Next Tuesday the 19th, Oscar voters will finally seal the lid on the madness that was Oscar season 2018–2019. It will be all over but the shouting — a relief to an exhausting, competitive race that got way too nasty. We know, from a stats perspective, which films can win Best Picture. Now, I’m going to make the case of why each film should win, and what a win for that film will say about the Academy, the industry, and those of us who spend way too much of our time and attention on this every year. But I’m only going to write up five of them because I really believe only five have a shot at winning the top prize.
Green Book — In a year of unprecedented strife in the Oscar race, at a time when our country has become cripplingly divided, when there is nothing to draw from the well except anger, vitriol, frustration, and animosity, there is a movie that reminds audiences of what bridging the gap of ignorance can do for the human heart. We seem to have abandoned our ability to forgive one another our trespasses. Green Book is about forgiveness of ignorance in a country that has fostered it for far too long. Maybe one divide mended doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but as human beings we still rely on our individual stories to help shape our worldview. That so many have found in Green Book a generosity of spirit and capacity to love makes it a film that might not be important in any other year, but makes it a film that absolutely matters in 2019. It matters because, sooner or later, we’re going to have to find a way to get along and coexist, or else kill each other trying. That it became a target of intense scrutiny — that no film was attacked more and by so many different factions from so many angles, even when it was telling a message of love and friendship — is a sign of the times, without a doubt. To vote for Green Book is to say — you know what? I don’t want to live in that kind of world anymore. I choose optimism and hope. I reach my hand out to those I don’t understand or those I’ve been taught to hate and fear and I find a different way of living in a divided country.
Roma — A win for Roma is two things at once. To look at Roma’s value, one has to abandon the things most people first think about when they think about Roma: that’s it’s a Netflix movie, or it’s a foreign language film. When you think about it that way, it easier to resist its magnificence. When you look at what the movie actually is about, what Alfonso Cuaron did with it, what he was trying to tell us about his own life growing up in Mexico and the people who shaped it — people who are called rapists and murderers by the President of the United States — you’ll find that Roma is a film about the magic and power of film. It’s about cinema itself. It is a breathtaking display of what a camera can do, what black and white film can still do, what it can bring to life, what it can show you. When you think about Cuaron’s work, you see it in color, right? Vivid color in Gravity or Y Tu Mama Tambien or A Little Princess. Can you think of those movies without seeing them in color? Now you see Roma, which contains within it glimpses of Cuaron’s cinematic influences robbed of color. For a country like Mexico, a country that has more vibrancy in its walls and streets than just about any other place on Earth, to see it in black and white takes us down a much different path that we’re expecting. What are we seeing when we look at Mexico robbed of color, when we see Cuaron’s influences in only black, white, and shades of grey? We are seeing a mirror reflected back at us, seeing what our president is telling us about a people we’re supposed to see as not wholly human. Roma does this with subtlety, but it nonetheless makes its point powerfully. A vote for Roma is a vote for cinema, come what may. Yes, it’s also a vote for Netflix, which means it is a vote for the disruptive inevitability of what’s coming next. Fight it all you want, but you can’t stop it.
BlacKkKlansman — American film has mostly ignored the monumental impact of Spike Lee. He towers over both black cinema and white cinema the same way the biggest directors do — it’s just that he has never compromised his voice, and that voice is distinctly Spike’s voice. It’s true with all of his films and it’s true with BlacKkKlansman, a film about ongoing systemic racism in America and the rise of white supremacy at the hands of our president. The story is breezily told — funny at times, horrific at other times — and occasionally forgoes story entirely to deliver powerful speeches you never really forget. Lee did this too with Do the Right Thing: a film so wildly alive no one in Hollywood had seen anything like it. A vote for this film is a vote for Lee himself, a way to applaud and reward not just one of the best films of the year, but a way to honor the new wave of black filmmakers that landed in this year’s Oscar race. Picking BlacKkKlansman is a way of saying we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. And remember, no black director has ever won Best Director. In 90 years of Oscar history.
Black Panther — Although there are only two black directors in this year’s Best Picture race, they are just two of the many black auteurs who released films this year, like Barry Jenkins made If Beale Street Could Talk, Steve McQueen made Widows, and Boots Riley made Sorry to Bother You. What a year. It would be a shame to see none of them win any of the top prizes. For a film that earned $700 million, for a film that elevated the Marvel/superhero genre, for a film that fearlessly depicted a progressive Afrofuturist world — one that has no doubt inspired millions of young kids to grow up finding Wakanda in the everyday — awarding Black Panther Best Picture is a no-brainer. Black Panther is likely going to win a lot of Oscars, but if it wins Best Picture as well, it means that the Oscars are ready at last to embrace what the public likes, to bring the Oscars back to the people where it first started, to snatch it out of the hands of the rarified few. It’s also just a good movie — and it’s always great when good movies win.
A Star Is Born — Like Black Panther, Bradley Cooper’s update of an American fairy tale that swerves into dark fable is one of the cultural zeitgeist movies that lots of people paid to see. It has launched Lady Gaga the actress and Bradley Cooper the director. He was working within the confines of a fated tale, so no matter what else happened, we knew how things were going to shake down by the end. Cooper’s film brought so many people out to the movies who never went before and quickly became one of the most talked about films of the year. There is no denying the power of that first scene where Lady Gaga takes the stage. So many moviegoers found in A Star Is Born the movie of the year, a defining moment for American film. A vote for A Star Is Born is a vote out of pure love. Those who love it will find it hard to vote for anything else.
The other three — Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, and Vice — all have things about them that would make them great Best Picture winners, but ultimately each of them is showcase for its singular actors. A vote for them is really a vote for the power of great acting, and how great performances can sometimes make a great movie.
Whichever film wins this year (and honestly, no one knows what will), it will say a lot about the world and the film community the winner reflects.