91st Academy Awards: Quickly Scribbled Thoughts

1) The first thing I did, before I even began making predictions or thinking about how things might go, is check to see if any of these movies out for Best Picture had 11/2 odds. I speak, of course, of the 15% rule that The Ringer’s Kevin Clark frequently refers back to, which proclaims that any event which has a 15% chance of happening (i.e., the election of Donald Trump to the presidency) is basically fated to come true. None of the major categories have those odds, so I’m going to make recourse to my gut.

2) I am glad about the following things: Bradley Cooper’s failure to get Best Director, Peter Farrelly’s failure to get Best Director, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Best Director nomination, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs‘ Adapted Screenplay nomination, Adam Driver’s Supporting Actor nomination, ten nomnations each for The Favourite and Roma, Nicholas Britell’s nomination for Best Score for his masterful If Beale Street Could Talk, Yalitza Aparicio’s nomination for Best Actress, Spike Lee’s nomination for Best Director.

3) I am not glad or just confused by the following things: almost the entire Editing category, Ethan Hawke’s failure to pick up a nomination for First Reformed, an eight-deep Best Picture field that somehow managed to exclude, among other deserving movies, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You, and First Reformed, no Barry Jenkins for Director and no Cinematography nod for James Laxton, a creeping influx of non-Anglophone pictures in multiple categories. I know what I just said up there, but also these are award for American and Commonwealth movies, and every time Caleb Deschanel gets a nomination for a German movie it only calls attention to the way the Oscars’ blind spot for international movies. I don’t really care one way or another, but like, if we’re really taking international movies into account then why didn’t The Seven Samurai sweep the Oscars when it was up for awards alongside Around the World in 80 Days? Cold War has two high-profile nominations outside Foreign Language film, but can’t sniff Best Picture? It’s just inconsistent.

4) To my fellow woke friends: I have a funny feeling that the Green Book controversy is going to iron itself out as another Oscar for Mahershala Ali and nothing else. This is the Internet whipping itself into a fervor that I think the Academy will basically ignore en route to depositing awards to other movies. Last year, Martin McDonagh didn’t get a Best Director nod for Three Billboards, and that was pretty much the ball game for his movie, which would have been bad even without the casual racism. This year, Peter Farrelly didn’t get a Best Director nod, and I think that’s going to be the ball game for his movie in much the same way. People have learned to separate actors (Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, probably Mahershala Ali) from the films; no one wants to separate the director from the film because of Cahiers du cinema and Andrew Sarris, probably.

5) Since the 80th Academy Awards (for movies in 2007), the average Best Picture winner has come away with wins in a historically low percentage of its nominations. The average Best Picture winner has won just 46% of its nods in the past decade, In the past five, that number is somehow even lower, as just 36% of Best Picture winners’ nominations become wins. We’re either due for a Roman triumph or I think we can expect another Best Picture with no more than three wins in other categories. The latter seems more likely to me, especially with an Academy that is a record size. Is it possible for a movie like The Favourite to walk away with nothing more than Production Design and Costume Design before racking up Best Picture? Movies with a lot of acting nominations tend to fare worse in the percentages game, after all, especially when people are competing against each other. Could BlacKkKlansman only win Adapted Screenplay and then snare the big prize? (If that sounds familiar, it’s because Spotlight did almost the same thing for 2015, though their win was for Original Screenplay.) The Roman triumph scenario, heh heh, is most favorable to Roma. It would not surprise me if they came away with as many as eight wins, with only the acting nominations left out. The last movie to get 80% or better at the Oscars was Slumdog Millionaire, and while I sort of doubt they’ll do that well, I just think the floor is higher for Roma than it is for any of its competitors for Best Picture.

6) Everyone thought the preferential ballot might come into play last year, so much so that it was a popular take to talk about how Dunkirk might be able to win simply because it was the least offensive movie of the bunch. It turned out that no matter how often the Internet said “fish sex,” it didn’t really matter to the voters in the end, and The Shape of Water won. It’s with great trepidation that I say this year is really the one where the preferential ballot may actually make the difference. Maybe Green Book or Roma or The Favourite or, heck, A Star Is Born has the most #1 ballots. What I’m saying here is that I’m talking myself into BlacKkKlansman, which has some not insignificant appeal with its good-sized cast, accessible story, and name-brand director, and which may be in the top half of enough ballots to squeak through. If BlacKkKlansman takes Editing, where the competition is hardly insuperable (no Roma, yes Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody), I’m going to start believing they’ll win it all on Oscar night.

Actually, who am I kidding, A Star Is Born is going to win just like we all guessed it would in October. So what if it got…eight nominations, which is more than any movie not called RomaThe Favourite, or Vice. So what if it got a Cinematography nod, which six of the last ten Best Picture winners got? It didn’t get a Best Director nod, which I admit doesn’t help its chances, but in the past six years, four Best Picture winners didn’t win Best Director. (For what it’s worth, I no longer think it’s the kiss of death not to get a Best Director nomination after I got burned by Argo.) So no, it’s not ideal circumstances, but it’s not like its odds are as bad as Bohemian Rhapsody holds. I think there are some craft guilds left to go through, but leave A Star Is Born for dead at your peril. (I already get the sense that The Favourite is being left out of the conversation a little prematurely as well. Remember that a big cast can go a long way: after all, it’s the way How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane.)

7) I think this is a year where the Academy makes up for the wrongs it’s done to people in the past. Maybe Alfonso Cuaron and Olivia Colman and Lady Gaga are better bets right now, but I just have a feeling about Spike Lee and Glenn Close. Close might win this outright now that the Gaga momentum has died down a touch, but Director in particular just has too many cooks, and it could be very easy for those folks to split their votes. The only person who I’d be surprised to see win is Adam McKay.

8) Will it matter that Best Director has been especially friendly to non-American directors in the past ten years or so? Will it matter that Lee and McKay are the only two Americans in that field to the largely American and British voting body? I wouldn’t be surprised either way, honestly. The last person to win Best Director who is only an American citizen is Kathryn Bigelow, who won for 2009. (Damien Chazelle has French citizenship, too, though no one thinks he’s a French director.) Cuaron probably should win, I adore Lanthimos and Pawlikowski…I’m really rooting for Lee, though. I have set hopes on him.

9) Since 2013, at least one movie has gone winless despite having at least five nominations: in order, American Hustle (10), Foxcatcher (5), The Martian (7), Lion (6), Lady Bird (5). My guess is that the movie with the most nominations to go winless is Black Panther, which got seven and which probably isn’t the favorite in any of them. If First ManRoma, and The Favourite walk away with the sound and design categories, it’s going to be an early night for Black Panther. Keep an eye out for Vice and its eight nominations, too. I think Bale and Makeup are locks, but, uh, Mary Queen of Scots has a 15% chance for the latter, and who knows if Bradley Cooper won’t rack up some points.

10) I have no clue what’s going to happen in the Animated Feature category. You have the Pixar standby (The Incredibles 2), the super-fun, super-popular superhero flick (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), and Wes Anderson indulging his stop-motion cravings again (Isle of Dogs). Mirai is itself a very well-liked movie, and Ralph Breaks the Internet is the movie that I expect these Academy members have watched with their kids most recently. Spider-Verse is in the lead on Gold Derby, and it’s the one I think was the best of the bunch, and you should read my first sentence of this section again.

11) “Bonus thought.” A few days late on this, but I have nowhere else to put it. A few months ago I celebrated the end of my Better than the Oscars series with a long conversation where we talked about many things, but which is also the spot where I unveiled my plan for four “Outstanding Performance” Academy Awards to replace the old-fashioned and frankly meh system we have now, which is based on sex and the politics of what “supporting” actually means. Based on the twenty people nominated, my ballot gives awards, in no particular order, to Yalitza Aparicio, Olivia Colman, Adam Driver, and Glenn Close. It means we get some justice for Glenn Close, though we are still well short of justice for Ethan Hawke.

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