With the 91st annual Academy Awards ceremony mere days away, you may be rushing to squeeze one or two more 2018 flicks into your weekend schedule. Marveling at stardom and celebrity is great, but what’s the point of watching an award ceremony if you don’t recognize any of the nominees? (Meanwhile, I’m starting to piece together why I haven’t watched the Grammys in a decade.)
If animated fare like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t your bag, and you don’t want to suffer through an average-to-good movie to see worthy acting nominations for Glenn Close or Willem Dafoe (in The Wife and At Eternity’s Gate, respectively), you may be left searching for a nominee from the field of the night’s biggest prize. This year’s eight Best Picture nominees can be broken down into three groups.
The Likely Winner (Roma)
Best Picture is less of a sure thing this year than it has been in years past. Green Book could butt its way into the discussion if the strange Oscar preferential balloting system and/or older side of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voter bloc rears its ugly head. The Academy has traditionally been an extremely old, extremely white, and extremely male coalition of filmmakers. After the #OscarSoWhite controversy, the Academy opened its doors to more young, diverse, and female filmmakers than it had in years past. The results can be described by two winners less than a decade apart: 2010’s The King’s Speech and 2016’s Moonlight.
The Academy is still overwhelmingly old, white, and male, but winners like Moonlight don’t happen without those fresh faces. Still, as we’ve seen in, *ahem*, other areas of life, progress isn’t always a throughline. Hence the chance for something unexpected (perhaps even undeserving) to win this year’s race. With that all in mind, we’ve come a long way from the popular mid-October assumption that A Star is Born would sweep the Big Five (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay), a feat most recently accomplished by The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 and nearly completed by American Beauty (YIKES) in 1999. Instead, betting markets and experts alike expect Alfonso Cuarón’s quiet, introspective Roma to take the top award.
Roma is no threat to take the Big Five (which has only been accomplished three times including Lambs, by the way, with the other two winners being 1934’s It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), but Cuarón is a near-lock to take Best Director for the second time in six years. Roma’s powerhouse status at this year’s award ceremony is nothing short of shocking; no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture and the last two fully black-and-white movies to win were 2011’s The Artist *audible gag* and 1960’s The Apartment.
You should watch Roma if you like powerful stories about women, think of film as an art form, or are interested in Oscar history in the making. More on Roma.
The Crowd Pleasers (Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, A Star is Born)
The size of the Best Picture nominee field has varied from three to five to eight to 10 to 12 back to 10, and back to five until finally it was pushed to 10 again in 2009 after The Dark Knight was snubbed. The Academy (and its many stakeholders) hoped that the expanded field would result in an explosion of popular nominees, but until this year, that was largely not the case. In fact, aside from a few exceptions like Avatar (2009) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), most every nominee has been a prototypical Oscar movie, even if others, like La La Land (2016) and Inception (2010), received a big box office return as well.
With at least three crowd pleasers in this year’s lineup (depending on how you classify Green Book), the Academy has never looked so populist. Did the threat of the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category (whatever that means) move the needle? Black Panther is the first superhero movie ever nominated for Best Picture, and looking at the long list of superhero movies on the horizon, I suspect it will remain that way for some time to come. The nomination for Bohemian Rhapsody, the highest-grossing biopic about a musician ever, is weird considering Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t a good movie.
A Star is Born splits the difference, as it’s a little more prestigious than the rest but harkens back to an era where West Side Story and My Fair Lady won Best Picture. Green Book is an ordinary nominee, but one couldn’t be blamed for hoping that the Academy had moved past the Driving Miss Daisy race trope just years removed from Get Out and Moonlight. Look for this onslaught of box office-winners to be more of a one-year fling than a serious trend.
You should watch Black Panther if you don’t like superheroes but want to understand the fervor, think Michael B. Jordan is hot, or want to see what young, Spielbergian director Ryan Coogler is up to. More on Black Panther.
You should watch Bohemian Rhapsody if you like kickass Queen songs, think Rami Malek looks like Freddie Mercury, or don’t care about historical facts or technically-sound filmmaking.
You should watch Green Book if you like Mahershala Ali, actors from The Lord of the Rings, or antiquated, feel-good stories about racism.
You should watch A Star is Born if you like Lady Gaga, star power, or A-list celebrities making their directorial debut. More on A Star is Born.
The Prestige Comedies (BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Vice)
Vice and BlacKkKlansman toe the line between comedy and drama, but I would place both firmly in the comedy category. The Favourite, while covering serious themes, leaps over that line with feet to spare. In a year that we all needed to laugh, Hollywood delivered. Comedies are little threat to win Best Picture, as the last true comedy to win the award was Annie Hall in 1977, but we should appreciate them (and the Academy for nominating them) all the same.
You should watch BlacKkKlansman if you like laughing at the KKK, Spike Lee movies, or can ignore how oddly (and unnecessarily) pro-police it is. More on BlacKkKlansman.
You should watch The Favourite if you like sexual power struggles, deadpan humor, or three great actresses having the time of their lives. More on The Favourite.
You should watch Vice if you like pondering where things went wrong in America, laughing with nefarious politicians from Wyoming, or want to know exactly what was going on during George W. Bush’s administration. More on Vice.