The 91st Academy Awards: Calls and Wishes

February 24, 2019

Superheroes, musicals, crowd-pleasers, nostalgic remembrances and political statements abound, the 2019 Academy Award nominees represent a wide range of movie styles and philosophies.

In what was an open field in 2018, The “Shape of Water” and Director Guillermo Del Toro ran out with the night’s top prizes, beating its top contender “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and a fine selection of other films. “The Shape of Water” likely benefited from its fantastical elements, separating itself from a field of more literal storytelling – with the exception of high-performing underdog “Get Out.”

In 2019, the films are a little more varied. Award season was apparently kicked off early this time around when “Black Panther” set culture alight with its superhero prowess in February 2018. Six months later, another movie helmed by a black director entered the race, as “BlacKKKlansman,” fresh off wowing audiences at festivals, entered theaters.

After that, came a couple of musicals, “A Star is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” that so endeared the public, Oscar voters simply couldn’t turn them away. And finally came the more expected slew of awards bait, including the all-star cast (“Vice”), the period piece (“The Favourite”), the feel-good crooner (“Green Book”), and the gentle story of home (“Roma”).

With such a diverse and (so far) evenly contested awards season, one would be foolish to wager a guess at this year’s likely winners.

So here are my guesses. The calls (who will win) and wishes (who I’d like to win) for the 2019 Oscars.

BEST PICTURE

The Nominees

BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee’s latest effort takes us on a ride along for a 1970s true story about Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Spring Police Department, who bravely sets out to infiltrate and expose the KKK. Funny, stylish, poignant.

Black Panther: A superhero epic and the first lead for Marvel’s Black Panther, featuring the gorgeous and ridiculous set design that is the country of Wakanda. Fantastic action and surprisingly punchy themes highlight this one.

Bohemian Rhapsody: A peak into the evolution and explosion of British rock band, Queen in the 1970s. This one is foot-stomping fun, led by a fantastic performance from Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, but critics were mixed, as the film put a little Hollywood gloss over Mercury’s story.

The Favourite: It’s the early 18th century and England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, royals are living lavishly and two women are fighting demonically for the love of the frail Queen Anne. Brilliant performances, inspired moments of comedy and a menacing sense of direction make this sort-of true story a frontrunner.

Green Book: An Italian-American tough guy in the Bronx is asked to chauffeur a well-to-do and world renowned artist, who happens to be black in the 1960s. As they travel the American South on tour, each learns quite a lot from the other. It’s feel good and it’s genuinely enjoyable, if lacking honesty.

Roma: It’s a highly personal project from the acclaimed director of Oscar-winning Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron. The film details life in early 1970s Mexico through the eyes of a young domestic worker for a middle class family. The story is personal yet generational, and the cinematography is stunning.

A Star is Born: In a second remake of the Hollywood favorite, a seasoned musician falls in love with a struggling artist and gives her a platform to build a career, while his withers. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are both quite exceptional, which, along with some great original music, is really what sets this one apart, as the story is a little cheesier than most Oscar favorites would tend to be.

VICE: The story of a how a bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney, became the most powerful man in the world as Vice President to George W. Bush, and the impact it still has today. Admittedly, this is the only nominee I haven’t seen, but if we’re going by the critics, this one is absorbing but ultimately falls a little flat. It makes the nominee list mostly on expectations.

The Call

While two movies have stood out above the rest throughout most of awards season, the Oscar winner is more difficult to predict this year than one might expect. “Roma” and

“The Favourite” seem to be standing above the others, and they’re each the type of movie that wins awards.

“Roma” is a simple story that benefits from its ability to make something personal meaningful to something much greater. It’s beautiful, too, with hardly a shot that doesn’t cry out for a photograph. “The Favourite,” meanwhile is much louder and brash, but it’s extremely clever and elevated by its performances, which Oscar voters seem to love.

But while those two are the frontrunners, the mere inclusion of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was not critically praised (it had OK reviews), indicates that voters are interested in what inspired the public in 2018. That means films like “Black Panther” and a “Star is Born” are in with a shot.

Ultimately, I see voters sticking with the standards for what makes a great movie.

Winner: Roma

The Wish

In all honesty, I don’t want “A Star is Born” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” to win, not because I don’t like a little music in movies – I had a good time watching both – but because neither film really delved deep to put across a message that will stick. The two ultimately are a little shallow (pun intended) when it comes to dealing with some pretty murky topics – suicide and AIDS. Same with “Green Book” and it’s take on racism.

“Black Panther” offers just the opposite. A film that didn’t need to have a potent message did, and while it’s still a superhero film, and therefore has some cheese, it’s metaphors to reality were told quite elegantly. Of course, “Roma” and “The Favourite,” the more traditional awards picks, also managed the same feat, expected or not.

The Dream: Just give me “Roma” or “The Favourite,” but if we’re going for something unexpected, I’ll take “Black Panther.”

BEST DIRECTOR

The Nominees

Adam McKay — VICE: For a movie that got such lukewarm critical and audience reactions, its talent sure got a lot of nods. Those who liked the film say it’s funny, informative and the actors were well led. I’m genuinely unsure how that lands McKay an Oscar nod over Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler.

Alfonso Cuaron – Roma: Cuaron has already won Oscar gold for the completely different but similarly beautiful “Gravity.” Just about everything he touches seems to result in acclaim, and quite right, as he has a wonderful ability to declutter his movies and yet keep them enthralling. The magic is seen again with Roma.

Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War: Cold War is a passionate love story between a man and a woman with vastly different backgrounds who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland in the 1950s. I haven’t seen this but I’m very much looking forward to doing so. Critics say the black-and-white film is beautiful and heart-thumping.

Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman: It’s great to see Spike Lee back in this position, and it’s great that his nomination is backed by such an enjoyable film. BlacKkKlansman is fun, relevant and important, a difficult combination to pull off.

Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite: Perhaps not a household name (yet), Lanthimos has quietly been directing some of the favorites (pun intended again) of the independent world in recent years. Previously with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Lobster,” and now this, he’s showing off a dark wit and a penchant for controlled chaos.

The Call

I think you can rule out McKay, because he doesn’t deserve it, and Pawlikowski, because he made Oscar voters’ second favorite foreign language film this year.

That leaves Cuaron, already established in the minds of voters, Lee, already established in the minds of voters, and Lanthimos, possibly not so established. While I wouldn’t bat an eye at Lanthimos being credited for producing something so familiar yet different all at once, I think it’s a race between Cuaron and Lee.

The “BlacKkKlansman” director may very well ride his legacy to this win, with so many in the movie industry being thrilled by his latest success. But Cuaron is widely admired and has seemingly failed to put a foot wrong thus far.

Winner: Cuaron

The Wish

I’ll keep it simple. Not McKay.

I think each of the other four directors have a remarkable piece of work (that’s an assumption based on what I’ve read when it comes to “Cold War”) to show. It’s a shame there aren’t any ladies in this category, but regardless we should have a worthy winner, barring one potential surprise.

The Dream: Anyone but McKay wins

BEST ACTRESS

The Nominees

Glenn Close – The Wife: Playing the “great man’s wife,” Glenn Close elevated a movie that many critics felt would’ve been uninteresting without her. She’s been scooping up awards left and right for her intelligent, quiet performance.

Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born: Must be nice going from superstar music success to an Oscar-worthy acting performance, something Gaga can now claim. She really was brilliant in this film, capturing the feeling of an artist straddling ambition and love.

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?: A comedy queen let everyone know she has the chops for drama with a polished portrayal of an author with a mean disposition. Really, Marielle Heller should’ve received some love for her directing of this one, but McCarthy undoubtedly deserves her own nod.

Olivia Colman – The Favourite: Outshining Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, both nominated for actress in a supporting role, is quite a challenge, but Colman absolutely did it. Playing a childish, selfish, sometimes pathetic, but also sensitive and funny Queen Anne, Colman made you laugh and feel.

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma: One of the best pieces of Roma was its introduction to all things Mexico, including the brilliant Aparicio and her co-star Marina de Tavira, both of whom were able to captivate without even needing the big moments. Aparicio made her character real and raw and important.

The Call

It’s a wonderful selection of leading ladies, and the Academy is going to have a decision to make here. No one is undeserving.

Gaga had a very difficult job of making a character in a music-themed movie appear realistic and authentic. McCarthy played someone enigmatic and brought out what was there to love and hate about that person. Colman had a role that was totally over the top and she gave us the performance it needed. Aparicio had none of the glitz and glamour at her disposal, and still stood out.

But it’s been Close, with her film-elevating performance that has captured award season thus far.

Winner: Glenn Close

The Wish

I’d love Colman to win, because I so enjoyed watching her performance, and anticipate that I will do so several more times. But I think my ultimate choice is Aparicio, a young woman with just about nothing on her reel before this role. She’s a testament that movies are for everyone, and her performance, perhaps the most difficult of any of the nominees, was stunning.

The Dream: Yalitza Aparicio wins

BEST ACTOR

The Nominees

Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born: Equal to Gaga’s turn, Cooper presented strong acting chops in the film he was also busy directing. He played his old rockstar character with a sort of graceful sadness and did an excellent job capturing a person’s inner demons, even if I think the movie as a whole put a little too much gloss on the topic.

Christian Bale – VICE: Like I said before, I haven’t seen this one, but apparently voters like the acting, as Sam Rockwell and Amy Adams were also nominated in supporting roles. While the film, as a whole, might’ve gone astray in aiming at its target, Bale apparently hit his on the nose.

Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody: For all the shortcomings of Bohemian Rhapsody – and for me, there are several – the lead performance was absolutely not one of them. Malek showed clear admiration for the legend he was playing, Freddie Mercury, and even helped to resurge his popularity in mainstream culture.

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book: There was plenty criticism lobbed at Green Book for presenting as something of a “white savior” film, where the white man is somehow the hero in a story of a black man facing racism. That’s really not Mortensen’s fault, though, and if anything, his performance made the film enjoyable, as did the performance of Mahershala Ali, nominated in the supporting category.

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate: I know so little about this movie, I’d be a fraud to give much input here. But Dafoe plays Vincent Van Gogh – surely not an easy portrayal to pull off – and critics say he was masterful.

The Call

It’s kind of an open race, but it seems everyone has a fatal flaw. Cooper wasn’t the biggest star of his own movie. Bale was in a movie that a lot of people thought was bad. Mortensen gave a good performance in a somewhat problematic role. Dafoe’s portrayal went somewhat under the radar.

And while “Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t have perfect reviews, Malek was absolutely the star, audiences loved the film, the role was not problematic (although the original director was), and the movie was most certainly under the radar.

Winner: Rami Malek

The Wish

I don’t have a clear favorite among this group of nominated performances, but in terms of who I want to win an Oscar the most, I’ll go with Malek. He’s young, he’s not white, and the world needs more faces like his to feature at the front of Hollywood for years to come.

The Dream: Rami Malek wins

 

By Philip Weyhe

SouthernMinn Scene | editor@southernminnscene.com |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057