won the award for On Golden Pond, a movie about old people on vacation. Another piece of trivia is that no woman has won in this category since Brokeback Mountain co-writer Diana Ossana fourteen years ago. For me it’s between the blissfully remade A Star Is Born and If Beale Street Could Talk, the first ever English language film adaptation of a James Baldwin novel. (There was a French adaptation of the same novel in the late nineties, but it changed a lot of the details and made the main character a white girl.)
The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)
Never Look Away (Caleb Deschanel)
Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
A Star Is Born (Matty Libatique)
Cold War (Łukasz Żal)
The cinematography in Cold War is phenomenal and the two main characters are both beautiful, which is some cinematic sorcery because otherwise she’s pretty plain-looking and he’s kind of a goober. Last year’s winner (Blade Runner 2049) was an outlier – generally these always go to Best Picture nominees. But I despised the hideous fisheye lens in The Favourite. No one saw Never Look Away, but cinematographer Caleb Deschanel has five previous nominations dating back to the early eighties, most recently The Passion of the Christ in 2004. Matty Libatique (A Star Is Born) was previously nominated for Black Swan, and Łukasz Żal (Cold War) was nominated for Ida in 2015. Will the cinematographers give their award to Alfonso Cuarón, a director who decided to do the job himself? It seems unlikely. In a category that’s 3/5 foreign and 2/5 black and white, I’m crossing my fingers for Cold War.
BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)
Bohemian Rhapsody (John Ottman)
The Favourite (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)
Green Book (Patrick J. Don Vito)
Vice (Hank Corwin)
The American Cinema Editors gave their Eddie Award to Bohemian Rhapsody, so don’t be surprised if that wins here, too. Vice mostly did a good job with a story that bounced back and forth over about a half century, and The Favourite would ensure that at least one Yorgos went home with a trophy. Green Book and BlacKkKlansman are the longshots.
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)
Six actors, most recently Christolph Waltz, have two Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Will Mahershala Ali join them? The bookies are saying yes, although the race is a tight one and folks seem divided about whether his role was actually a supporting one. Richard E. Grant was a supporting actor in the most genuine sense in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, while Sam Rockwell was memorable in a brief turn as dopey W. (He’s good, but Steve Carrell was better.) I’ll be happy regardless of who wins, though I’m rooting for Grant who I just learned yesterday is completely sober and TOTALLY NOT GAY. I’ve just sort of assumed he was since, what, Four Weddings and a Funeral?
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz won the BAFTA, but Emma Stone’s performance in The Favourite was so much more interesting. Weisz spends to much time reminding the audience that she is Rachel Weisz, Serious Actress, whereas Stone really owned her role. Yorgos mostly likes to make his actors puke and fall down, and Emma’s just so much better at it. Amy Adams was objectively the best, I thought, but I’m rooting for Regina King anyway; that movie deserves every award it can get. Plus, she played the mom, and traditionally this category rewards moms. (See: Allison Janney in I, Tonya; Patricia Arquette in Boyhood; Melissa Leo in The Fighter…)
Best 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)
Isle of Dogs and If Beale Street Could Talk were my two favorite movies last year, so it’s nice that they’re nominated together in at least one category, even if it’s not Best Picture. Though, speaking of that, nine of the last ten Best Original Score Oscars were handed out to films that were also nominated for Best Picture. The tenth, The Hateful Eight, went to Ennio Morricone, who at the age of 87 had somehow never won the award. I’d love it if Beale Street won but I’m going to predict BlacKkKlansman or maaaaaaaybe Black Panther.
Best 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)
There seems to be a general consensus that “Shallow” is the predestined winner here, and that’s fine. “All the Stars” is great, but the Mary Poppins song is definitely not great, the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings number is a very good song from a made-for-TV western, and that Jennifer Hudson mess is just the worst. This was an excellent year for songs in movies, and this category does not reflect that at all.
Best 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 women from The Favourite are newcomers in this category, but they’re also heavily favored to win in the two-pronged award dedicated to art direction and set design. Eugenio Caballero (Roma) won in 2006 for Pan’s Labyrinth. The guys from Mary Poppins Returns previously won for Chicago (2002). The guy from First Man is on his fifth nomination. If it were up to me, though, this one would go to Black Panther.
Best 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 Favourite had some really great costumes thanks to 14-time nominee Sandy Powell, who is competing against herself this year. Without question, though, this one surely belongs to Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther, which did so much more than waxing on one extremely well-documented historical period. Now, let’s take four minutes to remember how weird the mid-nineties were.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mary Queen of Scots
How close is a Vice President in tank to a Prime Minister? I sort of assumed this award always went to movies about British royals, but actually that hasn’t happened since Elizabeth in 1998. On the other hand, biographies of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill both won this award (in 2011 and 2017). Border is a strange Swedish film about people who look like trolls. Vice seems like a shoo-in.
Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Black Panther managed seven nominations but was surprisingly left out of the Visual Effects category. Will Marvel win for Avengers: Infinity War instead? The bookies seem to think so, with First Man trailing a distant second in the odds. That said, a comic book movie hasn’t won since Spider-Man in 2004, and the First Man team includes the guys that made Blade Runner 2049 (last year’s winner) and Interstellar (which won in 2015).
Best Sound Mixing
A Star Is Born
How often do films win in the Sound Mixing category without being nominated in the Sound Editing category? 4 of the 5 nominees are the same, but A Star Is Born seems to be the favorite for this one. Sure, why not.
Best Sound Editing
A Quiet Place
First Man and A Quiet Place each scored three nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors guild, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one or the other took this award. I’m guessing Benjamin A. Burtt (Black Panther) must be the son of four-time Oscar winner Ben Burtt, who did the sound on ET as well as two Indiana Jones movies. His partner Steve Boedekker was previously nominated in 2013 for All Is Lost, where Robert Redford is alone on a boat. Do you remember that movie? I just had to look it up. I’m rooting for Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan, the all-female First Man team, just because only three women have ever taken home this award before. I predict this one will go to A Quiet Place, though; that team previously won for one of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden and David Fine)
Bao (Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb)
Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall and Nuria González Blanco)
One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas)
Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)
Pixar made Bao – you might have seen it before The Incredibles 2 — but it’s so much more fulfilling to see this award to some random Canadian. This year there are two: Animal Behaviour, which is about group therapy for animals, and Weekends, a surreal about a boy cycling back and forth between the houses of his divorced parents. The other two are an abstract short from Ireland about a woman with dementia (Late Afternoon) and One Small Step, about a shoemaker’s daughter who dreams of going to the moon.
Best Documentary Short
Black Sheep (Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn)
End Game (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)
Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser)
A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)
Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton)
The favorite is Marshall Curry’s A Night at the Garden, a 7-minute film featuring footage of Hitler addressing an audience of 22,000 at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Sounds timely, and also hearkens back to when every documentary was about World War II. Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton’s “Period. End of Sentence” is about Indian women making their own menstrual pads. Not to be confused with Pad Man, last year’s hit Indian comedy about menstrual pads.
Best Live Action Short
Detainment (Vincent Lambe and Darren Maho)
Fauve (Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon)
Marguerite (Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset)
Mother (Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado)
Skin (Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman)
Reviewers seem to like Jeremy Comte’s Fauve, a Canadian film about two boys playing in an abandoned surface mine. Four of the five nominees are about boys in mortal danger, and they’re apparently all pretty dark. Skin (about a kid raised by neo-Nazis) seems to be the front-runner.