Regardless of what anyone thinks they know about this year’s Academy Awards nominees, no one knows who will win until someone does. And this year, even the professionals haven’t come to a resounding consensus on who’s most deserving.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild awarded their highest honor to the cast of Black Panther, while the Directors Guild recognized Alfonso Cuarón for Roma, the producers pinned their blue ribbon on Green Book, cinematographers went for the stark beauty of Cold War, editors decided Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite made the cut as the best-edited drama and comedy, and the writers penciled in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Eighth Grade as the year’s best adapted and original screenplays, respectively.
In a competitive race, it can be easy to choose a favorite, and hard to pick a winner. But a world of Oscar-pool players and prognosticators will place their bets on a few frontrunners, although there are no foregone conclusions.
Any song other than Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” from A Star Is Born winning Best Song would amount to the upset of the night. Not simply because 99.9% of the audience inside the Dolby Theatre will expect for Gaga to ride the song’s popularity — and Golden Globe and Grammy wins — to Oscar victory. But have you heard the other songs? “All the Stars,” Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s hit Black Panther collaboration nicely underscores that film’s end credits, while playing no pivotal role in the prior two-plus-hours of Ryan Coogler’s movie. “The Place Where the Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns enjoys prominent placement in that Disney disappointment — all the better to send winces down the spine of anyone in listening distance. Diane Warren, the ten-time Oscar-nominated songwriter behind RBG theme song “I’ll Fight,” has delivered more compelling tunes than this meh-inducing empowerment anthem. That leaves “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” the Western ditty sung by Willie Watson, of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Tim Blake Nelson in the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Two weathered voices joined in a wistful harmony, over a loping guitar and some plaintive harmonica, this is a movie song that sounds like a movie song, a point in the favor of writers David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. That said, “Shallow” isn’t even A Star Is Born‘s only standout song (hello, “Always Remember Us This Way”), and practically can’t be beat. A passionate love song, and already a signature Gaga song, it’s deployed to exhilarating effect in the movie. For music, it’s easy to make the passionate choice. Passion might be the theme that dictates the game of predicting this year when all bets are off.
Will Win/Should Win: “Shallow”
Among the nominees in this category, the awards season spoils have been pretty evenly spread around, with The Favourite taking home the Bafta, First Reformed surprising (sort of) with a win at the Critics’ Choice Awards, and Green Book driving home with the Golden Globe. Does that mean that Roma and Vice are out of the running? Not necessarily — but yes, as this is a race between The Favourite‘s exquisite dialogue and full-circle plotting, and Green Book‘s multi-layered, true-ish story. Green Book gets a slight edge, thanks to the multi-layered story behind the true story.
Will Win: Green Book
Should Win: The Favourite
The Academy’s visual effects branch at least offers consistency with the Visual Effects Society’s choices for the guild awards. The VES Awards recognized both First Man for the NASA drama’s realistic, supporting visual effects, and Avengers: Infinity War for the Marvel juggernaut’s spectacular, large-scale effects magic. Since Avengers: Infinity War might be deemed to have won enough already by raking in two billion dollars at the global box office, this award will be one way for First Man‘s passionate supporters to make up for the film’s perceived snubs in the major Oscar categories.
Will Win: First Man
Should Win: Avengers: Infinity War
The best that can be said of last year’s didactic Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex is that it should steer curious viewers towards RBG, the superior documentary about the crusading lawyer and SCOTUS jurist. RBG‘s likely Oscar win should help too, as should the fact that this year’s sentimental favorite doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor, about the life of kids’ TV legend Fred Rogers, isn’t even nominated.
Will Win/Should Win: RBG
The bulbous visages of the central characters in Swedish nominee Border are impressive, yet the Academy might want to acknowledge the elaborate hair and wigs on both men and women in Mary Queen of Scots. The pancake mug covering the Virgin Queen’s pox-ravaged skin casts a new light on Elizabeth I, and Aussie stunner Margot Robbie. But it probably won’t be enough to best Vice, which transforms star Christian Bale and key members of the film’s very recognizable ensemble into the all-star politicos of half a century’s worth of history.
Will Win/Should Win: Vice
From the category boasting the sentimental favorite to the category featuring the de facto favorite: Golden Globe, SAG, Bafta, and Critics’ Choice winner Mahershala Ali, for his forceful yet subtle work in Green Book. However, giving in again to passion, a different actor’s performance stands out for a character who seemed virtually to leap offscreen and grab a seat right next to you in the movie theater, Richard E. Grant’s desperate hustler Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me? The veteran actor could pull off the upset win, but odds are he’ll have to be happy with having created a memorable addition to his long line of cinema scoundrels.
Will Win: Mahershala Ali
Should Win: Richard E. Grant
Actually, another sentimental favorite has emerged in the major categories: six-time nominee Amy Adams, who has yet to win an Oscar. It seems inevitable that some year she will, but will it be this year for her spitfire performance in Vice as Lynne Cheney? If Beale Street Could Talk player Regina King has cleaned up this awards season, and probably can ride out the sentimental wave breaking for Adams, as well as the vote-splitting support for The Favourite‘s co-nominees Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Roma‘s Marina de Tavira could play spoiler, and Weisz is magnificently wicked in The Favourite, but the category favorite is King.
Will Win: Regina King
Should Win: Rachel Weisz
The box office success of controversial Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t surprising, but it certainly wasn’t preordained. The producers took a huge gamble casting anybody as Mercury, and star Rami Malek met that enormous challenge with a gutsy performance. He’s been well-rewarded for it, and will be by the Academy, too, although Bale’s Dick Cheney is the portrayal that truly inspires shock, awe, amusement, anger, and even nightmares.
Will Win: Rami Malek
Should Win: Christian Bale
Ah, the one category this year most likely to be decided by sentiment for an actor long overlooked by the Academy, rather than by passion for any one performance. Six-time Oscar also-ran Glenn Close is riveting in The Wife, but so then are leading lady newcomers Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, and Gaga in A Star Is Born. Olivia Colman gives herself over fully to the role of Queen Anne in The Favourite, baring moving vulnerability. Yet, such accolades also apply to Melissa McCarthy’s underrated turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? If Jack Nicholson can nab an Oscar playing the rude and unpleasant writer protagonist of a spurious ’90s rom-com (As Good As It Gets), surely McCarthy should not be ignored for playing the deeply damaged ’90s writer protagonist of this clever dramedy. But probably she will be.
Will Win: Glenn Close
Should Win: Melissa McCarthy
Passion seriously comes into play in this race between five directors whose work this year demonstrated invigorating, impassioned filmmaking, from Adam McKay’s structural leaps in Vice, to Yorgos Lanthimos’ vividly skewed worldview in The Favourite. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman synthesized a wildly improbable period piece into a searing political statement about the period we’re living through now. But it’s Cuarón’s remarkable achievement in one-man-band authorship, as Roma‘s writer, co-producer, cinematographer, and co-editor, that should see him take home his second directing Oscar.
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should Win: Yorgos Lanthimos
In the 90-plus years the Academy has been handing out awards for film achievement, no foreign language film has ever been named Best Picture. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and Roma, Cuarón’s deceptively simple love-letter to his native Mexico City has come along at the right time to break that barrier. (The film will also likely make history by taking the award for Best Foreign Film, for which it’s also nominated.) In another 90 years, though, it might be Adam McKay’s dark, loopy vision of a dark, turbulent time that endures as the film that viewers still need to see.
Will Win: Roma
Should Win: Vice
The 91st Academy Awards air on Sunday, February 24 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Visit www.oscar.go.com.
Below is the entire list of 2019 Oscar nominations, with our predictions as who Will Win and who we think Should Win noted.
Best Documentary Feature:
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Best Live Action Short Film:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Makeup and Hair: