2019 Oscar Nominations: ‘Roma’, ‘The Favourite’ lead the field.

The nominations for the 91st annual Academy Awards have been announced and as usual they consist of mostly the expected names set by the precursors with a few major surprises. Netflix’s Roma, a black and white Spanish-language film, and Fox Searchlight’s The Favourite lead the pack with 10 nominations each. Not far behind are fellow Best Picture nominees A Star Is Born (8), Vice (8), and Black Panther (7). The other three Best Picture nominees –BlacKkKlansman (6), Bohemian Rhapsody (5), and Green Book (5)- all had a nice morning as well, including scoring highly coveted nominations in Best Film Editing and an acting category.

From afar, this is the most wide open Best Picture race in some time. Going by stats, BlacKkKlansman is your “frontrunner” as it’s hit with every major precursor and picked up the key Oscar noms that often go hand-in-hand with Best Picture (Director, Editing, Screenplay, at least one actor). But 10 nominations for Roma, including multiple acting noms, is nothing to sneeze at. Obviously a Netflix film in a foreign language winning is unprecedented, but this year has made for uncharted waters thus far and Alfonso Cuarón’s critical darling clearly has a ton of support across various branches of the Academy. A Star Is Born, The FavouriteGreen Book, and even Vice all have the type of nomination profiles that suggest you have to consider them.

Netflix, Marvel break through

To the dismay of some and the joy of many, a superhero film and a Netflix release have finally crashed the Best Picture lineup courtesy of Black Panther and Roma, respectively. Neither nomination was surprising if you’ve been following the season but it’s still something to see, especially in a year where the need for a “Popular” Oscar was hotly debated. Netflix put a lot of effort into getting Roma taken seriously. They took it to nearly every major festival, spent loads of money on FYC advertising around L.A., and brought its cast and crew to all of the events (even having some of them brush up their English for better schmoozing). The acclaim for the film itself helps too, of course. It’s a very real threat to win the big one. Missing a SAG Ensemble nom and no citation for Editing from Oscar hurt in theory but it picked up multiple acting noms with Oscar (Yalitza Aparicio in Lead Actress, Marina De Tavira in Supporting Actress) which mitigates some of that concern, similar to last year’s winner The Shape of Water which notably broke the 20+ year running “can’t win Best Picture without SAG Ensemble” stat.

Marvel/Disney recognized the zeitgeist film they had in Black Panther from the start, and were always giving it a full Oscar push regardless of whatever happened with the “popular” Oscar. They were so invested in the film they even quieted their own campaigns for Avengers: Infinity War and Solo: A Star Wars Story in categories they’d theoretically compete in such as Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design (Black Panther picked up noms in all those categories, while Avengers and Solo along with Disney’s Christopher Robin got in Best Visual Effects). It’s hard to see Black Panther having a real shot at winning Best Picture given its lack of noms for writing, acting, directing, or editing but surely Academy president John Bailey (and ABC) are happy that it’ll be so prevalent on Oscar night.

Down year for A24

A24 Films, the hot NY-based indie studio that’s heavily factored into the Oscars the last few years including winning Best Picture with Moonlight, saw its lineup yield just one nomination this year- Paul Schrader in Best Original Screenplay for First ReformedNotable misses include Ethan Hawke in Best Actor (also for First Reformed), Toni Collette in Best Actress (for Hereditary) and nothing for Eighth Grade, which was widely considered a threat in Best Original Screenplay as well. They have nobody to blame but themselves, as folks have mentioned they’ve been silent in terms of FYC ads and quiet with screeners. They also positioned Mid90s as their primary fall pony. That film failed to find any footing with critics or audiences and was DOA. Had one of the three aforementioned acclaimed films gotten that rollout things very well could’ve turned out differently.

First Man and Beale Street have less-than-stellar showings

Two years ago, the Oscars were all about Damien Chazelle vs Barry Jenkins and their films La La Land and Moonlight. Chazelle ultimately won Best Director, becoming the youngest winner there ever, while Jenkins’ film took home Best Picture. Both returned to the race this year with highly-anticipated followups. Chazelle re-teamed with Ryan Gosling for a look at Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to Apollo 11 with First Man. Jenkins adapted James Baldwin with If Beale Street Could Talk. Both films got the typical festival push and opened to critical acclaim. But they never took off the way most expected. While the signs pointing to both their omissions from Best Picture and Best Director were apparent it’s still disappointing to see, especially considering the issue isn’t that the Academy didn’t give them a chance as both were nominated elsewhere. Can a snub narrative drive them to a win or two when the larger Academy gets to vote on everything? Perhaps. Regina King in Best Supporting Actress and First Man in the sound categories should be considered threats to win.

The Academy doesn’t care about, or more likely isn’t aware of, Film Twitter outrage

Dirty tricks and smear campaigns are hardly new in the Oscar game. Rival distributors have always gone after their competitors and quietly put out or gave extra publicity to stories that paint them in a negative light. But nowadays, there’s no need for them to do so because the internet will do it for free. Every Best Picture nominee sans The Favourite and Black Panther got put under the twitter microscope by journalists (or Boots Riley) this year and deemed problematic in some way. For most of them, people seemed to quickly realize there wasn’t much to actually be angry about and moved on. But Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody were different stories.

Team Green Book couldn’t get out of its own way. On top of many calling the film an ignorant white savior puff film (I agree with that accusation, personally) it kept finding itself in controversies that appeared ready to blow. Only none did, or at least didn’t blow enough to transcend the internet and cause actual Academy members to lessen their view of the film. First it was Viggo Mortensen (nominated for Best Actor) saying the n-word at a press conference. Then it was Don Shirley’s (Mahershala Ali’s character) family  coming out and saying the film was packed with lies and they were never consulted. Then it was director Peter Farrelly’s past history of repeated sexual harassment by flashing his penis to co-workers being unearthed. Then it was writer/producer Nick Vallelonga (son of the film’s real-life lead) having an anti-Muslim tweet resurfaced. Bohemian Rhapsody had to deal with accusations of inaccuracy, homophobia, and the fact that it was directed by (or at least mostly directed by) alleged pedophile Bryan Singer.

Both have won major awards. Both got Best Picture nominations. Perhaps another month under the gun will cause the controversies that surround them to become major talking points, but I doubt it. Green Book seems to be a contender to win Best Picture though, so expect its well-reasoned detractors to try.

Quick tidbits

  • Overdue narrative? Glenn Close and Amy Adams received their seventh and sixth nominations respectively with neither having won before. I don’t think anyone would argue that The Wife or Vice rank high amongst their finest work but both should’ve had a statue years ago and that narrative can really carry a campaign.
  • Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) becomes the first “lone director”, a director to be not nominated without their film getting in Best Picture, since Bennett Miller with Foxcatcher.
  • Actors receiving their first nominations: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), Olivia Colman (Roma), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Marina de Tavira (Roma), and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk). That’s 9 of 20.
  • 3 of the 5 Best Cinematography nominees come from foreign language films, two of them black & white.
  • Disney led all studios in nominations with 16. Soon-to-be-owned-by-Disney Fox Searchlight was second with 15. Netflix third with 13.

Personal takes

  • My ranking of the Best Picture nominees (I’ve watched all at least once) would probably be A Star Is Born The Favourite BlacKkKlansman Black Panther Roma Vice Green Book Bohemian Rhapsody
  • I LOVE the nomination for Christopher Robin in Best Visual Effects. Beautifully rendered CG work blended into layered live-action photography done in service of story. The whole VFX field is strong and diverse.
  • If I had a vote my acting choices would be Bradley Cooper, Olivia Colman, Sam Elliott, and Regina King…I think.
  • Rough to see First Man only receive 4 noms, but the misses in Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score are especially disappointing. I thought it showed off the most impressive craftwork of the year in all those categories.
  • The Best Film Editing category is a mess despite it being all Best Picture nominees. I don’t think even those who love Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody would argue they’re particularly well cut films.
  • Another year without a female directing nominee. It’s a problem, but I don’t think pointing fingers at the Oscars is the right thing to do. The Academy nominates the films that are presented to them in a very specific way. There simply weren’t contenders directed by women well-positioned this year. Blame the industry as a whole for not providing more opportunities and the distributors for not treating their female-helmed films seriously, not the damn Oscar ballots.

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