Sunday, February 17, 2019

Predictions for the 91st Academy Awards


This has certainly been a turbulent year for the Oscars. With repeated clumsy attempts to boost ratings, the Academy has come under fire multiple times for their handling of the ceremony, to the point that the entire event might be a complete trainwreck. After all, the last time there was no Oscars host thirty years ago, we were treated to what is considered the all-time worst ceremony of all time. Perhaps that feeling of uncertainty affected the rest of the awards circuit a bit too much, as this has turned into one of the most difficult Oscars to predict in quite some time. But, I have done my best, offering shaky predictions and accompanying analysis to try and help you navigate your own Oscar ballot. Here now are my predictions in all 24 categories, where I pick who will win, who should win, and who should have been nominated.

Best Picture:
Roma, The Favourite, and Green Book
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: Green Book and The Favourite
Should Win: Roma
Should Have Been Nominated: Custody

This is one of the most heavily contested Best Picture races in years. All of the frontrunners have at least a few vulnerable spots which keep this race wide open. A few months ago, A Star is Born was seen as the solid frontrunner. Both a commercial and critical hit, it has been an awards season stalwart and at one point seemed unbeatable. But as time went on, it became clear that while it could rack up nominations, it wasn’t actually winning all that many top prizes, and its frontrunner status was in jeopardy. It not receiving Oscar nominations for Best Director or Best Editing—the two most commonly overlapped categories with Best Picture—is essentially a nail in the coffin for the film’s Best Picture chances. In fact, since the Film Editing category was added at the 7th Academy Awards, no movie as ever won Best Picture without a nomination in at least one of those categories.

That, surprisingly, makes the frontrunner Roma. On paper, there are a lot of reasons to suggest Roma would never win Best Picture. No foreign language film has ever won the top prize, and the Academy has always been notoriously averse to Netflix. But Roma has already made Oscar history. It’s tied with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the most nominations ever for a foreign film, and is the first foreign language film to ever have the most nominations at a ceremony. It also received several unexpected nominations (most notably for Marina de Tavira for Best Supporting Actress) which indicate there’s wide appeal throughout the Academy for the film. It also just is an extraordinary film—and my personal pick for the best film of the year—and might simply be too powerful for Oscar voters to ignore. The Oscars are often political and with Trump’s latest obnoxious and dangerous meltdown concerning the Mexican border, giving the top prize to a film celebrating a lower class indigenous Mexican woman would send a powerful message. But, sadly, the biggest case for Roma to win Best Picture has nothing to do with its quality or importance; it has to do with money. Netflix has put everything it has into Roma’s Oscar campaign, and that sort of monetary push can overcome many of the prejudices that might have kept voters from considering the film initially. Still, given how unlikely a Best Picture winner Roma is on paper, it’s never going to be a sure thing until the envelope is opened.

Helping Roma’s chances is the fact that its would be rivals don’t have the strongest showing going into the Oscars either. Most would consider its closest competition to be The Favourite, which tied with Roma for the most nominations this year. Its awards season report card is strong (although weaker than Roma’s) and puts it in a good position as a contender. But there is also a lot to suggest The Favourite doesn’t have the support it needs to come out on top. Its biggest weakness from an awards report card standpoint is that only two films have ever won Best Picture without getting a nomination at the DGA Awards, and Yorgos Lanthimos was snubbed there this year. Perhaps most worryingly for the film’s chances, The Favourite lost to Roma at the BAFTAs, an awards ceremony that always heavily favors British films and where The Favourite should have had an advantage. It’s still in the running, but it would be a definite surprise were it to win Best Picture. That somewhat surprisingly leaves Green Book as the film in the best position to upset Roma. The film came out of nowhere to have a really strong awards season showing and seems to have pretty much weathered the backlash it has received. While the lack of a Best Director nomination for Peter Farrelly hurts the film’s chances significantly (only four films in Oscar history have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination) its win at the PGA Awards puts it back in the conversation.

As for what should have been nominated, I think many films of the year were more deserving than these eventual nominees. While Roma and BlacKkKlansman were both in my top three personal favorite films of the year, none of the other nominees even made my top 30. The other film in my top three in particular never had a chance of any Oscars consideration. It’s called Custody, and it’s an obscure French film from first-time feature director Xavier Legrand. But, had Custody been an American film I feel like it easily would have been on the awards season radar. It’s brilliant film, and phenomenally acted. It’s no surprise that it has dominated the Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), but in a year of exceptionally strong foreign language films, I would have loved if it had received more love from critics and audiences in the U.S. as well.

Best Director:
The Favourite, Roma, and BlacKkKlansman
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón—Roma
Could Win: Yorgos Lanthimos—The Favourite and Spike Lee—BlacKkKlansman
Should Win: Spike Lee—BlacKkKlansman
Should Have Been Nominated: Jeremiah Zagar—We the Animals

As up-in-the-air as Best Picture is, Best Director feels fairly decided. Alfonso Cuarón has been sweeping this category, even at awards ceremonies where Roma hasn’t won Best Picture. Cuarón is on track to win his second directing Oscar, and if he does, this will be the fifth time in six years that a Mexican director has won the prize.

If Cuarón doesn’t win, however, the next most likely contenders are Yorgos Lanthimos and Spike Lee. Like last year’s winner Guillermo del Toro, both are respected filmmakers with distinct artistic visions, and both have received their first nominations despite their prestige in the industry. For Lee especially, a win would be meaningful, and would indicate that the Academy has some awareness of how often they’ve overlooked his work in the past. For my money, as wonderful as Cuarón’s direction is, Lee’s is even more remarkable. And while he’s always been a creative and fascinating filmmaker, his work with BlacKkKlansman shows a new level of mastery for Lee that deserves recognition. Both Cuarón and Lee created highly personal films that no other director could have ever pulled off in the same way. But the sheer ambition of BlacKkKlansman gives me the edge for Lee in terms of who should win. But I certainly won’t be upset should Cuarón take the prize as expected.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s nomination this year, meanwhile, marks only the second time a director has been nominated for a film that isn’t nominated for Best Picture since they expanded the field of Best Picture nominees. But Pawlikowski’s unexpected nomination is a reminder that the individual achievement of a director can outshine the film itself. That was the case for me with Sundance winner We the Animals. It’s a lovely film, but Jeremiah Zagar’s direction shines especially bright. His direction is poetic and understated and beautiful, and in a just world would have been on the Oscars’ radar.

Best Actress:
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, Glenn Close in The Wife, and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born
Will Win: Glenn Close as Joan Castleman—The Wife
Could Win:, Lady Gaga as Ally Campana Maine—A Star is Born
Should Win: Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo Gutiérrez—Roma
Should Have Been Nominated: Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lisa Spinelli—The Kindergarten Teacher

Even before A Star is Born was released, there was significant buzz surrounding Lady Gaga’s performance. Those who saw the film early didn’t just say she was good, they said she was fantastic, and that an Oscar was all but inevitable for her work. Once the film came out, the reception to Gaga’s performance seemed to back this up. But then, something weird happened: Glenn Close won the Golden Globe for her performance in The Wife. Now, the Golden Globes are honestly usually a meaningless ceremony. The HFPA which votes for the Globes is a tiny organization of less than 100 members, none of whom actually vote for the Oscars, and so the winners and nominees aren’t a good indicator of how the Oscars will go. BUT, because of the Golden Globes’ inexplicably high profile, it does mean that they can change momentum. When Close won over the highly favorited Gaga, it made Gaga look less invulnerable, and that must have made Oscar voters reconsider things. Close has the most nominations without a win than any other actor in Oscar history, and the Oscars love to recognize people who are “overdue.” After her win at the SAG Awards, Close went from longshot to the clear favorite in this category.

But I think it’s a shame that Gaga and Close are the two frontrunners because, for my money, they give significantly weaker performances than their fellow nominees. I honestly really disliked Close’s work in The Wife—it lacked vulnerability that this utterly forgettable film desperately needed, and ranks as some of the worst work of her esteemed career. I actually do think Gaga does great work in A Star is Born, and it signals the start of a promising acting career, but it’s a performance that simply can’t rate against the outstanding work of her fellow nominees. Olivia Colman brings much-needed and rather unexpected heart to The Favourite, and introduces her splendidly to an American audience (in the U.K., she’s been recognized for years as one of their finest actors). Melissa McCarthy is utterly transformed in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and proves she has the dramatic chops that anyone paying attention to her comedic work could have guessed she had all along. But the best performance for me has to be Yalitza Aparicio in Roma. Her debut performance as Cleo is gut-wrenchingly beautiful and in a just world would have swept every awards ceremony as opposed to being lucky to have received a nomination at all.

But really it was a standout year for leading actress performances, even if awards ceremonies failed to get the memo. Among my favorites were Kathryn Hahn in Private Life, Charlize Theron in Tully, Jessie Buckley in Beast, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in All About Nina, Madeline Brewer in Cam, Andrea Riseborough in Nancy, Dominique Fishback in Night Comes On, Léa Drucker in Custody, and many more. All the names I just mentioned were worthy of nominations, but if I had to choose just one, it would be Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Kindergarten Teacher. Gyllenhaal does the best work of her already impressive career in this sadly overlooked film, creating one of the most intriguing characters I’ve ever seen in Lisa Spinelli. Both sweet and unexpectedly sinister, her work is nothing short of masterful.

Best Actor:
Christian Bale in Vice, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built
Will Win: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury—Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Christian Bale as Dick Cheney—Vice
Should Win: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury—Bohemian Rhapsody
Should Have Been Nominated: Matt Dillon as Jack—The House That Jack Built

At any awards ceremony, there are categories with lots of grey contenders and the excitement revolves around which one will come out on top. This year’s Best Actor category is a case where nobody seems all that excited about any of the nominees and it’s going to be more of a case of who squeaks by. Willem Dafoe does great work, but At Eternity’s Gate is too artsy and obscure for him to be a contender. Bradley Cooper and Viggo Mortensen do great work, but both have been eclipsed by their screen partners when it comes to awards attention (although the snub for Cooper in the Best Director category might earn him unexpected love from the Academy). That leaves the two frontrunners in this category as Christian Bale and Rami Malek. Both playing recognizable historical figures, no matter what one thinks of their respective performances, neither has the overwhelming buzz that acting Oscar winners sometimes has going into it, but both have sort of settled into their positions as the frontrunners by default. Of the two, Malek’s win at the SAG Awards gives him the edge and give him the best odds going into the night. And, honestly, I understand why. Despite all of the many, many, many problems with Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek isn’t one of them. Playing a figure as iconic as Freddie Mercury should have been an impossible task for any actor (and is partly why this film took so long to get made), but Malek both does a credible impersonation while also making the character his own.

Part of why this category feels underwhelming might have to do with how obvious the characters feel. Four of the five nominees portray real people, and the fifth character is the latest entry in a film that has been remade countless times. The category feels like it lacks originality. That’s why I would have loved to have seen a nomination for Matt Dillon for The House That Jack Built. The film is very controversial, but I feel like even the film’s harshest critics need to recognize how astonishing Dillon is. Playing a serial killer, Dillon is commanding and ruthless, offering a brashly unsympathetic performance that is raw, visceral, and an absolute tour de force.

Best Supporting Actress:
Rachel Weisz in The Favourite, Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk, and Emma Stone in The Favourite
Will Win: Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill—The Favourite
Could Win: Regina King as Sharon Rivers—If Beale Street Could Talk, Emma Stone as Abigail Hill—The Favourite, and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney—Vice
Should Win: Emma Stone as Abigail Hill—The Favourite
Should Have Been Nominated: Tatum Marilyn Hall as Abby Lamere—Night Comes On

This has to be the most up-in-the-air acting category in recent Oscars history. While surprise nominee Marina de Tavira from Roma is unlikely to win, any of her four competitors could conceivably walk home with the award. To the point that I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen.

Most Oscars prognosticators would probably say this award will go to Regina King. King has been getting a lot of awards attention for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk and gives what is far and away the most decorated performance in this category. But there’s one awards ceremony King was noticeably absent from: the SAG Awards. This is a big deal. Ever since the SAG Awards have existed, only two Oscar winners for acting have not been nominated for a SAG Award in the same year. That’s 2 out of 96 Oscar winners. So the snub for King there is not something to be ignored. And while one could potentially claim her SAG snub was a fluke, the Academy clearly didn’t respond to If Beale Street Could Talk as a whole, with it vastly underperforming when the nominations were announced. While King could very well overcome not receiving a SAG nomination, there’s no indication that she has the extra support from the Academy’s voting base that would be needed to do so.

So, there are real reasons to believe King won’t win. But, given that she had been dominant throughout the  awards season, that doesn’t exactly leave a single frontrunner to take her place. I thought that whoever won the SAG Award would become the new frontrunner, but that surprisingly went to Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place, who isn’t nominated. My guess is that there’s a lot of support for The Favourite in this category, but that voters are divided between Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s performance, since the producers are admirably campaigning for them both equally as opposed to pushing one over the other. One of them could take it, but it’s a toss-up as to which one it would be. Both do strong work, and while I personally preferred Stone (mostly because her role allowed for a greater arc and more variation within that arc), I feel like Weisz might have slightly more support, especially since she just won the BAFTA. If they do split the vote, then that might open a door for Amy Adams in Vice. This is her sixth nomination, and it’s frankly the first time that I think she has absolutely no business being nominated (she was sooooooooo miscast as Lynne Cheney), but the “overdue” factor might help her. So, there’s reasons for any of these four to win, and there are distinct reasons why each of these four might not win.

There are a lot of supporting performances I would have loved to receive more attention, but my single pick for the best supporting actress of the year goes to a complete unknown in an unfairly overlooked film: child actress Tatum Marilyn Hall in Night Comes On. Even though this film didn’t receive enough attention, I hope that those in the industry have taken note of Hall, who gives an effortless performance as a 10-year-old reconnecting with her sister who has just been released from juvenile detention. Hall’s work is compelling and genuine, and indicates a confidence far beyond that of an actor making their debut.

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali in Green Book, Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman, and Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give
Will Win: Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley—Green Book
Could Win: Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman—BlacKkKlansman
Should Win: Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley—Green Book
Should Have Been Nominated: Russell Hornsby as Maverick Carter—The Hate U Give

It’s become a frustrating trend that actors can be submitted in whichever category they (or the producers) choose. Every year, there are leading performances that are submitted as supporting ones simply to try and “beat the odds.” That’s certainly the case this year with Mahershala Ali. Ali is 100% a co-lead with Viggo Mortensen, but rather than worry about them splitting the vote in the leading category, Ali has been relegated to the supporting category. In this case, it looks like that’s actually going to pay off. Ali gives a phenomenal performance, as he imbues Dr. Don Shirley with a complexity that the much-criticized screenplay doesn’t afford him. For all of the backlash against the film, the work in it is really good, and Ali’s work on its own is outstanding. Of all the acting categories, this seems to be the one where the winner is most firmly decided. In the unlikely event that someone overtakes Ali, my best guess would be Adam Driver. A beloved actor who has been doing great work for a while now, Driver will inevitably win an Oscar one day, but it doesn’t like this will be his year.

I will never understand how Russell Hornsby didn’t win every acting award available for The Hate U Give. His work as Maverick Carter isn’t only a great performance, but it’s the type of performance that the Oscars usually respond to in a big way. Both he and the film deserved much more attention and, in a just world, would have been prominent awards season premises.

Best Original Screenplay:
Roma, The Favourite, and Tully
Will Win: The Favourite
Could Win: Green Book, Roma
Should Win: Roma
Should Have Been Nominated: Tully

Original and distinct, the screenplay for The Favourite is the one to beat here. While it’s up against other films that have a lot of Academy support, it’s the film whose screenplay is most obviously crucial to its overall success. And, while it also has a good shot at winning various technical categories, recognition in this category would be a good way for the Academy to recognize a film that they clearly admire but which will probably not win Best Picture. The Favourite did have a bit of a setback when it was deemed ineligible to compete at the WGA Awards which are usually a great indicator for this category. But its ineligibility isn’t the same as it simply being snubbed, so it still seems to be in good standing. A strong case could also be made for Green Book to win this award. While one would hope the backlash to the screenplay in particular might hurt its chances, it’s clear that the Academy hasn’t really cared about the Green Book backlash at all, and the film could easily do far better than expected on Oscar night, including here.

Considering that Roma is the Best Picture frontrunner, it also can’t be counted out. Its screenplay is my favorite of the ones nominated, in part because it just doesn’t feel like a screenplay. Alfonso Cuarón reportedly wrote the screenplay as filming happened, which lends the film its signature lyrical quality. This fluidity makes the screenplay stand out, but it also makes the screenplay’s strengths feel effortless. Especially for the non-writers voting in the Academy, the strong writing in a film like The Favourite is simply going to be easier to recognize as an individual achievement.

But my favorite screenplay of the year was left out of the Oscars altogether. Diablo Cody has been a celebrated cinematic voice ever since her breakout (and Oscar-winning) screenplay for Juno. She’s had a great career and written several excellent films, but 2018’s Tully is now my all time favorite screenplay of hers. This criminally overlooked film is smart and subtly insightful, and I wish both Cody and Tully as a whole could have gotten some Oscars attention this year.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
BlacKkKlansman, A Star is Born, and Annihilation
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: A Star is Born and If Beale Street Could Talk
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Have Been Nominated: Annihilation

The Oscars loves to spread the love across films that they like. A film that isn’t going to win Best Picture or for acting might get thrown a Best Screenplay bone just to make sure it doesn’t walk away empty-handed. That looks like it’ll be the case this year for BlacKkKlansman. One of the most celebrated films of the year, BlacKkKlansman clearly has a lot of Academy support, but isn’t really expected to win anywhere else. If it doesn’t win for Best Screenplay, it’s not going to win anything, and that’s going to give it the extra support it’ll need to come out on top here. But by saying this, I don’t mean to discredit how good the screenplay is. Even though it might win due to Oscar politics, it deserves the award based off of its quality. This is a fantastic and smart screenplay, which by all accounts elevates Ron Stallworth’s memoir which inspired it to a considerable degree.

A few years ago, Alex Garland got a surprise screenplay nomination for the wonderful film Ex Machina. Garland’s follow-up film Annihilation similarly deserved to be nominated. In fact, Annihilation deserved more attention in general. Although, if Garland can continue making films at the same quality as these two, then I imagine he’ll be a regular presence in this category in future years.

Also, just to say, if The Ballad of Buster Scruggs wins then I just give up and will never try to predict the Oscars again because that would be some nonsense.

Best Foreign Language Film:
Cold War, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, and Roma
Will Win: Roma (Mexico)
Could Win: Cold War (Poland)
Should Win: Roma (Mexico)
Should Have Been Nominated: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Indonesia)

If there’s a lock of the night, it’s this. There’s simply no way that Roma will not win Best Foreign Language Film. It makes sense—since it’s already competing for Best Picture (which, again, it actually could win) the idea that it doesn’t win in this more specialized category would be a genuine headscratcher. It not winning here would essentially be an admission by the Academy that their system is flawed and that they really need to consider international cinema more and hahaha there’s no way they’re going to do that. If any film has even the slimmest chance of overtaking Roma, it would be Cold War. Already nominated for Best Director, it’s clear that this Polish film is beloved. In a Roma­-less year it would have this award in the bag, and I guess there’s a sliiiiight chance that voters who love the film might vote for it just for the heck of it because they assume Roma has it wrapped up, leading to a major upset. But there’s less than a 1% chance of that happening. It has to be Roma. And the truth is that Roma deserves it. It truly is a phenomenal film, and will actually be the first time a submission from Mexico will win this award, despite that country having produced some of the best filmmakers working today.

One of this year’s many great foreign language film was France’s Custody, which I already mentioned should have been nominated for Best Picture. But Custody wasn’t even France’s submission for the category and therefore was ineligible. So my pick for what should have been nominated is the Indonesian feminist revenge Western Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. This wonderful and strange film is a masterpiece, and announces the young director Mouly Surya as a presence to watch in the international cinematic scene.

Best Documentary:
Minding the Gap, Free Solo, and Crime + Punishment
Will Win: Free Solo
Could Win: RBG
Should Win: Minding the Gap
Should Have Been Nominated: Crime + Punishment

Documentaries had a very good year. It was, in fact, the most profitable box office year for documentaries in American history, with more documentaries turning a profit than in any other year. With several big-name documentaries failing to score a nomination (including Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers) the two most high-profile nominees remaining are climbing documentary Free Solo and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg profile RBG. A great case could be made for RBG taking home the top prize. One of the most beloved liberal heroes, Bader Ginsburg is a great subject, and is especially on Hollywood’s radar considering she was just the subject of a biopic. But I actually think Free Solo could get an upset. The film follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb the El Capitan rock formation without a harness, and is technically impressive in a way that most documentaries are not. The craftsmanship of this film is stunning—especially the cinematography and score—which could give it a distinct edge with the Academy voters in the “craft” categories. And while it isn’t a particularly insightful film and doesn’t offer much important commentary the way its other nominees do, it’s thrilling to watch.

But while Free Solo and RBG are the more commercial heavy-hitters, I am personally more of a fan of the three other nominees, which all feel more honest in part due to operating on a much smaller scale. In particular, Minding the Gap and Hale County, This Morning, This Evening are admirably personal projects which feel intimate and genuine the way so many documentaries aspire to but cannot achieve, and I would love if one of them could pull a David v. Goliath style upset. A win for Minding the Gap would be an especially big win for its producer and distributor, Hulu, which would signal that it can compete with Netflix in the original film game. Although, I’m devastated that another Hulu original documentary didn’t make it into the running. Crime + Punishment wasn’t just the best documentary of the year, it was one of the best films of the year in general. And while many of this year’s nominated documentaries say important things, none of them have the same urgency or message that Crime + Punishment does.

Best Animated Film:
Incredibles 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Ruben Brandt, Collector
Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Could Win: Incredibles 2
Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Should Have Been Nominated: Ruben Brandt, Collector

A few months ago, the folks at Pixar were probably feeling really smug. The long-awaited Incredibles 2 was well-received and seemed like it was going to easily bring the studio yet another Oscar in this category. But then Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out of nowhere and has beaten out Incredibles 2 at pretty much every other awards ceremony, and looks like it’s the sure frontrunner. And understandably so. This isn’t just the best animated film of the year, it’s one of the best films of the year full stop. It’s groundbreaking and innovative in the way that Pixar was when it was first starting out as a studio. In a just world, I actually think Spider-Verse would have been nominated in multiple categories (there’s no reason its screenplay couldn’t have been considered, and it for sure could have competed in several technical categories), but at the very least it looks like it’s on its way to a well-deserved win here.

Overall, this is a solid lineup of nominees, but I’m sad that this category continues to be dominated by American studios. Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet are both very good, but they also have the benefit of major studios pushing them the way so many excellent indie films do not. And while the Japanese film Mirai did manage to score a nomination this year, it struck me as a rather bland if pleasant film, and there were many more innovative animated films from around the world that also merited consideration. As animes go, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is much more creative than Mirai is. Liu Jian’s neo-noir Have a Nice Day was a gritty and Tarantino-esque puzzle which would have been a fascinating contrast to the other nominees. But the best international animated film from last year for me is Ruben Brandt, Collector, an absolutely wild Hungarian art heist thriller with some of the coolest animation I’ve ever seen. Looking at the shortlisted animated films, it shows that there’s a lot more to animation than Pixar and Dreamworks, and I hope this category can evolve to include the smaller films more as time goes on.

Best Cinematography:
Roma, The Favourite, and November
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: The Favourite
Should Have Been Nominated: November

There’s a good chance that history will be made this year. If Alfonso Cuarón wins this award, it will be the first time a cinematographer has won an Oscar for a film they also directed. And it looks like this could happen. Roma’s black and white cinematography is stunning, and Cuarón has already picked up numerous awards for his work. There’s a chance, though, that he might split votes with Lukasz Zal’s work for Cold War, since that film is also in black and white and many voters who respond to that style might be torn between the two. If this happens, then The Favourite is waiting in the wings. Period costume dramas tend to do well here, and much of Robbie Ryan’s cinematography gives The Favourite the lush look that has won films this awards many times in years past. But Ryan’s cinematography is also wonderfully weird—with sharp angles and a use of fisheye lens that is somehow remarkably effective. The cinematography in all five of these nominees couldn’t be more different (yes, even between the two black and white films) and it’ll be exciting to see which way the Academy leans.

But while two black and white foreign language films are already nominated this year, I’d want to throw a third one into the mix: the Estonian horror film November. A film with a classic ghost story feel, the cinematography is gorgeous, spooky, and unforgettable. November won Best Cinematography at Sundance last year, and I would have loved to see it recognized at the Oscars as well.

Best Production Design:
Black Panther, The Favourite, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: Black Panther
Should Have Been Nominated: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Along with the film’s representation and diversity, what made Black Panther stand out from other Marvel films (thus earning it a Best Picture nomination) is its production design. It’s a stunning film, with numerous smart design choices. Black Panther is on track to win multiple design awards this year, and the biggest and most important one for the film would have to be Production Design. This must be a blow to The Favourite, which also has great production design and would have been the frontrunner in a year without Black Panther.

I personally think it’s a shame that no animated film has ever been nominated in this category. While animated films have occasionally been nominated in other craft awards (including The Nightmare Before Christmas and Kubo and the Two Strings which were both nominated for Best Visual Effects) none has ever been recognized for production design. This is a shame because animated films often offer some of the most visually interesting films out there. This year especially, both Isle of Dogs and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had outstanding production design that was just as innovative as the nominees. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in particular had what was easily some of the most innovative production design of the year and should have been a shoo-in if animated films had a chance to be considered in this category.

Best Film Editing:
Bohemian Rhapsody, BlacKkKlansman, and The Other Side of the Wind
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, and Green Book
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Have Been Nominated: The Other Side of the Wind

This category tends to have three types of winners: Best Picture winners, movies with one standout editing sequence, and action movies where the editing is super duper fast. This year, no snappy action movies made the cut, and the Best Picture frontrunner, Roma didn’t get a nomination, which opens this category wide up. If The Favourite or Green Book wins, it will hint that they might have a stronger chance at winning Best Picture later in the night, but I think this year we’re more likely to see a winner that sits in the “standout editing sequence” category. That means the favorite here is Bohemian Rhapsody, which just won the top prize at the American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards. This is primarily for the Live Aid sequence—a scene that admittedly is very well edited, and which seems widely agreed-upon as the best part of the film. On a craftsmanship level, it’s hard to argue with the strong editing in that sequence. Much like when Whiplash won this award due to the strong editing in the film’s final drum solo, Bohemian Rhapsody might ride this one concert all the way to an Oscar. It does face some strong competition from BlacKkKlansman, though. The editing throughout BlacKkKlansman is consistently excellent—it’s one of the best paced films of the year. And, like Bohemian Rhapsody, it has a standout sequence (a montage between a Black Power movement with Harry Belafonte and a KKK initiation is masterfully done). BlacKkKlansman had the best editing of the year, and is certainly in contention for this award. But this is really a tough one to predict. I could realistically see any of the nominees winning, with the exception of Vice, which has absolutely atrocious editing and how it got nominated is a complete mystery to me.

In terms of sheer difficulty, though, I would have loved to have seen a nomination for The Other Side of the Wind. The long lost Orson Welles film has notoriously been in development for over 40 years, and that it has been completed at all is a huge testament to the film’s editors. They had to piece together scattered footage and somehow turn it into a cohesive film, even without the presence of a director to guide them. The editing of The Other Side of the Wind, in essence, became guesswork, and the mere feat of trying to unlock the mind of Orson Welles is nothing if not Oscar-worthy.

Best Visual Effects:
First Man, Avengers: Infinity War, and Annihilation
Will Win: First Man
Could Win: Avengers: Infinity War
Should Win: Christopher Robin
Should Have Been Nominated: Annihilation

Many agree that, if it had been nominated, Black Panther would have been the clear frontrunner in this category. But its lack of a nomination has made this quite an odd category. For four of the five nominees, this is their only nomination. The exception is First Man, which is the most prestigious-feeling of the five, and the only one recognized in any other technical categories. It’s bound to appeal to Oscar voters, and does indeed have impressive technical sequences worthy of recognition. If there’s an upset, it might just be Avengers: Infinity War. Casual Oscar viewers might be surprised to learn that, while many have been nominated, no MCU film has ever won this award. In fact, no superhero film has won in this category except Spider-Man 2. But Avengers: Infinity War could end up bucking the trend. The effects used to create Thanos is some of the most complete VFX character creation since Gollum in the Lord of the Rings franchise, and has been quite celebrated. It does face tough competition with First Man, but is a bit of a dark horse here.

The truth is, it’s a truly odd bunch of nominees, and there isn’t a film that’s actually stunning the way so many past winners have been, with most of these nominees opting for a gritty aesthetic as opposed to a beautiful one. My favorite effects of the nominees is actually Christopher Robin, a rather mediocre film, but one which succeeds at all because of the effects. The character creation of Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends is really effective and sweet, and they’re integrated into the film beautifully, feeling like they’re actually there. But, still, while it’s impressive there’s nothing all that original when it comes to effects. The best visual effects of the year for me were in Annihilation, which just like in the screenplay category, was overlooked here. The effects are fascinating, and were used to create both an impressive environment and many creatures that reside within that environment (including a dancing shadowy creepy humanoid thing and the most terrifying bear in all of film).

Best Costume Design:
Black Panther, The Favourite, and A Simple Favor
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: Black Panther
Should Have Been Nominated: A Simple Favor

I feel like this year, several technical categories are going to come down to Black Panther and The Favourite. Just like with Production Design, the design work here is impressive for both films (which also have the advantage of being well-liked by the Academy in general) and also very different, so that it’s hard to compare the two. I feel like the wave of recognition for Black Panther is going to continue here. For one thing, the costume design is beautiful and original and truly standout. For the other, I have a feeling that The Favourite might split votes with Mary Poppins Returns since both had costumes designed by Sandy Powell.

While all five nominees in this category are impressive, I do wish there was a way for the Academy to recognize more contemporary films. Every year, the nominees lean heavily on period films, and occasionally sci-fi and fantasy. But costume design is just as important and can be done just as impressively in contemporary films, even if the costume pieces themselves aren’t as splashy. This year, movies like Crazy Rich Asians, A Star is Born, Ocean’s 8, and A Simple Favor all had phenomenal costume design but faced an uphill battle to a nomination due to their modern day setting. I was especially blown away by the costume design in A Simple Favor, where the costumes told a complete story. They were so specifically chosen and truly marvelous, from the cutesy and bright colors and patterns adorning the peppy Anna Kendrick, to the dramatic, striking, and fashion-forward clothes worn by the mysterious Blake Lively. This fun film was elevated in part due to these exceptional costumes, where the costume design was as complete and as integral to the film’s success as with any of these other nominees.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
Vice, Border, and Apostle. Three examples of great monster makeup.
Will Win: Vice
Could Win: Border
Should Win: Border
Should Have Been Nominated: Apostle

Best Makeup & Hairstyling tends to love prosthetics, which unfortunately leaves the more standard (but very striking) makeup in Mary Queen of Scots as the longshot here. In a just world, I think this award would go to Border, the rare film where the makeup is one of the most important aspects of the film itself. With an ineffective makeup, this movie would have been terrible, but because of how strong the prosthetics are (while still allowing the actors to be expressive) this underrated film sings. It might be the least recognizable title of the three nominees, but Border has both the most unusual and the most effective makeup for me. But my guess is that it’s going to lose to Vice, which just won big at the MUAHS Guild Awards. The only reason people even like this mess of a movie is because of the way Christian Bale transformed into Dick Cheney, and a win here would echo last year’s champ Darkest Hour. While the actors in Border are certainly transformed by their makeup, the fact that Christian Bale is such a recognizable face and does credibly look like another recognizable figure is certainly an achievement. I don’t begrudge the likely win for Vice, and it is unbelievably impressive on a technical level. I just do feel like the makeup & hairstyling had the least artistry compared to its other nominees.

I can certainly understand why these three films were nominated, but considering how much great makeup and hairstyling there was this year, it highlights how unfortunate it is that this category can't have the full five nominees. The makeup and hairstyling was fantastic in films like Suspiria, Stan & Ollie, and many others which made the Academy's official shortlist, and certainly could have been added as nominees without feeling extranneous. But, if I had to pick just one film to add, I wish that some attention had been paid to the Netflix horror film Apostle. While not a great movie, it’s a lot of fun, and has some truly exceptional makeup and hairstyling. There’s some great blood and gore, but also has some great monster makeup. There’s some cool ugly witch makeup, but the main reason I think Apostle should have been nominated here is for a character known only as “The Grinder” (no relation to the underrated Rob Lowe TV show) whose makeup is incredibly disturbing and looks like something straight out of a Clive Barker film.

Best Original Score:
BlacKkKlansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Mary Poppins Returns
 Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk and Mary Poppins Returns
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Should Have Been Nominated: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

This could really go in any direction. All five of the nominated film scores are acclaimed, and all five are prominent within the films they’re nominated for. Still, there are a few ways to figure out the frontrunners. As charming as Alexandre Desplat’s score is for Isle of Dogs, the Academy is less likely to reward him since he just won this award last year. And while the score for Black Panther is great, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the excellent song soundtrack when the film’s music is discussed. A similar argument could be made against Mary Poppins Returns, except that there’s a lot of industry goodwill built up for composer Marc Shaiman. This is his fourth nomination, and if he were to win, he would complete the coveted EGOT. The mentality that Shaiman is “overdue” might propel him to the win.

But I think that the most likely winners are If Beale Street Could Talk and BlacKkKlansman. The score for Beale Street is lyrical, lovely, and inherently cinematic—it’s vibe is the most similar to what the Oscar tends to reward out of all the nominees, and given the film’s poor Oscars performance, the film’s fans might want to give it extra attention here. But I think the winner both will be and should be BlacKkKlansman. Terence Blanchard’s score is absolutely fantastic. And perhaps most importantly, it has a distinct, memorable musical theme the way none of these other scores do. While people may remember they liked the score for If Beale Street Could Talk after leaving the theater, people actually remember the score itself for BlacKkKlansman. I think this should give it the edge.

I absolutely loved the score for BlacKkKlansman, but my single favorite score was for the Indonesian film Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. This was never going to get consideration—the score hasn’t even been released as its own album. But Yudhi Arfani’s score was haunting in a way no other film score was for me. It’s evocative of the familiar Western genre, while highlighting traditional Indonesian instruments, to create a musical theme as unique as the film itself. I also would be remiss if I didn’t the incredible original score Daniel Pemberton composed for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s a thrilling score that adds so much to this impeccably-crafted film, and would have been like a breath of fresh air had it been nominated in this category.

Best Sound Editing:
First Man, Black Panther, and A Quiet Place
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: First Man and A Quiet Place
Should Win: First Man
Should Have Been Nominated: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

This category is traditionally one of the toughest to predict. The Motion Picture Sound Editors break their awards into very specific categories (best editing of a musical underscore, best editing with dialogue, etc.) A case could be made for pretty much any of the nominees, although in a just world the winner would be First Man. The use of sound is really masterful in that film, but it’s not guaranteed the win by any means. The film, once seen as a Best Picture contender, greatly underperformed at the Oscars so it doesn’t have a built-in fanbase. Also, while I imagine those who are knowledgeable about sound will admire the work, it’s more subtle than Damien Chazelle’s previous films, which were more music heavy. A movie that more directly involves the use of sound, such as A Quiet Place or Bohemian Rhapsody might be more appealing to the Academy as a whole. Ultimately, though, I feel like when in doubt one should go with Black Panther at this year’s Oscars. The film is poised to potentially dominate in the technical categories, including this one, and I could see plenty of voters who don’t know much about sound giving their vote to Black Panther almost as a default.

These nominees all do have strong sound editing, but I would have loved to have seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse here. Like so much of this film, the use of sound was innovative, and the sound editing in particular was crucial to create the fast-paced comic book world of the film. I feel like what happened was that Sony Pictures Animation, which produced the film, didn’t realize what a great film they had until it was too late. They certainly didn’t seem to think it was an Oscars contender and only launched any sort of campaign way too late. If somebody at the studio (which has never performed well at the Oscars and will pick up its first ever win should Spider-Verse be crowned Best Animated Feature) had actually realized what a brilliant film they were working with, maybe they could have campaigned for its inclusion in other categories, as a few Pixar films have sometimes done.

Best Sound Mixing:
First Man, Black Panther, and A Quiet Place
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: First Man and Bohemian Rhapsody
Should Win: First Man
Should Have Been Nominated: A Quiet Place

Every year I try to stress that Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are very, very, VERY different categories. Each is a vital artform in its own right and I hate it when they’re lumped together. But…it doesn’t help that the way one approaches these films as an Oscars prognosticator is pretty much the same. Like with the last category, First Man has a good shot, but might lose out on this award due to a wave of support for Black Panther. It is surprising, though, that of all the nominees for Best Sound Editing, the only one not nominated in this category is A Quiet Place. Huh?! The sound editing in that film is excellent, but the sound mixing is what truly makes that movie extraordinary. It’s snub here is a MAJOR oversight, and possibly one of the biggest injustices out of all the nominations.

Best Original Song:
A Star is Born, Black Panther, and Vox Lux
Will Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born
Could Win: “All the Stars” from Black Panther
Should Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born
Should Have Been Nominated: “Wrapped Up” from Vox Lux

I mean…let’s be honest. It’s going to be “Shallow.” Even if you don’t think it’s the best song of the nominees, no song from a film this year has so entered the cinematic consciousness in such an overwhelming way. “Shallow” has truly earned this award, to the point that personal opinions are almost irrelevant. It’s also worth noting that in the official criteria for this award, voters are supposed to not just consider the song on its own, but how it’s incorporated into the film. In this way especially, “Shallow” excels, defining A Star is Born and being a major reason why the film has been so wonderfully received. The way the nominations have fallen, it looks like this might just be the only award A Star is Born wins. And unlike in some years, this award will feel 100% linked to the film’s craftsmanship as a whole. There is no A Star is Born without “Shallow.” The same cannot be said for any of the other nominees.

There are actually a lot of similarities between A Star is Born and the less-acclaimed Vox Lux. Both follow the sudden rise to fame of a pop star. Both feature original songs written by a popular performer who’s known for being a little out of the box (Lady Gaga and Sia respectively), and while both feature several strong songs, one is clearly the standout. For Vox Lux, that song is “Wrapped Up,” a powerful and heartbreaking ballad that I can’t believe didn’t even make the shortlist for this category. The truth is that Vox Lux is kind of a mess—albeit an intriguing mess—and if the film as a whole had been better, then “Wrapped Up” would 100% have been an Oscar-nominated song. Separated from the film it was written for, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best song from a movie this year. It’s rousing, heartfelt, and swelling with emotion, and deserves recognition.

Best Animated Short:
Bao, Late Afternoon, and Pepe Le Morse
Will Win: Bao
Could Win: Weekends
Should Win: Late Afternoon
Should Have Been Nominated: Pépé Le Morse

Every year, I find that one of the shorts categories stands out from the others in terms of qualities. Some years, the live action shorts are the best, and sometimes (including last year) the documentaries excel. This year, I think the animated shorts have the most consistent lineup of nominees. There’s something of value in every one of the entries (although I think Animal Behaviour is an obvious weak link) and in a fair world, this could be a really close competition. But the truth is, it’s not a fair world, it’s the Oscars, and that means the winner is going to be Bao. This isn’t the worst thing—the Pixar short which aired in theaters before Incredibles 2 is really strong. It has excellent animation and tells a great story and is everything an animated film should be. But the problem is that the quality of the short has nothing to do with it winning. It’s all about the studio, and whenever a Pixar short gets a swell of positive reception, it becomes unbeatable even if there are other great nominees which can rival it in quality. The nominated film One Small Step tells a very similar story to Bao, but only one is going to get real consideration. My personal favorite of the nominees, Late Afternoon, about a forgetful elderly woman who revisits memories from her past, is poignant and glorious and touching and utterly beautiful. The only short film that just might steal the win away from Bao is Weekends—probably the weirdest of the nominees, this surreal film about a child coping with his parents’ divorce has picked up a lot of accolades this year, and would have been a frontrunner without Bao in the running.

As for what should have been nominated, one of the biggest injustices of the year is that Pépé Le Morse wasn't nominated. As great as the nominees are, this French film about a grieving family is heads and shoulders above the pack. It's poignant, it's weird, it's beautiful, it's basically perfect. How it didn't get a nomination is utterly beyond me.

Best Documentary Short:
Period. End of Sentence., Black Sheep, and A Night at the Garden
Will Win: Period. End of Sentence.
Could Win: Black Sheep and A Night at the Garden
Should Win: Period. End of Sentence.
Should Have Been Nominated: Zero Tolerance

The Documentary Short Subject category is probably the one people care about the least, but that’s a shame because it’s a reliably strong lineup. And this year, you can watch all five nominees for free online! That’s right, FOR FREE! So if you’ve always wanted to watch more documentaries, these five would be a great place to start. My personal favorite of the bunch is the Netflix short Period. End of Sentence. Sponsored by The Pad Project, a fantastic organization that distributes sanitary pads to third world countries, the film goes to a small village in India and explores the cultural taboos surrounding menstruation, and shows how the people in the town create their own pads in an area that desperately needs them. It’s an important film about an important subject, and is wonderfully told. But what makes it my favorite is that it’s actually enjoyable to watch. So often the documentary shorts can be difficult to watch. That’s certainly the case with some of this year’s nominees, such as the Libyan refugee film Lifeboat and the Netflix hospice care film End Game which literally ends with an epilogue about how all of the film’s subjects are now dead. These films both other crucial insights but aren’t exactly easy to watch. Period. End of Sentence. manages to make it’s point while also being genuinely entertaining. It’s even funny at times—I laughed out loud when a boy of about eighteen was asked by the filmmakers if he’d heard of menstruation before and he replied, “Yeah, it’s a kind of illness, right?” It’s not a lightweight film, but it’s one with a positive message—one that I respond to and which I think will resonate with Oscar voters as well.

But Period. End of Sentence. does face stiff competition. Another strong entry this year is Black Sheep, a powerful documentary made by The Guardian about racism in the U.K. The film focuses on Cornelius Walker, the victim of a racist assault when he was a child who is reflecting on the incident years later. Switching between extreme close-ups of Walker telling his story and recreations of the incidents of his past, the film is intense and incredibly personal, wisely focusing on Walker’s individual story and letting it speak volumes about the subject of racism as a whole. The secret weapon here is Walker himself, who is a very engaging storyteller and prove a fantastic central subject. The nominees in the feature categories seem to suggest a theme of race for this year’s broadcast, and that thematic resonance might allow Black Sheep to take the win.

There’s also a lot of buzz surrounding A Night atthe Garden. The most pedigreed of the entries (it’s from three-time Oscar nominee Marshall Curry), it has garnered extra attention due to Fox News refusing to air an ad for the short film, and any film that is in a feud with Fox News is bound to play well with the left-leaning Academy. It’s certainly an interesting film—one which presents footage from a Nazi rally that was held at Madison Square Garden in 1939. It’s disturbing to watch—and the parallels drawn between fascist Americans right before WWII and the state of Trump’s America are clear. I think it’s valuable footage to watch, but I question how much of a documentary it is. The footage is admirably presented without commentary (it doesn’t need it), which makes it feel like archival work rather than filmmaking to me. A more complete documentary about a similar subject—and one I would have loved to have seen nominated—is the New York Times Op-Doc Zero Tolerance, which takes footage of the Trump administration discussing their immigration policies and frames it as a 1940’s propaganda film. It has the same simplicity and commentary as A Night at the Garden, but with more of a directorial bent to it.

Best Live-Action Short:
Marguerite, Fauve, and This is America
Will Win: Marguerite
Could Win: Fauve and Skin
Should Win: Marguerite
Should Have Been Nominated: This is America

This year, the nominated live action short films were honestly pretty rough to watch. These nominees are dramatic. And when I say dramatic, I mean they’re harrowing to watch. And when I say harrowing, I mean that four of the five nominees involve violent acts being committed by and/or upon small children. This unintentional theme is unbelievably upsetting, and honestly makes this lineup very difficult to watch. For this reason, I think that Marguerite is going to get the win. The only film to not be about awful things happening to children, it’s not a particularly happy film, but it feels like such a relief to watch compared to its nominees, and I think Oscar voters will be grateful for what it has to offer. And not only does Marguerite stand out thematically, it’s also just a really great film. The film follows an old woman who learns that her caretaker is a lesbian, which leads to her recalling a past love of her youth. It’s beautiful, sweet, and touching, and a breath of fresh air amongst this lineup.

If one of the four dead children movies does win, though, that won’t necessarily be a travesty. There are some really good films here. The Canadian film Fauve is astonishing and powerful—a dystopian realism film about two children playing, it’s the most visually striking of the nominees and announces writer/director Jeremy Comte as a real talent to watch. Madre was also great, a deceptively simple film done almost entirely in one take. The other two nominees approach their subject matter with far less subtlety. The film Skin was interesting if inconsistent, although it might win simply because it’s the only American film and has more recognizable actors in it (including breakout star of Dumplin’ and Bird Box, Danielle McDonald). The final nominee is the only one I really don’t want to win. Detainment, a film about one of the most notorious murders in the U.K.’s history, has garnered a lot of controversy due to its subject matter. I was really rooting for the film, hoping it would find something valuable to say, but it just felt exploitative. The film offers no insight into the case at its center, and seems designed to do nothing except make anyone watching feel incredibly unpleasant. It has all the appeal of torture porn without any actual torture porn on screen.

It’s much harder to find live action shorts outside of the nominated films, so my “Who Should Be Nominated” pick is a little more outside the box. There have, in the past, been short films which are set entirely to one song, and there have been short films which don’t tell one cohesive narrative story. So, I don’t really see why a music video couldn’t be considered a live action short film. Especially a music video as incredible as the one for Childish Gambino’s This is America. It has a cinematic quality to it, and Donald Glover’s performance is as captivating as anything I saw on screen this year. If it were framed as an experimental film as opposed to a music video, I could have seen This is America making a splash on the short film awards circuit. Although it certainly would require some rethinking on the Academy’s behalf.



WHEW! Congratulations on getting to the end of all that. But I hope you enjoyed my analysis and feel ready to watch this year's Oscars! Who are you rooting for? And who do you think will win? Let me know in the comments!