I don't know about you, but the lead up to the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony has been just as tumultuous as any political election.
First, there was the much-ballyhooed idea of including a "Best Popular Film" award--not that it would have been part of this year's awards, but used in 2020--that caused an uproar, followed by the invite then dis-invite for comedian Kevin Hart to serve as host, causing more protest that eventually led Hart to throw in the towel.
Then the Academy announced it would only allow two of the Best Original Song nominees to perform, which quickly got nixed. Then the Academy thought it a good idea to remove some of the categories and air the acceptance speeches sometime later during the broadcast.
Needless to say, the bigwigs behind the Academy Awards made some pretty airheaded decisions. The Best Picture nominees though are far from foolish choices. Sure, six of the eight films involve real persons presented in based-on-a-true-story fashion, but like any other year, the Academy has included a little bit of the good, the bad, and the WTF. Here's a rundown of this year's Best Picture hopefuls:
A Star is Born
There are "remakes," and then, there is A Star is Born. This is the FOURTH version of the classic story of "successful-boy-meets-struggling-girl/boy-helps-girl-become-a-success/boy's-fame-fades-under-girl's-stardom," and yet, Bradley Cooper has provided a fresh approach to the stale material. He fills the role previously performed by Frederic March/James Mason/Kris Kristofferson and Lady Gaga fills the shoes once worn by Janet Gaynor/Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga rivals that of the other pairings and the soundtrack is to die for, featuring some of the best material Gaga has ever performed, but also showing off impressive vocals from thespian Cooper. While the Mason/Garland 1954 remains the ultimate classic, look for this Star to win Best Original Song, but not Best Picture.
It's hard to believe that after decades of contributing some of the most socially-conscious films in American cinema, Spike Lee has finally received his first Oscar nomination for Best Director and Best Picture. While a travesty, his nods this year are well earned for another "joint" dealing with racial tensions in America. He switches out his usual NYC setting for Colorado Springs, where the first African-American policeman and a seasoned Jewish detective go undercover to infiltrate and expose a local Ku Klux Klan chapter. This true story is set in the 1970s, and it's bone-chilling how the film's brutally honest depiction of racism and police brutality is reflected in today's world. Of the three nominated films involving race relations, this one is by far the most relevant and worth being awarded Best Picture.
The first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to receive serious Oscar attention, Black Panther proved more than just a worldwide blockbuster. Not only did it allow an African-American superhero to take lead in saving the world, but it provided a narrative of history and tradition set in an alternate world of brilliant colors, impressive costumes, and a fully dimensional roster of heroes and villains. Black Panther also became a positive influence to a movie-going audience who had never seem themselves depicted in such a positive, heroic way. It could possibly be the most culturally significant film nominated this year, with enough buzz to win the grand prize.
Of all the nominees, Bohemian Rhapsody is perhaps the least well-reviewed film of the bunch, and yet, it turned out to be a true crowd-pleaser, being one of three nominees to gross over $200 million at the box office. As far as biopics about famous musicians go, this one lags behind others like Coal Miner's Daughter, I'm Not There, Ray, or Walk the Line. What it does have is a charismatic performance from Rami Malek, who plays Queen front man Freddie Mercury with plenty of flamboyant gusto. While the award for Best Actor will likely go to Malek, don't expect this film to take home Best Picture. Considering its connections to director Bryan Singer's growing sexual assault allegations, this will be a case of "another (nominee) bit[ing] the dust" (sorry, I couldn't help myself!).
This was the last film on my list of films to see, and to be quite honest, I have yet to see it (don't judge me!). The thing is, while Green Book has won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy and the Producer's Guild award, many are perplexed as to how a true story with several factual inconsistencies could be considered a contender for the best film of the year. While it tells a story of an Italian-American racist chauffeuring an African-American jazz pianist during a music tour of the Deep South, who eventually find common ground, most have compared its soft portrayal of race relations of the 1960s to Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy (a film often considered one of the least worthy Best Picture winners). Most critics have championed the nominated performances of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as the saving grace of the film, so perhaps that will be enough for it to win.
Alfonso Cuaron's semi-autobiographical ode to his childhood might be the most gorgeously shot film of the bunch, considering that it's the only black and white film nominated for Best Pic this year. It's also the least showy, presenting a near-plotless story centering around a quiet housekeeper of a middle class family in Mexico City. Set during the 1970s, Roma is a slice-of-life tale involving class relations, political uprising, and defining what love and devotion really mean. Roma may not include any expensive special effects or whipsmart dialogue, but it's an extremely personal and beautifully made film, and just might possibly be the first foreign language film to take home the Best Picture Oscar.
Yorgos Lanthimos has been on a hot streak. After the stunningly creative releases of The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos has brought us another brilliantly bizarre story about a trio of women--one being Queen Anne--and their struggling quests for power in a male-dominated 18th Century England. A little bit of bawdy comedy with a dash of costume period drama thrown in the mix, The Favourite showcases stellar performances that make this film a rather fun viewing. Yet the Academy rarely awards the top prize to something this oddball, so it might have to settle for something along the lines of Best Original Screenplay.
When you think of a Dick Cheney biopic, your first choice for playing the former Vice President wouldn't exactly be Christian Bale. Yet in Adam McKay's satirical depiction of what led Cheney to being just one step away from controlling the United States, Bale packed on the pounds and donned some impressive prosthetics to get to the heart of what motivated this modest man into politics. The performances are all top notch and the unsubtle humor extremely biting, but who wants to see a film about Dick Cheney win Best Picture?
There's only one way to find out who takes home the Best Picture Oscar. Watch the (hostless) 91st Annual Academy Awards this Sunday night starting at 7:00 p.m. CST!