If critics could influence the outcome of Sunday’s Oscar ceremony with the same precision that pundits predict it, two major possibilities would remain unchanged: “Roma” wins Best Picture, and Alfonso Cuarón takes Best Director. After that, the stories get a whole lot different.
According to the 41 critics who voted in IndieWire’s annual survey of which films deserve Oscars and Independent Spirit Awards, the gulf between who will win and who should has never been greater — but the Spirit Awards nominees are all really worthwhile.
The results in the Oscar categories should come as no surprise during one of the most wide-open awards seasons in recent memory. But it also points to a key distinction between critical favorites and Oscar darlings, which are subject to change. While the narratives around various categories have shifted many times over in the past few months, critics don’t work like that.
Photo by Carlos Somonte
“Roma” was celebrated right out of the gate, topping IndieWire’s annual critics survey and many others. But the results of the latest poll show that one beloved movie only speaks to a fragment of the many highlights among this year’s nominees that critics have appreciated. In several major categories, the results differ greatly from conventional wisdom about the frontrunners.
Viewed as a whole, the survey provides a map to which Oscar-nominated movies resonate most with critics. Critics were also asked to select the worthiest titles from the top categories at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on the contenders from both awards shows, these picks should provide a handy guide to the best bets for weekend viewers.
Critics agree that Best Supporting Actress frontrunner Regina King deserves that status for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” However, three out of the four Oscar performance categories deviate from the consensus choices among pundits predicting the likely outcomes.
Rami Malek’s transformation into Freddie Mercury may have guaranteed him an Oscar for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but critics were far more keen on another musical performance, Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine in “A Star Is Born,” for Best Actor. Likewise, Glenn Close has been a safe bet for Best Actress in “The Wife” over the last several months — but, like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the movie hasn’t exactly been a critical hit.
Instead, the survey shows more enthusiasm for Olivia Colman as the domineering queen of “The Favourite.” And while pundits are confident that Mahershala Ali remains so treasured that his “Green Book” win for Best Supporting Actor is secure, far more critics voted for Richard E. Grant as the hard-drinking street urchin of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
That movie also garnered top support for Best Adapted Screenplay, beating out frontrunner Spike Lee and his “BlacKkKlansman” script. Meanwhile, Best Original Screenplay reflects the sheer complexity of that category, as soft frontrunner “The Favourite” tied with dark horse “First Reformed.”
Of course, the Best Picture race isn’t the only opportunity to single out movies in their entirety, as both the Best Foreign-Language Film category and the Best Documentary category provide some alternatives. While critics agree that “Roma” should win in many of the categories where it’s predicted to do just that, they’d prefer to see the Academy spread the love for Best Foreign-Language Film, as “Cold War” received more support in that category. The Best Documentary race has seen “Free Solo” as a frontrunner ever since “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was snubbed, but more critics would like to see Bing Liu’s personal, multi-year essay film “Minding the Gap” take the top prize.
Other notable digressions from Oscar predictions can be found throughout the below-the-line contenders, including support for “First Man” over “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the sound categories and a surge of support for imaginative Swedish fantasy-romance “Border” in Best Makeup and Hairstyling. “First Man” also found plenty of support for Best Visual Effects, coming out far ahead of popular blockbusters “Ready Player One” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
As for the Spirit Awards: Well, it’s a close call. While Oscar nominations tend to showcase a blend of critical favorites and commercial hits they despise — looking at you, “Roma” versus “Bohemian Rhapsody” — the handpicked nominees for the Spirit Awards tend to resonate more widely with critics across the board.
For Best Feature, Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” has a slight edge over “Eighth Grade,” beating out Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age crowdpleaser by a single vote. The Best Director category is a tie between two Oscar shutouts, with “Leave No Trace” director Debra Granik and “You Were Never Really Here” director Lynne Ramsay receiving the same number of votes. Finally, the Spirits’ Cassavetes Award category singles out movies made for under $500,000, which naturally separates them from even the cheapest Oscar contenders in this year’s race.
While fewer critics chose to vote in this category, perhaps illustrating the lower number of them who have seen the movies in contention, a popular favorite did prevail: Jim Cummings’ bittersweet “Thunder Road,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW and went on to find success in a DIY self-distribution play, topped the category.
Of course, while the Oscars may only award a handful of people on Sunday, critics have many different opinions. Head to the next page to browse the full list of finalists on every category, followed by a list of all critics who participated in this year’s survey.