This question is in honor of Sunday’s 91st Academy Awards:
Of the actual nominees, who do you want to see win an Oscar?
Let’s do this one last time, yeah? Nobody needs someone out here aggressively stanning for superhero movies in 2019. But if Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, I’m going to lose my goddamn mind—especially if Pixar’s snoozy, predictable Incredibles 2 takes the prize home in its place. Pitch-perfect in its humor, its plotting, and its grasp of Marvel’s beloved web-slinger as a character (or characters), Spider-Verse is the rare comic book origin story that nails every beat of its respective heroes’ journeys. Refusing the playbook of traditional CGI animation, its lifts liberally from comics and hand-drawn cels, creating indelible images like the shot—powerful in the initial trailer, seismic when it finally arrives on the screen—of Miles Morales ascending downward toward a tranquil New York skyline, finally coming into his own. It’s a remarkable juggling act of characters and comedy, one that somehow never loses sight of Miles’ story, or the “do what you can” ethos that powers Spider-Man—regardless of whatever dimension they happen to hail from.
I’ll start with who I really, really hope doesn’t win, which is Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody. That’s not because Malek isn’t a wonderful actor—he is!—but because he’s just really not very good as Freddie Mercury, who, as a character, never even comes close to blossoming in the film’s listless, bloodless script. Seriously, give it to anybody else in that category, then honor Malek when he’s actually given material that suits his talents. Okay, as for who needs to win? Paul Schrader! His searing, vital First Reformed
is wildly underrepresented this year, scoring only one nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category. Schrader’s sole nomination brings with it a great story, though: Despite being one of the most influential creative forces of the ’70s and ’80s, this is the writer and director’s first-ever nomination. Fold that into the fact that First Reformed is his best script in 20 years, not to mention something of a full-circle moment for the filmmaker, and you’ve got a helluva narrative.
Olivia Colman has been killing it for years, but I feel like she really earned her accolades playing Queen Anne in The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’ archly absurd period drama. Colman makes the pampered, spoiled, self-centered queen worthy of our pity, and then our empathy, as she deals with matters of court and the two women vying for her affections. Imperious but vulnerable, petulant but regal, Colman’s physicality embodies a raw sort of tragedy. Glenn Close is a goddamn powerhouse, and Yalitza Aparicio is a good choice for the Best Actress Oscar, but I’d like to see the award go to the actress who earned my sympathy through scarfing cake and vomiting it up.
Let’s go ahead and give The Favourite all of the awards for which it’s eligible, starting with acting. Despite only Olivia Colman earning a Best Actress nomination for her role in the film, with Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz nominated in supporting roles, all three performances are ostensibly leads—essential to the story, electric in their push and pull against each other. Colman is grotesque and wounded, Weisz is icy and conniving, and Stone is wily and scampish in the kind of role Hollywood has not often offered her and probably rarely will in the future—that of a sharp-tongued, physical young woman who will let herself be covered in shit and burned with lye, and who will bash herself in the face to get what she wants. Beyond the acting and mordant screenplay, I even liked the swirling, disorienting fish-eye camera, deliciously extravagant for a film that already elicits dizziness. And because Lanthimos has yet gone unrecognized for his incongruous dance scenes, he should probably win an award for the one he snuck in here too.
I’ve already had my say on what I think should win this Sunday, and there are some realistic and very unrealistic outcomes for which I’m crossing my proverbial fingers. (Realistic: Beale Street wins Best Score! Unrealistic: a successful write-in campaign for Steven Yeun!) But I think the category in which I’m most invested is Best Documentary Feature. Can Minding The Gap please pull a surprise upset and win this one? Though it comes thinly disguised as an exploration of skateboarding culture, Bing Liu’s film is really a highly personal meditation on cycles of violence, the director returning to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois to investigate how the shared trauma of a tumultuous home life has shaped the adulthoods of his childhood friends. It’s not, frankly, the kind of movie that usually wins in this category; unlike some recent recipients, it possesses no explicitly political agenda, no showbiz angle, and no aspirations to lift the spirits of its prospective audience. But dammit, it’s the best of the nominees (and, indeed, the best nonfiction feature I saw in 2018). And it’s frankly ridiculous that Kartemquin, the Chicago-based nonprofit that funded the film, has never won this award, as they’re a leading force in the ongoing support and evolution of documentary cinema. Since the Academy loves to hand out long-overdue mea culpas, maybe they can think of this as a make-up for snubbing Hoop Dreams? Whatever it takes, Oscars!
I know it won’t win, I know it can’t win, and I know that I have a better chance of winning Best Picture on my own than it does, but it would be pretty cool if Black Panther took home that top Oscar. I’m sure it would annoy people who prefer serious cinema to superhero movies, even if Black Panther was a very good superhero movie, but surely we can all agree that it would be a lot less boring than previous winners like Argo or The King’s Speech. Seriously, just imagine all the hot takes! The outrage from old Hollywood elites! Hell, Black Panther winning Best Picture could even give the Academy an excuse to institute that Best Popular Film category for real, ensuring that it would never have to risk letting a comic book movie win a major award again. Besides, as someone who likes superhero movies, giving such a big honor to Black Panther would be a nice way to canonize the superhero genre’s undeniable impact on the world of movies.
Roma doesn’t need me to root for it—there are millions in Netflix money already doing that job. But I would like Roma to take Best Picture for the completely selfish reason of wanting to see it in 70mm, again and again, for the rest of my life. Can I watch Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical drama on multiple devices, whenever I want, for a monthly subscription fee? Sure. But do any of those devices have giant fucking screens that swaddle you in the black-and-white world of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), that capture the full scale of the New Year’s forest fire, that have speakers big enough to convey the crush of the waves at the end of the film? They do not, and a splashy night at the Oscars will hopefully reserve Roma a permanent spot on the repertory circuit. And with any luck, it’ll also convince Netflix that this arty sort of personal vision is as worthy an investment as data-driven phenomena like Bird Box and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. After a few years of being absolutely buried in Netflix TV shows, I’ve derived a small amount of schadenfreude from its inability to get across the Best Series goal line at the Emmys. But it feels like something bigger’s at stake here, and I don’t just mean the jobs of the people who approved that reported eight-figure FYC campaign.
I don’t think Solo: A Star Wars Story is deserving of too many award-season accolades. It’s a fun but unexceptional addition to everyone’s favorite beleaguered family of space wizards movie franchise. And while the bullet point, greatest-hits rundown of the titular hero’s mythology was the least interesting approach to telling a new Han Solo story, it was also one of the most visually rich and textured entries into the movie series. It leaned all the way into the ’70s “used universe” George Lucas coined to describe the scuzzy, second-hand aesthetic of the original Star Wars movies, and in doing so realized a galaxy of misfits and undesirables being squeezed under the rule of the Empire. It remains a mystery why the film isn’t up for best production design, but absent that, the film most definitely deserves the best special effects award. From the acid-rain drenched shipyards of Corellia to the cosmic dust cloud-shrouded Kessel, the folks at Lucasfilm know how to give vibrant life, whether it’s humble and lived-in or the most outlandish dimensions of a massive galaxy.
As it has been for several years, the Best Actress race is incredibly strong this year, and there’s no one—at least, no one in this particular category—I’d be annoyed to see walking across the Oscars stage come Sunday night. But if I’m going to be honest, I do have a secret hope, and that’s that Melissa McCarthy gets the ultimate validation of a Best Actress Oscar for her work in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. McCarthy’s portrayal of celebrity biographer-turned-forger Lee Israel in Marielle Heller’s film has that effortless quality that ironically only comes out of sustained, thoughtful effort. She physically inhabits the character so fully, from her strong, no-bullshit stance to the put-upon grimace that flashes across her face in unguarded moments, that it’s easy to forget that she typically specializes in a much broader sort of character work. Similarly, McCarthy’s famous (and highly bankable) likability faces a complicated challenge in this film; in a broad comedy, she can easily make an audience laugh by acting like a selfish jerk, but here she had to make us empathize with her flaws, and love her anyway. McCarthy’s proven many times over that she can be funny, but Can You Ever Forgive Me? finally gave her the chance to be truly complicated. And she was more than up for the challenge, like I and many other critics have long suspected she would be.