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BRAND NEW YEAR, same old stuff. As the entertainment industry gears up for the biggest night on its calendar – the 91st Academy Awards ceremony takes place on Feb 24 – there’s no escaping the fact that controversy, not just celebration, will be part of the programme.
Not to downplay the significance of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements against sexual misconduct that dominated the conversation at the 2018 Oscars – the consequences are still reverberating in Hollywood and beyond – but ‘fresh’ controversy is always the fuel that powers a 24-hour news cycle.
The movie industry attracts more than its fair share of high-profile causes (#OscarsSoWhite and #FemaleFilmmakerFriday are just a couple), but the focus this year is on the no-host status of the show or more precisely, how it ended up that way. In early December, comedian Kevin Hart was announced to be emcee, but he lasted all of three days before resigning from the gig after homophobic tweets from a decade ago came back to haunt him. Even a belated apology and a display of contrition on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show couldn’t save him. “I’m wrong for my words, I know that,” he said, while also accusing online trolls of trying to destroy his celebrity.
It’s been 30 years since the awards were host-free, and we can only pray that there won’t be a repeat of the disastrous musical number that opened the show in 1989 (when Snow White went on a blind date with Rob Lowe). A similar opening sequence isn’t on the cards this year but in its annual attempt to keep ratings from declining, the Academy initially proposed a Best Popular Film category (which was eventually scrapped), then vowed (once again) to restrict the show’s length to three hours. Avoiding a monumental botch-up when the winners are announced will also be a priority – we won’t soon forget the cringe-worthy moment in 2017 when La La Land was mistakenly declared Best Picture instead of actual winner Moonlight. Anything can happen when it’s a live show and in Oscar’s case, Murphy’s Law usually applies.
Expect topical jokes, breathless acceptance speeches and glamour to burn but barring a technical glitch or distraction along the lines of, say, an inappropriate message from habitual TV viewer and the country’s Tweeter-in-Chief, the spotlight should fall squarely on the shoulders of the nominees.
There will be deserving winners and perhaps even a surprise or two before the night is over. When it comes to the race for Oscar glory, there’s no substitute for hard work and a memorable performance, but a role as a member of British royalty doesn’t hurt either – just ask Colin Firth and Helen Mirren. This year’s candidate is Olivia Colman as a somewhat batty Queen Anne in The Favourite, a deliciously wicked period comedy with 10 nominations (including Supporting Actress nods for Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone). Naturally, it’s one of the, um, favourites for Best Picture.
Colman’s wonderful performance probably won’t win her the award for Best Actress. The prohibitive favourite is Glenn Close, a six-time nominee and perpetual bridesmaid whose quietly powerful performance as the spouse of a Nobel Prize winner in The Wife should finally bring Oscar joy – in her case, the seventh time’s the charm. Close has already picked up best actress awards at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors Guild, so a win appears to be a mere formality. Hers is the lone nomination for The Wife and the battle for the big prize – Best Picture – will be between The Favourite (which has won a slew of awards), Green Book (which won a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy) and Roma, director Alfonso Cuaron’s evocative and intensely personal portrait of a domestic worker in a Mexico City neighbourhood in the early-1970s.
Roma, an intimate tale with epic sweep, depicts the life and times of Cleo (played by newcomer and Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio), an indigenous Mixtec woman who works as a nanny for a middle-class family. Filmed in black and white with dialogue in Spanish and Mixtec, Roma is based on Cuaron’s childhood and features a number of the director’s signature long takes (remember the breath-taking opening scene in Gravity?). Roma is also nominated in the Best Foreign Film category and notable for being the first Oscar contender to be distributed by streaming service Netflix, making it a game-changer in more ways than one.
Roma and Cuaron are the clear frontrunners in the big-ticket categories (including Best Director), but there is a decent chance that some of the other Best Picture contenders will walk away from the evening with a consolation prize or two. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, based on the true story of a black cop and his partner who infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, successfully treads the line between drama and comedy. The film features fine performances from Adam Driver and John David Washington, and stands to come out on top in the Adapted Screenplay category.
Mahershala Ali is heavily favoured to pick up another Best Supporting Actor statue (he won for Moonlight in 2017) for his role as pianist Don Shirley in the thoroughly engaging road trip movie Green Book, while The Favourite (Original Screenplay), A Star is Born (Original Song) and Black Panther (Visual Effects) could triumph in other categories.
Best Actor promises to be a straight fight between Rami Malek (in Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody) and Christian Bale (for political drama Vice). Bale’s portrayal of US Vice-President Dick Cheney impressed the critics, but Malek cleaned up during awards season. Gary Oldman proved last year (in Darkest Hour) that inhabiting a real-life character to the point of being completely unrecognisable (as Bale did in Vice) could reap the ultimate reward. Malek, however, has the momentum.
Finally, spare a thought for Bradley Cooper, nominated in the Best Actor category but surprisingly snubbed by the Academy for directing honours. The first-time director brought a fresh perspective to A Star is Born – a story that has been told multiple times on film – but getting Lady Gaga to deliver one of the more remarkable dramatic performances of the year was perhaps the greater achievement. And now, the envelopes please…
A Star is Born
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)
Winner: Rami Malek
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Winner: Glenn Close
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliot (A Star is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)
Winner: Mahershala Ali
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
Winner: Regina King
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Winner: Alfonso Cuaron
- Foreign Language Film: Roma
- Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Original Screenplay: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara (The Favourite)
- Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
- Documentary Feature: RBG
- Original Score: Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman)
- Original Song: Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (“Shallow”)
READ MORE: Much ado about the Oscars