The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released Oscar shortlists in nine categories at one time–an unprecedented move (previous shortlists were sent out separately and at different times). With Oscars speculation in full swing, what are the year's frontrunners?
Let's take a moment to unpack what I think are this year's most likely Best Picture candidates (and a few I think won't be nominated–but I think they should).
The Top 4
Alfonso Cuarón's very personal masterwork follows Cleo, a housekeeper in the political turmoil of 1970s Mexico City. Intimate and profound with absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography, Roma won the Golden Lion in its Venice premiere. It has also had an impressive run among major critics' organization awards, winning Best Picture/Film in New York, LA, Chicago, Toronto, and Philadelphia (among others). Still, its chances at the Academy are a little tougher given its Netflix distribution and the difficulty foreign-language films often have. Nonetheless, Roma is my favorite this year.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins' Moonlight follow-up, the first major Hollywood adaptation of a James Baldwin novel, chronicles the love of a young black couple in 1970s America. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Beale Street‘s Best Picture – Drama nomination certainly doesn't hurt its Oscar chances. Current consensus seems to have Beale Street as a top contender but not necessarily a favorite to win, but a Golden Globe win would definitely amplify its chances. While Roma is my personal favorite, Beale Street is a wonderful film that would also deserve the Academy's top award in my book.
A Star Is Born
Hollywood loves its emotional complications-of-the-rise-to-fame stories, and A Star Is Born (the fourth version of the story), following the romantic turmoil between a falling musical star and the rising talent he helped launch, fits the bill. Bolstered by strong lead performances, a great soundtrack, and both commercial and critical success, A Star is Born is a plausible front-runner that could benefit from the typical success Hollywood-style stories have at the Oscars.
Green Book‘s exploration of racism via a 1960s Deep South tour of jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his bodyguard Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson) has been cleaning up audience awards, including the Audience Award for Marquee Feature at AFF, the People's Choice award at Toronto, and the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the St. Louis International Film Festival. Its performances are excellent, and it packaged complicated political topics in a rather digestible format–a feature that certainly doesn't hurt a film's chances on the big day.
6 Potential Upsets
Black Panther would certainly break ground as the first superhero film to garner a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. Its dedicated fanbase, overwhelming critical and commercial success, and strong performances and cinematography are all strong contributors to possible Oscar contention (bolstered by its recent Golden Globe nomination under Best Motion Picture – Drama), but overcoming the remaining Academy bias against superhero films will provide a considerable challenge. The safe bet, it seems, is that it is a likely nomination that is unlikely to take home the Award, though a Golden Globe win could certainly enhance its prospects.
Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American cop, and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) sharing an identity to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. The film adeptly handles its subject material and makes strong parallels between the racism of the era and its counterparts today, balancing its heavy material with just enough humor. Despite being one of our most talented living filmmakers, Spike Lee has, unfortunately, had more than his fair share of Academy snubs, and the critics' consensus seems to be shaping around expectations of a Best Picture nomination but not necessarily a win. Like Beale Street and Black Panther, its Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama could amplify its prospects if a nomination becomes a win.
Yorgos Lanthimos' dark comedy period piece has been lighting up critics' radars and winning major awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at Venice. Full of wit and intensity, its portrayal of women competing for power in Queen Anne's court is not necessarily favored to win Best Picture, but it is widely considered a very plausible upset contender.
Damien Chazelle's excellent Neil Armstrong biopic is beautiful and excellently portrayed but it failed to launch for audiences. Its lead performances are certainly nomination worthy but Universal may well focus more on promoting Green Book as the strongest contender. Expect it to be a likely nomination that falls towards the bottom of the pack.
Yet another excellent film out of A24 and an indie darling, Bo Burnham's ode to the difficulties of growing up in modern times is bolstered by a timely and excellent performance from its young lead actress. It is favored for nomination at least among the Best Original Screenplay contenders and some critics have strongly advocated for the film as a worthy Best Picture contender, though one unlikely to win.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy's top-notch portrayal of Lee Israel, literary forger, has appropriately brought the actress a wide range of critical esteem in this well-written and directed crime film. It's a lovely film and widely expected to be a serious contender to round out the Best Picture nominations (though an unlikely one to win).
Realistically, any of these films could upset the Top 4 contenders, and Adam McKay's incisive Vice, Ari Aster's chilling Hereditary, Joel Edgerton's tense Boy Erased, or the heartbreaking Beautiful Boy all could feasibly take up nomination spots as well (albeit less likely to challenge the major contenders).
Personally, I expect Best Picture to end up most likely going to A Star is Born or Roma (my hopeful choice) with Beale Street or Green Book having very relevant upset odds. On a very personal note, I'd love for Annihilation to be at least nominated (and am not holding my breath for it), and good luck on your Oscar pools!