The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ very public move to become more of a global organization by recruiting record numbers of new members from around the world (overall, 928 new members from 59 countries) paid off today with a list of nominees that had a strong international, and certainly diverse, flavor. The group also delivered a list, albeit with a surprise or two in it, that presents one of the most wide-open Oscar races in memory.
The Best Picture contenders also ought to be having the Academy breathing a sigh of relief as it includes three box office blockbusters — Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born — that are the kind of potential ratings draws for which they (briefly) created the ill-fated Popular Movie category that was ditched almost as fast as it was announced. The Academy staffer who told me they would jump from the top of their building if Black Panther wasn’t nominated can sleep safely tonight. The comic book movie curse has been broken.
But popularity aside, could this actually be that rare year when a film with the smallest number of nominations in the Best Picture category (numbering eight films) be the movie that wins in the end? In the topsy turvy roller-coaster campaign that the 2018 film crop has provided all season, and what may result in one of the hardest-to-call Oscar races ever, that could ultimately be a distinct possibility for Green Book, which many pundits (not me) dubbed the front-runner after its often Oscar-predictive victory Saturday night at the Producers Guild Awards.
In terms of Best Picture nominees, Green Book tied Bohemian Rhapsody with five nods each for the dueling Golden Globe Best Pic winners, the lowest totals in the category this year. And as I wrote Sunday there are simply too many variables in this year’s race to call Green Book (minus a directing nod) or even any of the other nominees this morning the clear front-runner, and that includes Roma and The Favourite, both getting the headlines in terms of leaders with 10 nominations each.
Those heavily international-tinged films (Roma is from Mexico, while The Favourite is a British production from a Greek-born director) are in it to win it as well, along with arguments that could be made for several others — albeit with obstacles a-plenty if you go by traditional Academy voting patterns. The preferential ballot the Academy employs only in the Best Picture category __ where voters must numerically rank their choices, and not the 23 others where it is a straight up-and-down vote — could really come into play this year and shake up this race as much as it has ever been shook.
Directors have once again been the one branch to go off on their own and confuse matters by snubbing two American DGA nominees, A Star Is Born’s first-time helmer Bradley Cooper and Green Book’s Peter Farrelly, and going largely foreign with Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War, Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón for Roma, and Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite dominating the category that also includes Spike Lee’s first-ever nod as Director — which seems like a long time coming despite an Honorary Oscar a few years ago — and Adam McKay for Vice.
Just looking at what normally constitutes a likely Best Picture winner, you would have to point to films that scored nods in Picture, Directing, Acting, Writing, Editing and Cinematography categories. The only one to run that table was The Favourite, which in any other year could indeed be the “favorite” especially after also nabbing a leading 12 BAFTA nominations. But it also lacks other key indicators including a DGA nom for Lanthimos and is ineligible at the Writers Guild, so it is a bit murky. Nevertheless, Fox Searchlight ought to be popping the corks this morning. It’s a very strong showing.
Take away cinematography, and you have BlacKkKlansman and Vice hitting all the marks in those key categories, so don’t discount either. You can count on their respective distributors, Focus Features and Annapurna, to really turn up the heat. A Star Is Born, a film with a disappointing track record so far in terms of precursor wins, did well enough with eight overall nominations this morning including three in acting and three for star/co-writer/co-producer/director Cooper. The problem here is the snub by the directors for Cooper in what must be a deja vu moment for Warner Bros, which lived through the same indignity with Ben Affleck when he was passed over in the category for 2012’s Argo, indicating a current problem the Directors branch seems to have with actors — at least these actors — calling the shots. Names like Eastwood, Redford, Beatty, Allen and Costner didn’t seem to have a problem, though, in days of Oscars past. Of course, Affleck had the last laugh when he went on to win at the DGA followed by an Argo Best Picture Oscar victory (plus Film Editing and Screenplay).
A bigger problem with A Star Is Born is not just the lack of a directing nod, but it is also AWOL in Film Editing. Since that category was established in 1934, no film has ever gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar without either a directing or editing nomination. Those are long odds. A big SAG victory where A Star Is Born is leading in nominations is looking like a must if it has a chance to regain any momentum.
Before Argo did it, 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy was the only film in the modern era (since 1932) to win Best Picture without a corresponding nomination for its director — in that case Bruce Beresford, who even failed to get a DGA nomination. This brings us back to the case of Green Book, which did land Farrelly a DGA nod, but other than that distinction the comparisons are striking. If I may turn into an Oscar geek for a moment, as in the instances of Argo and Driving Miss Daisy, Green Book does have an editing nomination, if not one from the Academy’s directors branch. Each branch chooses their own individual nominees, while everyone votes for Best Picture nominees. Farrelly impressively left his signature wilder comedy zone to do a more humanistic and character-based story this time, and the parallels between Driving Miss Daisy, the movie to which Green Book has most often been compared storywise, are quite remarkable awards-wise too.
Should Green Book prevail in the end, it will be in a season that is almost identical to the year Daisy was crowned. Like Green Book has done so far, Daisy started off by winning Best Film at the National Board of Review followed by a leading three Golden Globes including Best Picture Comedy/Musical, and then the top Producers Guild Award on its way to the Oscar for Best Picture — the first to do it without a directing nomination since Grand Hotel in 1932. We still have the WGA, where Daisy also won and Green Book is nominated there as well in order to make it an exact replica that would end in driving Green Book to a Best Picture triumph. It is also the kind of likable movie that benefits from that preferential voting system, as the PGA win also proved.
And then there is Netflix. With 15 overall nominations including 10 for Roma, the streamer has officially announced it has the potential to be an ongoing Oscars force, and this will continue to attract the high-profile, awards-friendly talent like Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen Brothers who scored impressively with Netflix releases this year. The investment in personnel and sheer campaign money is paying off: Netflix awards maven Lisa Taback not only helped shepherd their successful march to nomination glory, she also was involved behind the scenes with one of the nominated Documentary Shorts, Period. End Of Sentence., which was just picked up by Netflix and is responsible for one of their impressive 15 Oscar nominations.
Champagne corks are not only just popping at Searchlight this morning, but also certainly at Netflix’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters where about 40 staffers gathered for a 5 AM breakfast, and are probably a bit delirious by now. The acting nominations for newcomer Yalitza Aparacio and Mexican stage veteran Marina de Tavira must have been particularly sweet since SAG completely ignored the film. Had Roma nabbed an all-important editing nomination (it didn’t), the black-and-white subtitled memory play would have led all contenders by itself, but it is still a game-changer in more ways than one.
The streamer ironically intends to immediately launch a Phase 2 campaign that blatantly emphasizes the importance of seeing Roma on a big screen in a movie theater, but it won’t be getting any cooperation from the big exhibition chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark, which view streaming and day-and-date releases as a threat to their existence. As Deadline first reported, AMC and Regal will be pretending Roma doesn’t exist when they launch their annual Best Picture Oscar showcase programs next month. As far as they are concerned there are seven, not eight Best Picture nominees this year.
Another note of congratulations goes to Participant Media which scored 17 nominations overall for Roma, Green Book and the feature documentary RBG (go Ruth Bader Ginsburg!). They are probably popping corks as well. Among the other nominees, I was very happy to see legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel nominated for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s German entry Never Look Away. He is an Academy favorite and past five-time nominee who has never won (hell, he wasn’t even nominated for the landmark Black Stallion). It is interesting to note that of the five nominees for Cinematography this year, English-language films were in the minority, with only A Star Is Born and The Favourite keeping the category from being a foreign-language rout (Roma and Cold War were the other two). Conversely, I was not happy to see one of the year’s best films period, Morgan Neville’s wondrous Won’t You Be My Neighbor, inexplicably snubbed in the Documentary Feature category. Absurd. Justin Hurwitz’s soaring score for First Man was also a stunner of an omission. He was the presumed front-runner, which only adds to my theories about what that label is worth in this crazy year.
And speaking of crazy, even though it was an incredible year for diversity in the nominations, and the Academy should be proud of that, I am bummed that Crazy Rich Asians was completely shut out, proving once again pure comedies, romantic and otherwise, unfairly have a tougher time than most other genres when it comes to Academy Awards. And finally, congratulations to Glenn Close on her seventh acting nomination for her stunning turn in The Wife. She could make dubious history if she loses, becoming the biggest-losing actress in Oscar history, but I for one am hoping the seventh time is the charm for this great star.
Now on to the next round and the road to the finals, where this race could be anyone’s ball game.