This year’s Oscar column previews the Academy Awards held on Sunday, February 24.
What is the Best Picture at the Oscars? How do you choose such an award? The technical answer is that members of the Academy vote for it. I see it a bit differently, however; I see the Best Picture as the sum total of all the other awards: Director, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Screenwriting, etc. The film that bests in the most categories is the Best Picture. Nobody asks me, however, so the Academy votes will prevail once again this year. This year’s group of films is quite eclectic: a big-budget superhero film, a throwback to Classic Hollywood Cinema, a stylized political film, a masterful epic, and the weird. At press time, the nominees had not yet been announced, so I give you my list of probables. There is no clear favorite this year, and the chance for surprises has never been higher. I might even watch.
A Star is Born
There are two stars born here: Lady Gaga as an actress and Bradley Cooper as a true superstar. He writes, directs, acts, sings and plays music, and commands the screen as if he were straight out of Classic Hollywood Cinema. While Lady Gaga is getting all of the buzz, it is Cooper who is the heartbeat of the film. He directs with simplicity and honesty, and he doesn’t try to be flashy or stylized. He keeps the film focused on the story and the players. It is easily the most moving and emotional film of the bunch, and I see multiple Oscars on the night. This is the kind of film the Academy rewards.
Imagine the pitch: “I would like to make a film about Dick Cheney, with Christian Bale starring.” I can see the studio executives bellowing with laughter. The stylized approach to the film works well, however, given the material: the jump cuts, the elliptical and disjunctive editing, and the laser focus on Bale’s ridiculous performance as Cheney makes for a stunning ensemble. It is captivating and enthralling—both the material and the presentation. Director Adam McKay works magic and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney is stunning—as always. I see Bale taking the Best Actor Award for this one.
Weird. If you’ve never seen a film from director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster,) then this film may seem quite bizarre; if you have, then it may seem quite tame in comparison. The moniker is quite apt: Lanthimos is part of a movement called “The Greek Weird Wave,” a group of current Greek filmmakers whose films are dark, disturbing, strange, and dripping with black humor. This film is all of those things along with gorgeous cinematography, sharp performances from Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Wiesz—and a wacky story that keeps you on your toes. The film may be an acquired taste, but such tastes usually soothe the palate like no other.
This is more than just a cultural phenomenon; it is a very good film, with excellent production values, writing, cinematography, editing, sound, directing, and more than anything, fantastic performances. Even if you are not a fan of the Marvel Universe or superheroes, this film is irresistible and magnetic. This is my surprise pick.
This is one of the most beautiful, epic masterpieces I’ve seen in a long time. Director Alfonso Cuarón also wrote, shot, and edited this story of a family and its maid in early 1970s Mexico. With its brilliant black and white cinematography, subtitles, and a run time well over two hours, it is doubtful the Academy will have this at the top of their list. But it should. If nothing else, it will win the Best Foreign Language Film. Look for a more detailed review next month.
I wrote about this film in the November issue: it is poetic, close, tough, and resilient. I found the narrow focus of the film refreshing and anxious—the style, acting, and direction are all so wonderfully in sync that we forget we know the ending!
I wrote about this film in the January issue: it is Spike Lee’s best film in years, matching the spirit of his earlier films. It is stylized, punishing, and important. It puts together the best of filmmaking: set design, cinematography, editing, sound, writing, acting, and directing.
I include this film on the list because so many others have. Because of its popularity and the wonderful performance from Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury, it will almost certainly delight the Academy.
Other possibles: Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Crazy Rich Asians.
What will win: A Star is Born
What should win: Roma
Best Actor: Christian Bale
Best Actress: Lady Gaga
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.