This year it looks like the Oscars will be well-positioned to function without a host, as the popular movies could be the real draw. Two specialty films scored the most Oscar nominations, but they are competing with more mainstream fare.
Landing ten nominations is Participant Media’s “Roma,” from “Gravity” Best Director-winner Alfonso Cuaron. The black-and-white 65mm Mexican Oscar entry, which earned raves from critics and audiences at festivals and arthouses around the world, marks Netflix’s first Best Picture contender, and has already been viewed in 190 countries worldwide.
Regular awards player Fox Searchlight also scored ten nods for Yorgos Lanthimos’ buzzy New York Film Festival opener “The Favourite,” starring Best Actress contender Olivia Colman as crazy Queen Anne, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the equally fierce ladies of the court who manipulate her.
Oscar perennials Annapurna (“Her,” “American Hustle”) and Plan B (“12 Years a Slave,” “The Big Short”) partnered on the return of writer-director Adam McKay on Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” which scored eight nominations.
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Leading the studio fray with eight nominations is Warner Bros.’ critically-hailed blockbuster “A Star Is Born” ($397 million worldwide), Bradley Cooper’s retelling of the backstage musical starring himself and Best Actress contender Lady Gaga and first-time supporting nominee Sam Elliott. The popular movie peaked too soon, a reminder of the danger of being the early frontrunner. It should take home at least one Oscar, for Best Song “Shallow.”
Two studio entries come from the Universal family: Spike Lee’s Grand Prix-winning Cannes entry and summer hit “BlacKkKlansman” (Focus Features), with six nominations and Peter Farrelly’s true 60s two-hander “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen and Globe, Critics Choice and SAG winner Mahershala Ali, which won the audience award at Toronto, three Golden Globes, and the PGA award. With five nominations, “Green Book” is challenging “Roma” as it rides its awards surge at the box office.
Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” despite a fired director (Bryan Singer”), a lip-syncing Rami Malek as flamboyant rock star Freddie Mercury of Queen, and mediocre reviews (Metascore: 49) is so popular that it scored major Guild nominations and Globe, SAG and BAFTA wins for Malek.
Last year, Patty Jenkins’ DC comic-book movie “Wonder Woman” far exceeded expectations of quality, critical acclaim, and box office, but was shut out of the Oscar race. That didn’t happen with Marvel’s “Black Panther,” which rode the swells of worldwide acclaim and blockbuster status to become a Best Picture Oscar contender. It was always going to be a challenge for Disney to push this Marvel superhero success beyond the technical categories, but Disney hired respected Oscar-pusher Strategy PR to do just that. Their mission: to convince critics, guilds, and Oscar voters that Ryan Coogler’s achievement rises to the level of art.
Landing major nominations requires a perception of gravitas. “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” writer-director Ryan Coogler’s thoughtful screenplay, adapted from the comics with Joe Robert Cole (“American Crime Story”), does just that, rising well beyond the usual Marvel superhero mythology. “Black Panther” raises many questions about the role and responsibility of a rich nation in the world, as well as the ultimate consequences of neglecting and abandoning the less fortunate among us. “Black Panther” is widely considered to be the best Marvel movie ever made. But it’s also something more: It’s historic, crashing Hollywood barriers that should have been shattered decades ago.
Comic-book epics rarely yield major Oscar nominations. Heath Ledger’s posthumous win as Supporting Actor for Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” entry “The Dark Knight” in 2008 was an anomaly; if superhero movies are in the running, it’s usually for VFX and technical nods. They even win some, especially with the original iteration, before it’s a full-fledged franchise (See: the original Dick Donner “Superman,” Tim Burton’s first “Batman,” “Dick Tracy,” “Men in Black,” and “Spider-Man 2”).
At the 2018 Oscars, for example, Fox scored the first-ever Adapted Screenplay nod for a comic-book superhero movie (X-Men spinoff “Logan”) as well as the expected VFX recognition for the latest “Planet of the Apes” installment (Weta Digital). Scoring only technical nods were Lucasfilm (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), Disney (live-action remake “Beauty and the Beast”), and Marvel (blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2″).
Another valid comparison is not to “Wonder Woman,” but to Jordan Peele’s low-budget phenomenon “Get Out” (Blumhouse/Universal), which launched at Sundance 2017 and racked up $255 million worldwide, breaking out of its horror-thriller genre limitations to wind up with four Oscar nominations including Picture, Director, Original Screenplay (which won), and Actor (Daniel Kaluuya).
“Black Panther” earned top reviews (Metascore: 87) and like “Wonder Woman,” it was the first of its kind, with huge pent-up demand across the globe. Adjusted for inflation, “Black Panther” sold more tickets in North America than the first iterations of “Spider-Man,” “Batman” and “Wonder Woman.” The movie grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide, one of the top 10 box office performers of all time. And scored seven mainly craft nominations, becoming the first Marvel and superhero movie to earn a Best Picture nomination.
Contenders are listed in order of their likelihood to win.
“Roma” (Alfonso Cuaron)
“Green Book” (Peter Farrelly)
“Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler)
“BlacKkKlansman” (Spike Lee)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Bryan Singer)
“The Favourite” (Yorgos Lanthimos)
“Vice” (Adam McKay)
“A Star is Born” (Bradley Cooper)