Times are changing for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body of film-industry professionals responsible for nominating and then awarding Oscars each year to movies they deem most likely to stand the test of time. Following complaints about the lack of minority representation and the poor treatment of women, the academy greatly expanded its membership to include a newer, more diverse voter base.
The results are dramatic, resulting in a slate of Best Picture nominees that are not only more eclectic than in years past, but also vastly more popular. And that should pay off with better than usual ratings when the awards are handed out on Sunday night. In other words, these are choices the public is actually responding to at the box office, unlike the often-pretentious choices of years past. Here are my predictions for this year’s top categories.
Should Win: “A Star is Born.” As co-writer, director, producer, star and singer-songwriter Bradley Cooper delivered an all-time classic take on the story of a couple brought together and then torn apart by stardom and addiction. Lady Gaga matches him perfectly in one of the all-time great debut performances, yet somehow all the other bellwether awards have skipped over this.
Will Win: “Roma.” It’s boring as hell, has a story that goes nowhere and its lead performance is hopelessly inert. But the threadbare story of a Mexican maid suffering through a year of hardships while working for a rich family in the 1970s will win almost entirely because it’s a chance to send a heavy-handed message to President Trump about his controversial immigration policies.
Dark Horse: “Green Book.” I personally wish “BlacKkKlansman” would win due to its daringly audacious mix of comedy, thrills, and tragic history about race relations, but the Academy would easily pick the much safer “Green Book,” aka “Driving Miss Daisy” with two dudes.
Should Win: Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born.” Cooper’s heartbreaking descent into addiction and despair, even as he helps his wife conquer the world he’s losing grip of, is pure screen poetry. But Academy voters will say he’ll have plenty of other chances, and might reward him for writing or directing anyway.
Will Win: Christian Bale, “Vice.” The Academy loves actors who put on weight and tons of makeup for a role. Add in the fact that it’s a devastating look at Dick Cheney, one of American history’s most reviled figures, and this is a slam dunk.
Dark Horse: Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Malek brought amazing charisma and rock-star swagger mixed with tragic sadness to his terrific performance as Queen singer Freddie Mercury. That electric mix has propelled the film to an insanely good $800 million worldwide gross.
Should Win: Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born.” The most powerful performance of the year by anyone in any movie made the music superstar an instant movie star as well.
Will Win: Glenn Close, “The Wife.” Too many Academy voters will be scared off by Gaga’s often-bizarre costumes at the Grammys and beyond, branding her a weirdo while instead giving the veteran Close the award for a histrionic performance that screams out that she’s acting!
Dark Horse: Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma.” If enough Oscar voters are hell-bent on shoving a political message down viewers’ throats, this inexplicable nomination might get rewarded. Aparicio is a first-time actress, and it shows in a performance devoid of nearly any emotion or range. But playing a Mexican maid right after the president fought for a border wall might prove an irresistible allure to those who vote for sending messages over rewarding quality.
Should Win: Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman.” Driver’s turn as a Jewish cop who teamed with a young black cop to bring down a KKK chapter in 1970s Colorado was alternately hilarious and heartbreaking.
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book.” Ali is an irresistibly appealing actor whom academy voters love, inside and out. The fact that this role was really a lead-level performance enabled him to be a power slugger surrounded by pinch hitters.
Dark Horse: Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born.” Elliott leaps off the screen with a performance that mixes tough-guy charisma with flashes of heartbreak. The academy also loves rewarding veterans with the equivalent of lifetime achievement awards.
Should Win: Emma Stone, “The Favourite.” Hollywood loves Stone, a young actress who’s already taken home a lead statue for “La La Land” and has the chops to last for decades. Her wickedly funny performance is the best thing about this movie, but she’ll be ruined by splitting votes for the same movie against Rachel Weisz.
Will Win: Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The veteran King is one of Hollywood’s best and most underrated actresses, and this is the best chance to give an award to Barry Jenkins’ film, the follow-up to his Best Picture-winning “Moonlight.”
Dark Horse: Amy Adams, “Vice.” Just like with Bale, the combination of Adams submerging her looks completely to portray Dick Cheney’s wife Lynne and the fact that “Vice” is a wickedly funny slam on her hated husband could make her a winner.
Should Win: Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman.” One of American cinema’s greatest provocateurs, Lee delivered his most daring and entertaining film yet while losing none of his bite.
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, “Roma.” No matter how boring this movie is to average-folks viewers, the academy is determined to shove it down the world’s throats, and they’ll reward Cuaron for giving them a perfect propaganda piece for the age of battles over the border wall.
Dark Horse: Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite.” The fact that this darkest of comedies reaped 10 nominations is nothing to sneeze at. Lanthimos might sneak off with the trophy for crafting a unique vision that gets bonus points from Hollywood voters for inventing a lesbian love triangle for the actually straight Queen Anne.