With just over 24 hours to go until the 91st Academy Awards get underway, we finally turn our attention to the biggest award of the night: Best Picture.
Will win: Roma
Should win: Vice
Also nominated: Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, A Star is Born
This could well be the most difficult race for Best Picture to call in recent years. It is a very strong selection of films that have been nominated, and the tide of opinion on who will win has ebbed and flowed throughout this awards season.
Looking purely at audience numbers, the most popular film is clearly Black Panther. The Academy was widely ridiculed when it attempted to introduce a Best Popular Film category for this year’s ceremony, and this was in large part because critics and moviegoers did not want to see a film as strong as Black Panther nominated in a token Best-of-the-Rest category. It’s a rarity for a blockbuster of this scale to be nominated for Best Picture, and it did extremely well to pick up the main prize at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards – however, as monumental as this nomination is, it won’t be translating into a win on this occasion.
Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born are films which fall into a similar category. Both were very well-received by moviegoers and did well at the box office, but have very slim chances of scooping Best Picture. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, this is deserved. Despite an excellent performance from its lead actor, it is a mediocre film largely buoyed by the popularity of its soundtrack. A Star is Born, on the other hand, is a far more impressive piece of filmmaking, propelled by intelligent direction, excellent writing and inspiring lead performances. Historically, however, ‘popular’ hasn’t done well in this category. What’s more, the film is far from complimentary about the price of fame, which isn’t the sort of narrative that flatters Hollywood voters. A win for either here is unlikely.
BlacKkKlansman and The Favourite also pick up nominations in this category. Of the two, The Favourite is by far the stronger film. However, it’s very dark, very quirky, and all in all perhaps a little too zany for the Academy’s traditionally conservative taste. The Favourite‘s best chance of picking up a prize for Best Picture was at the recent BAFTA awards. That it failed to do so there speaks volumes about its chances tomorrow night. As for BlacKkKlansman, it is a far more conventional film, at least in terms of aesthetics, tone and direction. However, it is anti-establishment and unabashed in its racial and political commentary. The Academy likes to think it is becoming more open and diverse, but it has a very long way to go and in most cases it will still choose to play things safe. BlackKlansman is not a safe film, and it will not win Best Picture.
Green Book, on the other hand, would be a very safe choice. It’s about family, friendship, and triumphing against the odds, three of the key ingredients which appeal to Oscar voters. It’s also got great acting, great writing and great directing – there’s not much more you can ask for. However, is it Best Picture worthy? Perhaps not. It certainly is very good in almost every department, but it lacks the spectacular and falls just short of being exceptional. That said, there’s plenty of awards buzz about it and there are more than whispers of it picking up the main prize – but don’t necessarily put your house on it.
Away from the buzz, right at the peripheries of the Best Picture race, is Vice. Staunchly political though it may be, it’s perplexing that a film this brilliant has been all but ruled out as a contender. Quite simply, it is excellent. It’s assured, bold, daring and has something of value to say about the world in which we live. What’s more, it conveys that message in an extremely engaging manner, driven by superb editing, directing and lead performances. In all honesty, it probably is the best film nominated in this category, but this just isn’t its year.
This leaves us with just one winner: Alfonso Cuarón’s almost universally-acclaimed Roma. For a long time, a win for Roma looked unlikely. After all, in its entire history, this marks only the ninth time that the Academy has nominated a non-English language film in the Best Picture category. Never has one actually won.
Similarly, a relatively recent arrival to the Hollywood scene, not once has a Netflix-produced film been nominated for Best Picture, let alone won. To win, Roma will therefore need to make history in not one but two departments. This did initially seem like too great an ask – and yet, the film has performed spectacularly well this awards season. It goes into tomorrow’s ceremony as favourite, riding a huge wave of momentum. Its win is not guaranteed by any means, but it is a very. very good piece of cinema and all the signs are pointing that way.