Let’s not even get into the exceptionally chaotic run-up to this year’s Oscar ceremony—the precursor awards have doled out their fair share of uncertainty on the road to the Academy Awards. The lack of consensus has made Oscar prognosticating this year especially tricky. To recap: the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild rewarded their highest prizes to Green Book (with the Globes also throwing a drama win to Bohemian Rhapsody); the Screen Actors Guild handed their ensemble prize to Black Panther; the two more recent prizes—the Directors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television—decided to crown Roma as their cinematic biggest achievement of the year.
I’ve name-dropped four best picture nominees already, which means that at least half of the field could conceivably go home with the night’s top prize. That makes for an especially nail-biting finish to a contentious awards season—the best possible setup for an Oscar ceremony. Read on for my (much sweated-over, most hand-wrung) predictions for who will come out on top in the above-the-line categories. Because Oscar traffics in jaw-dropping upsets, I’ve hedged my bets with a “could win” category. And in keeping with the suspense, I’ll save best picture for last.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Isle of Dogs
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph Breaks the Internet
WILL WIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. No question.
COULD WIN: Pixar has a Goliath-like record in this category but…Incredibles 2? Who are we kidding?
SHOULD WIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. No question. It’s fresh, it’s bracing, it’s a story well-told. And it’s the first cannon shot over the bow telling you that, yes, the time of comic-book movies as viable awards contenders is coming.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Never Look Away
WILL WIN: Roma has this more or less in the bag, despite contenders like Cold War and Shoplifters having their own ardent supporters. Apart from its many wins, it is also the most nominated picture (tying with The Favourite) at this year’s Oscar derby. And if you want to get into statistics: Over Oscar’s history, Roma is the fifth non-English film—joining Z (1969), Life Is Beautiful (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Amour (2012)
COULD WIN: The fact that it also snagged nominations for its director and cinematographer means that there is also broad support for Cold War.
SHOULD WIN: Roma. Again, hands-down. I could go on a long-winded parsing of its many virtues, but as my editor Jerome Gomez put it when he titled my review, it is simply “the most beautiful film of the year.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, BlacKkKlansma
Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth, Will Fetters, A Star Is Born
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
WILL WIN: For being able to contain both righteous outrage and outrageous comedy, and more importantly, make a statement in these racially tense times, BlacKkKlansman should walk away with this.
COULD WIN: Especially in the era where Oscar started nominating more than five titles to the best picture race, winners in the writing categories tend to be a bellwether award for the supreme prize. So we can eliminate the three Oscar orphans from the list (Could You Ever Forgive Me?, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). So that leaves…A Star Is Born? I don’t think so.
SHOULD WIN: On the subject of outrage, it’s a downright crime that this clever, lived-in, and ultimately touching forgery drama didn’t get a nomination for either picture or director. If Oscar rewards this prize to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it will be a true victory of merit over zeitgeist.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice
WILL WIN: The Writers Guild of America didn’t nominate it due to eligibility issues, but those issues aren’t a hindrance with the Academy. Expect The Favourite to emerge the victor in the more interesting of the two writing races.
COULD WIN: Broad support for Green Book from older Academy voters could stage an upset and carry it over the finish line here. (But, oh, what a stomach-sinker that would be.)
SHOULD WIN: I have a soft spot for Paul Schrader’s ambitious and go-for-broke First Reformed, but as a testament to the alchemy and art of writing, The Favourite is hard to beat.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali has swept up practically every precursor prize, and is obviously one of the bright spots in what one Oscar voter calls a “retrograde and borderline offensive” movie on race relations. (For the reasons why, do a YouTube search on “Seth Meyers” and “White Savior”.)
COULD WIN: A charming and poignant performance aside, Can You Ever Forgive Me?’s Richard E. Grant has been a deeply charming presence on the awards circuit, crying when Barbra Streisand acknowledged a tweet and leading the standing ovation at every award his competitor snagged. It’s not hard to imagine his late momentum gaining him his own Mark Rylance moment.
SHOULD WIN: And then, of course, there is that charming and poignant performance. Between Mahershal
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Emma Stone, The Favourite
WILL WIN: There is the problematic lack of nominations in the SAGs and BAFTAs, but expect a groundswell of goodwill to sweep barely-leading If Beale Street Could Talk’s Regina King up to the podium.
COULD WIN: There is speculation of a “she-is-due” moment giving Amy Adams her Oscar moment, but winning for such a polarizing movie might not let that pan out. More conceivable is the rising whispers among the voting membership of a second supporting prize for Rachel Weisz after The Constant Gardener.
SHOULD WIN: And why shouldn’t there be rising whispers? Rachel Weisz took on what is probably the most difficult of The Favourite’s triumvirate of female roles, somersaulting from swaggering condescension to cool malice to bewildered desperation without breaking a sweat.
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
WILL WIN: What was once shaping up to be a two-horse race has evolved, with Rami Malek of Bohemian Rhapsody snagging major awards like SAG and BAFTA. Ugh.
COULD WIN: Christian Bale is the closest competition that Rami Malek has, but the fact that his wins at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice are victories at awards bodies with zero intersection with Academy voters is a tad problematic. There is also some love for Bradley Cooper’s assured debut as writer, director, songwriter and actor among some quarters in the Academy voting membership…not that they’ll come right out and admit it.
SHOULD WIN: Next to nobody saw his performance in At Eternity’s Gate, but Willem Dafoe rose above the tortured artist trope and gave Vincent Van Gogh a clear-eyed sense of mission and destiny.
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
WILL WIN: Remember that “she-is-due” moment I alluded to with Amy Adams? Multiply that by ten and increase it to the hundredth power with Glenn Close.
COULD WIN: Nope. There is no could. There is only will. It’s Glenn Close.
SHOULD WIN: If we’re being honest, Glenn should have won this award decades ago for either Fatal Attraction or Dangerous Liaisons. The merit award this year goes to The Favourite’s Olivia Colman, whose monarch teetering from insanity to megalomania was first a funny, then chilling, sight to behold.
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay, Vice
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
WILL WIN: This is the first of the nail-biter categories that I sweated over. But in the end, I had to go with Alfonso Cuarón, who won the crucial Directors Guild prize, a bellwether award that usually dictates to Academy voters who they should write down on their ballots.
COULD WIN: Oscar is littered with winners who got their victories in the form of career tributes (think recent examples Martin Scorsese and James Ivory). Spike Lee could join that belated rewards club—never mind that BlacKkKlansman isn’t exactly his best movie. There might also be a prevalent notion that rewarding Cuarón this prize—especially given that a Mexican has won this category four times in the last five years—might be an embarrassment of blessings.
SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, for showing everyone what directing is all about: a tightly controlled vision that nonetheless frees the mind and opens the heart. He also wrote, shot, and edited his film (with his chances at snagging the cinematography prize also quite good). He spearheaded the transformation of a weed-choked parking lot into a bustling Mexico City avenuecirca early ‘70s, and coaxed an indelible lead performance out of a primary school teacher. He did everything but run the concession stand.
A Star Is Born
And so we come to the ultimate nail-biter of them all: best picture. Will Roma make it a clean sweep and make history as the first foreign language film to win best picture? Or will naysayers that decry the business model-disrupting shenanigans of Netflix (like Steven Spielberg) scuttle its chances? Will Green Book ride a wave of audience-pleasing goodwill (especially among older, white voters), or will the Academy membership anoint something more forward-looking like Black Panther to advance the cause of racial equality (and satisfy the mandate to reward more popular movies)? Here goes:
WILL WIN: BlacKkKlansman, as a nod to the zeitgeist. It’s not an accident in this American moment of rising white nationalism that three of the best picture nominees tackle questions of racial identity and racial tension. Of the three, Green Book has a problematic, retrograde thesis, which makes it an iffy option.Meanwhile, Black Panther’s lack of nominations in the above-the-line categories makes it a shaky choice. (Except it to pick up a few craft category wins, though.)
COULD WIN: The experts say Roma, and its status as a favorite is exactly the reason why it’s ripe for an upset. That said, if no upsets happen on Oscar night and Oscar doesn’t spread the wealth, this award will go to Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-
SHOULD WIN: Anybody who’s seen me blubbering at the local wide-screen premiere of Roma knows where my loyalties lie.
Banner photo from Focus Features LLC, Carlos Somonte, and Universal Studios.