On Sunday — after more missteps than Master P’s run on “Dancing With The Stars” — the Academy Awards will be handed out to a group of films (with one exception) most likely to be forgotten by this time next year.
Glenn Close, Rami Malek, Regina King and Mahershala Ali have captured most of the preliminary awards in the four acting categories leading up to this weekend; a loss by any of them Sunday night — to, say, Olivia Colman, Christian Bale, Rachel Weisz and Richard E. Grant — would be considered something of an upset.
Best Picture, however, has been all over the map: Four of the eight nominees — “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Green Book” and “Roma” — have taken top honors among the various major preliminary prizes.
So, which of those will walk away with Best Picture fours hours into a three-hour TV show? It could be any of them ... even the to-this-point bridesmaids.
My job today is to figure out (alphabetically) a plausible, and totally unscientific, path to victory for the Oscar-winning film to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Best Picture ... umm, whatever it was.
‘A Star Is Born’
Didn’t it seem as though, when this came out, it was considered the movie to beat? Bradley Cooper’s one-man show was upstaged by a surprisingly effective Lady Gaga and laconic icon Sam Elliott in a story told so many times that it was sure to warm the cockles in the hearts of Academy voters. It hasn’t turned out that way thus far, but keep in mind that Best Picture is voted on by every voter, and no picture in this crowded field drives down the middle of the road more conservatively than this reheated chestnut.
The easy storyline is that the Academy could finally honor a genre — live-action superhero movies — that has dominated the box office over the past decade. But “Black Panther” (the most likely film in the category to be remembered in five years) became more: a worldwide phenomenon and a cultural touchstone. Its victory in the Best Ensemble category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards speaks to its popularity among the largest voting bloc; and its in-your-face display of diversity resonates beyond being “celebrated” to something far more compelling than a comic book flick.
You know you’re getting old when Spike Lee has become the weathered veteran whose work must no longer be ignored. Beyond that, don’t underestimate the political statement that would be made by voting for a film that directly links its primary story (about the police infiltration of a racist hate group) to recent events (the confrontation in Charlottesville between “good people on all sides”). If Hollywood is in the mood to build a soapbox over how the current administration approaches bigotry, this would be the place to do it.
If you want to know why the momentum of “A Star Is Born” faded, here’s the reason. Despite so-so reviews and questions about the authenticity of the telling, the story of the legendary rock group Queen stole the musical thunder. Malek has won every major acting prize portraying Freddie Mercury, the band’s magnetic frontman, although that alone wouldn’t be enough to make it Best Picture. But this could be the movie found in the second-to-fourth slots of many ballots in the weighted voting system ... giving it a shot to become champions of the world.
Ah, yes, the seemingly annual slot devoted to a British period piece — this one filled with mean-spirited intrigue, gorgeous costumes and over-the-top characters gnawing their way through the scenery. But this version of “The Year Of The Woman” doesn’t portray its central trio as victims of anything more than their own devices. While it’s hard to see it prevailing here (it couldn’t even win the British Academy Award for Best Film), never disregard the appeal of a well-made guilty pleasure.
One of the two co-favorites at this point, “Green Book” combines elements from so many genres — buddy film, racial strife, musical background, LGBTQ2 main character, based-on-a-true-story — that it could win simply by being something for everyone. Complaints have been raised over its accuracy and its focus on the white man in a film about what was happening to African-Americans in a racially torn country . yet, “Green Book” feels like the “safe choice” among this year’s nominees. The question is: Is this a year where voters want a safe choice?
The other co-favorite, “Roma” occupies a bizarre spot among the contenders. It feels like the movie that those who want to be taken seriously see, love and vote for — or at least say they did. It presses the hot button of presenting the struggle of those from other cultures as something so much like our own. But it’s also in the middle of a very real fight for the soul of Hollywood — the film’s Netflix origins stirred a battle over the difference between a “movie” and a production, no matter how well-received, that is seen as more of a hybrid interloper.
OK, I was wrong. Here’s the one nominee that I don’t think has a chance of winning. The darkly comic quasi-biopic charting the rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney would be a shoo-in for Best Picture ... if this were 1979. But not only are there films in the race that make stronger political statements than “Vice,” it’s taking on a Republican administration that seems almost docile in comparison to what many Academy voters think of the current one. It’s the right film in the wrong year for this category ... and its only chance for the Oscar is that I’m usually terrible at predicting these things.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be mocked at firstname.lastname@example.org when “Vice” wins Best Picture.