All of the major pundits at Gold Derby are 100% in for Roma. That is quite a stronghold. Either they will all be right or all be wrong, but when that many jump on a bandwagon, does that make it too big to fail? Possibly. I think what’s going on is that no one knows what is going to win (because no one can possibly know) and Roma seems like the safest bet. Which is kind of funny because they’re predicting history to be made three ways.
- First Netflix movie to win Best Picture.
- First foreign language film ever to win. Like ever. When you think about the foreign language films that could have won in the past, like the $100 million Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, you wonder what about Roma will make the difference? Most are betting on the new Academy members, many of whom are from other countries, to bring a subtitled film into the mainstream. An international wave cresting in a perfect storm, you might say, for the Oscars to do what they’ve never done, what they would never do before.
- The first film in the era of the preferential ballot to win Best Picture with only the DGA as the major precursor win. It’s never happened since 2009. Ordinarily we would expect to see a companion PGA win. The closest thing to this year’s splintering was Moonlight winning with the WGA only. But remember, Moonlight also had Mahershala Ali winning everywhere, adding extra clout from the actors branch. Roma doesn’t have that.
I think it’s funny to see what is essentially a long shot prediction become the status quo, but you know me, it’s all about patterns, precedents and stats. I’ve never really been comfortable predicting based on a whim, which has meant a few wrong calls in the past. When I predicted Moonlight to win I did not predict it on a whim. I predicted it because La La Land had missed receiving a SAG ensemble nomination. Of course, the following year The Shape of Water broke past that prerequisite and won without a SAG ensemble nomination. But it did have PGA. I still didn’t predict it to win because I am stubborn in that regard. I really did think Three Billboards might still pull it out in the end, even without the director nomination.
And then there’s the BAFTA curse. The last time an Oscar Best Picture won the BAFTA was in 2013 with 12 Years a Slave. Since then, there’s been a consistent disconnect. They may have, perhaps, reflected what the Oscars might have done if they didn’t have a preferential ballot. Even in 2014, when Birdman won the PGA/DGA and SAG, the BAFTA went with Boyhood. The Brits then went with The Revenant, La La Land and… Three Billboards last year, which won big at BAFTA just like Roma won big two weeks ago.
As we wind down to the last weekend of Oscar 2019, it’s important to stop and look back at how wide open a year this has been from the beginning. We’ve covered all the reasons why we believe it is wide open — competing agendas, primarily, where a village of well-meaning liberals can’t agree on who they (we) are while living under the Trump administration. That aside from the unified effort to bring “popular movies” into the fold, else risk the dreaded popular film category. The effort to bring more women and people of color into the awards has divided voters into varying camps, where they seem to be trying to satisfy every requirement all at once. That’s just not possible and, at some point, it muddies what film awards are supposed to be about. It’s being said that Oscar night could end with every film winning at least one Oscar.
By my count, three films have what it takes to win. But honestly I’m starting to wonder if this could be a year when a dark horse emerges from the fog to stun everyone. The main thing I know about the Oscars is that the guilds have always mattered. But this year, for Oscar purposes, we have to disregard the very worthy films the WGA chose to reward, because neither of them is a Best Picture nominee. So we’re left with this trio:
Green Book — PGA/Toronto/Globe
Black Panther — SAG
Roma — DGA/BAFTA
History tells us the Best Picture winner has to be one of these three. The high profile pundits are split. Scott Feinberg is all in for Roma. Kris Tapley is going for Green Book. I think Pete Hammond is also going for Green Book unless he’s changed his mind. Tom O’Neil is all in for Roma. A few folks over at Gold Derby are going for Black Panther — which would be, I think, a perfectly fine film to win, although, awkwardly, it would be the third BP winner in the past six years directed by a black director that didn’t collect any hardware for directing.
Are there other potential “upsets” in the mix? The Favourite seems like it has a little bit of last-minute wind at its back and many are wondering how that is going to play out. Will Olivia Colman swoop in and beat Glenn Close? She might. That would suck for the legions of Close fans, but it could happen. Can Emma Stone or Rachel Weisz win in supporting? Maybe. I still think Regina King has that. Can Richard E. Grant beat Mahershala Ali after the pummeling Green Book has taken from the dissenters on social media? Will enough voters deny Ali’s deserving but embattled performance in favor of Richard E. Grant, who carries no troublesome baggage and by all accounts has been superlatively charming on the circuit? They could. We must operate from the fundamental theory we’ve seen proven on more serious ballots: voters are often motivated by temperamental reasons. But yes, if Ali wasn’t so thoroughly great in Green Book, I would be fully on board with Grant winning in a great, great film — and in fact he still could. Remember, this is chronically image-conscious Hollywood, where virtue signaling is always in vogue. If they believe shutting out Green Book bolsters their cred, they certainly will have no problem doing just that, on an anonymous ballot. They want praise and approval for their choices, not scorn.
Once I get to the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, I’ll be better able to read the room and suss out the vibe. I remember the night it was La La Land vs. Moonlight. There was a palpable layer of unease clinging to La La Land. Thousands of liberals tucked into tuxes and ornamented with diamonds were anxious that this love letter to their own livelihood might not be the best way to represent their more earthy and utopian vision of themselves. La La Land had, after all, been saddled with accusations that it had low-key racist undertones. In contrast, when Moonlight was mentioned onstage, it was universally greeted with rapturous, thunderous applause: “Yes, this!” they all seemed to confirm with their clapping, this is the movie that represents us better. Last year, there wasn’t as much palpable tension for Three Billboards, but probably that was due to Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell being so well-liked. Instead it was Martin McDonagh who bore the brunt of the charges that the film was racist.
And so we arrive at our destination this year, at a crossroads where once again one movie has been singled out as a suspicious intruder that threatens the village. I’m curious to see how the audience greets Green Book whenever it’s title is spoken aloud. Curious is one way to say it; dread is another. Jazz tells us that at the Producers Guild, when Green Book won, there wasn’t much applause. We are all in this same community, joined in unison by social media, able to communicate whole ideas across thousands all at once. One reaction there seems to echo the reactions elsewhere. How it will all play out at the Dolby, who can say.
The past few years under Trump have created so much fear and panic in our community, it sometimes seems that nobody trusts anybody anymore. We each have to watch our step. Anyone can be called out for anything at any moment. We can’t aim our wrath Trump because no one on that side cares. They enjoy claiming that we’re triggered and they weirdly want to drink our tears. So instead, to find a normal human reaction to our anguish, we have no choice but to turn on the people who still care, our own allies who still have a shred of common decency. As awful as it is, we’re conditioned to realize that sometimes the only way to feel heard is to yell at good people who still listen. But when we hit our friends where it hurts, the result isn’t respect. It’s rejection.
On that note — let’s get ready hammer the lid shut on this the year’s hideous coffin, put our demons out of their misery, and hope for a much more sane, much more humane and equinimous Oscar season in the promising months ahead.
Meanwhile, let’s try to remember that surprises are meant to be thrilling. Sunday night, what do you think the biggest ones will be?