Putting the Picture In Focus

This Oscar season is a snoozefest. Only one nominated movie, Black Panther, has grabbed the spotlight and gotten popular and critical buzz. It is the first movie from the superhero genre to break into the Best Picture category. Movies released in February rarely ride a wave of popularity all the way to awards season. But fans of BP beat the drum all year and here it is, in the spotlight on Oscar’s biggest night! I’ll drink to that!

There are two other commercial successes nominated as well, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born. Three popular films in the Best Picture category is a lot. A LOT! And there’s a very good chance none of them will walk away with Oscar gold.

Bohemian Rhapsody stunned at the Golden Globes, winning best drama. But this is a slightly better-than-average movie (with a script that’s a mess) that featured an amazing performance (Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury).

It’s one thing for voters to nominate a superhero epic, it’s another thing to vote for it in the final ballot, and I don’t expect a second breakthrough.

A Star Is Born, the remake of a remake of a remake, had big buzz early, but that wave crested.

A few years ago the Academy expanded the number of potential nominees from five to ten to give ‘popular’ films a better shot of getting some recognition. We’ve never maxed out, but usually have eight or nine.

Usually, a critical darling wins. And that’s not (always) snobbery on the part of the Academy. High-brow fare is not relatable to most people, and that’s okay. But when acting, directing, story, music, costuming and lighting all align, it’s rarely in the form of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

So in addition to the popular films, other nominees are BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, and Vice.

BlacKkKlansman is a triumph for Spike Lee, and this movie delivers on every cylinder. He could win for this, a strong movie, and a sort of body-of-work win, kind of like when the last Lord of the Rings film won.

The Favourite was a fave in Britain and the Academy loves itself a strong period piece. Never count out a movie with fierce retro costuming and british accents.

Vice has a message and tone that resonates, politically, with a majority of Academy voters, and Christian Bale’s transformation into Vice President Cheney is amazing.

That leaves us with Green Book and Roma.

Roma has been an odds on favorite (not a Favourite) all awards season. It’s the critical darling. It’s a lock for Foreign Film, but it would be the worst thing for the Oscars if it wins. With three commercially successful films nominated people may tune in to see if their fave wins. And they’ll be angry if they see a highbrow, subtitled movie win. A movie they likely haven’t seen no matter how many times Netflix ‘suggested’ it for them to watch.

That’s why I’m picking Green Book for the win. It’s a hard look at tortuous times in America. There are two outstanding performances from Mahershala Ali and Vigo Mortensen. It’s beautifully shot. Music is a supporting character. This film has everything Academy voters love and all the elements of a great film.

Looking For Direction

There are up to ten slots for Best Pic, but still only five for directors. That means some films will get nominated without their daddy. Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born is one of them!

But the strong contingent of nominees are Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman,” Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War,” Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite,” Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma,” and Adam McKay, “Vice.”

Cold War didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, and I doubt has any real shot at director. The Favourite is beautifully shot but, again, is just happy to be nominated.

It all really comes down to McKay, Spike, and Alfonso Cuaron. Spike deserves this win for an amazingly gripping film and an outstanding career. McKay could bring home the trophy with his political film.

But I expect it will be Cuaron’s love letter to his youth. The Academy will honor him, sort of a consolation prize for not winning Best Pic

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

Tequila Sunrise. My favorite mexican liquor with a certain sweetness, to honor our south of the border film


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