Once again, the mysterious consensus-accretion of awards season has done its work and the Oscar nomination list has a big showing for Alfonso Cuarón’s magnificent Roma, with 10 nominations — and, notably, just as big a score for critics’ darling and perennial talking point Yorgos Lanthimos’s bizarre Restoration comedy The Favourite. This also has 10 nominations, including of course a best actress nomination for Olivia Colman, who this year has become (justly) catapulted to international treasure status. (An upgrade from national to international treasure status might also be due for Richard E Grant, who has a best supporting actor nomination for his venal Brit boozehound in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) These are the prestige products, the blue-chip movies that the Academy hivemind has decided are the headline successes.
As for the snubs, complaining about these has evolved to such an extent in recent years that they have become the pundits’ alternative refusenik fantasy league. But the lack of women directors in the best picture and best director lists is woeful, at least partly because they exclude one of the very best films: Debra Granik’s superb Leave No Trace. There is also the exclusion of Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, her excellent variation on the Taxi Driver theme starring Joaquin Phoenix. Barry Jenkins’s fine If Beale Street Could Talk has been largely overlooked, although I am confident that Regina King will win best supporting actress for her delicate, intelligently judged performance in that movie. Nicole Kidman deserved a shot at an Oscar for her very interesting performance in Destroyer, and Steve McQueen’s terrific thriller Widows is turning into this awards season’s Cinderella, bafflingly excluded from ball after ball. The biggest and most deplorable snub was however that Ari Aster’s brilliant scary movie Hereditary received nothing: with a lead performance from the wonderful Toni Collette which could go toe-to-toe with any of the current contenders.
Bubbling under the big two are the more middleweight/commercial contenders: eight nominations for Adam McKay’s flashy satire Vice, with its entertaining latexed turn from Christian Bale as Bush-era vice-president Dick Cheney. Eight nominations also for Bradley Cooper’s terrific new sugar-rush version of A Star Is Born, which I continue to think is one of the very best films of the year, despite some medium-sized reservations raised elsewhere; more of a sidelash than a backlash. But I should now concede a minor fault in this film which I should have spotted from the beginning. It is of course — I admit it — highly implausible that Lady Gaga’s character should be so against taking pictures of celebs on mobile phones; in the real world, an ambitious singer-songwriter like her would be selfie-ing, Instagramming, SoundClouding etc non-stop.
Just behind with seven nods, Marvel makes its Academy Awards debut with the highly entertaining Afro-futurist extravaganza Black Panther: an entirely justified nomination for an excellent film which has demonstrated extraordinary popularity and resounding box-office clout.
There’s five for Green Book, the true-ish story of African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) being ferried around in the 60s by a “goombah” Italian-American white driver (Viggo Mortensen). The liberal white/black balance narrative has not found universal favour, Don Shirley’s surviving relatives have complained about inaccuracies contrived, evidently, in the services of this fifty-fifty approach, and nominee Ali was reported to have remarked: “I did the best I could with the material I had” — which has to be the most self-deprecating personal publicity campaign in the history of the Academy awards.
Hilariously, the Freddie Mercury feelgood biopic Bohemian Rhapsody continues on its triumphal progress with five nods, including one for its undeniably impressive turn from Rami Malek – and very much none for its disgraced credited director Bryan Singer, who unrepentantly posted a “thank you” message on Instagram after its Golden Globes success in which he, again, did not personally participate. There is an excellent chance of Bohemian Rhapsody converting some of these nominations into wins and indeed of Singer embarrassing the industry again with another pointed thankbrag on social media.
And what of the wunderkind Damien Chazelle? His First Man, a very stirring, if conservative account of Neil Armstrong and the moon landing, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, has picked up four nominations, but is not predicted to trouble the scorer much, or at all, on the night. There’s no doubt about it: First Man somehow hasn’t got the momentum. Can this really be because of a dirty-tricks social media campaign to signal-boost Republican complaints about Chazelle failing to show the American flag being planted on the moon? Stranger things have happened.
The best actor race is anyone’s guess. Almost any of the contenders could win: and it could even be Willem Dafoe’s year for his straightforwardly earnest portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate. Christian Bale could pinch it for his Dick Cheney, perhaps because the Hollywood establishment is nostalgically/masochistically yearning for a rightwing Republican bad guy of the pre-Trump old school. Bradley Cooper is great in A Star Is Born. Only snobs deny it.
As for lead actress, this has to be Glenn Close’s year. Her performance, in The Wife, as the enigmatically reserved wife of the conceited Saul Bellow-style Nobel laureate novelist is a high-IQ treat. But every one of the other nominees (including Colman, Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio, Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born and most interestingly the outstanding Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is entirely plausible.
Elsewhere, the director’s list is interesting. Spike Lee actually makes his debut as a director for BlacKkKlansman (his 1990 nomination for Do the Right Thing was as a screenwriter). Lee is an extremely popular nominee and he could well win this category, despite the heavy-hitter competition from Paweł Pawlikowski, Cuarón, McKay and Lanthimos.
The nearest thing to a shoo-in of this Oscar season, apart from Regina King, has to be Free Solo in the documentary list, a gasp-inducing study of Alex Honnold who climbs terrifyingly high rock faces without a rope. It is, however, disappointing that Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers didn’t make it on to this list, or indeed Peter Jackson’s marvellous first world war film They Shall Not Grow Old. Also, many will have been hoping that Joe Pearlman and David Soutar’s Bros: After the Screaming Stops might have got a nomination. If that had won, the Goss brothers could have got up on the Oscar stage and sentimentally demonstrated their boyhood “dart-throwing” game.
The other clear shoo-in is Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for animation — a film which is witty, freaky and mind-bending and probably the best superhero film of all time.
An intriguing, and wide-open Oscar race.