Picking Winners at the 91st Annual Academy Awards

The 90th Annual Academy Awards hits airwaves Sunday, February 24th, 2019 at 8:00pm on ABC.

For those handicapping at home, here are the guesses of Buffalo film fanatics Christopher Schobert, William Altreuter, and myself.


Jared Mobarak:

It’s the type of year where hashtags rhetoric simply won’t work. There’s just not one all encapsulating buzzword to touch upon the myriad problems these nominations face.

What do you do when you have a film up for Best Picture that was directed by a known presumed sexual predator who was fired for not showing up on set and all but removed from the conversation before a blockbuster exposé was released by The Atlantic? What do you do when you pair it with a film that praises a racist for not being racist enough to abhor and in turn glosses over systemic racism to allow audience members to feel good about the fact they only call people by racial epithets in their head rather than out loud? And then there’s still a cartoonish farce turning the real life characters it’s supposedly skewering into vessels for knee-slapping comedy because it’s better to laugh than cry before implicating its audience as the real monsters in a mid-credit sequence? Even worse: none of them are good movies.

So how are we supposed to accept these projects when we could have had ten better films nominated that were directed by women alone (all shut-out yet again)? What about the three-dimensional works from unproblematic men that blow those two-dimensional abominations out of the water too? Add The Academy’s decision to present craft categories during commercials and avoiding musical numbers not sung by Lady Gaga and you can help wondering if some memo went out to voters about ignoring artistry for mainstream appeal. (Both of these “time-saving” decisions have since been reversed.)

The 2019 Oscars appear poised to target those who could care less about the ceremony while alienating those who love it. I’m not certain what will happen (remember there’s also no host after the Kevin Hart controversy, something we haven’t seen since Rob Lowe’s infamous debacle), but things don’t look good. And with a wide open field courtesy of the parity in guild winners, the worst hasn’t been ruled out.

My guess to why we’re here? The new-look Academy is caught in transition. I wonder if all those new members meant to spice things up and bring the group into the twenty-first century have simply split their votes on so many great titles that consensus on more than five proved impossible. So in swoops the old guard who jumped on the rock n’ roll biopic, gentrified racism, and grossly misguided liberal agenda like they would have thirty years ago. There might be less aging voters, but they’re all sadly on the same page.

Christopher Schobert:

Not too ruin the party, but I find myself caring very little about anything related to this year’s Academy Awards. The host controversy, the to-air-or-not-to-air decisions, the ignorance of some truly great films and performances … It’s enough to make one skip it altogether.

Will I be skipping? Probably not. But I should.

William Altreuter:

The Oscars are a two-headed beast: come for the television show, stay for the awards. The thing is, the TV show is, on its best day, exhausting; and it is typically not even that good. At least with the Super Bowl there are commercials to look forward to. Add to that the reality that the awards themselves are not merely subjective; they are actually the Academy puffing itself up over a perceived notion of quality that is frequently difficult for us, those wonderful people out there in the dark, to understand or relate to. That’s part of the fun, I guess—who doesn’t want to spend the next morning talking about how La La Land was robbed? It’s just that in recent years there seems to be a greater disconnect between what the Academy thinks is good and what audiences actually go out to see. This can make for compelling live television, or it can make for annoying proposals like, “Let’s make a special category so that Black Panther will win.”

Will I be skipping it? Hell no, I’m actually going to renew my cable to watch it.


Jared Mobarak:

I don’t think anyone guessed Marina de Tavira would be on this list. Talk about a dark horse. That’s not to say she doesn’t deserve the slot because she is great in Roma, but Yalitza Aparicio became the face of that film early and no one was making room for her costars. My initial feeling was that she had no chance here, but Roma is coming on strong and there’s always that chance people look to have it run the table.

Who did she supplant? In my mind Elizabeth Debicki in Widows has been disrespected all awards season. Then there’s Sakura Andô from Shoplifters, Margot Robbie from Mary Queen of Scots, and Claire Foy in First Man. Some outside the box thinking would even say Tilda Swinton earned at least a mention. She did play three characters in Suspiria after all.

Either way, I will give de Tavira the edge on previous Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Not only is this a bit of category fraud (they are more co-leads in The Favourite with Olivia Colman serving as support), but they have a good shot at splitting the votes. I’m simply shocked everyone is labeling Stone as the better of the two since I thought Weisz was the best part of the film regardless of merely acting.

So save the Roma run, this is down to Amy Adams and Regina King. I still think the latter will take the crown (she holds my personal top spot in the category for 2018), but I don’t think it’s quite the slam dunk it used to be. If Beale Street Could Talk missing out on that Best Picture nomination is a definite reason to give pause. Couple that with Adams’ coming into the night 0-5 with nominations and some voters may believe she’s “due.” That it would be for Vice is tragic, but she is good in it. Hopefully cooler heads prevail and King receives what’s hers.

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, you are so right about Debicki and Foy—they should be here. I think there is enough respect and love for Regina King’s performance to win this one. Amy Adams is perennially wonderful, but I barely recall that she was in Vice, let along a standout.

William Altreuter:

Adams was so good in Vice that I kept having to remind myself that I hate Lynne Cheney, but we already know that she’s great. I think both she and Emma Stone have outgrown this award. I give it to Marina de Tavira for the sort of performance that Supporting Actor in a Female Role (or whatever it’s called) was designed for.


Jared Mobarak:

This category is stacked to the point of my being able to rattle off at least five other worthy performances to shake things up. Look at Russell Hornsby in The Hate U Give. Look at Steven Yeun in Burning, Robert Forster in What They Had, Jake Gyllenhaal in Wildlife, and Matthew McConaughey in White Boy Rick. I could go on.

That Sam Rockwell got in above these five for a caricature of George W. Bush in Vice is therefore unconscionable. It blows my mind especially since he’s coming off a win in the category. Here’s hoping he doesn’t pull a Christoph Waltz and pick up the statue two years in a row.

I don’t think Adam Driver has a shot and frankly I’m almost as surprised he’s here too. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t think BlacKkKlansman’s acting was necessarily a high watermark. It’s good and everyone is entertaining, but the subject matter itself is where I was drawn in.

Sadly I don’t think Richard E. Grant has a chance either. This one hurts because he’s magnificent in Can You Ever Forgive Me? It’s lack of more than Best Actress and Screenplay to complement his nod unfortunately reveals a major lack of traction. I’m rooting for him, though.

So I put it to Sam Elliott and Mahershala Ali. The former is a sentimental vote with his first nomination ever, but it’s the type of small yet potent performance that has won before without the “career win” designation atop it. This might also be A Star Is Born’s one shot at a “big” win. Is that enough to stop the Green Book train? Doubtful. Especially since Ali is that film’s sole legitimate bright spot. He deserves a victory if it happens and how great would it be if he finally calls out the film’s glaring blind spots in the process since his campaigning for it would have officially ended?

Christopher Schobert:

I have to differ when it comes to the top two. I’d say Ali and Grant are actually neck-and-neck. Grant’s post-nomination tour has been an utter delight, and he deserves to win. Will he, though? I don’t think so. Mahershala Ali is the best thing about the utterly ho-hum Green Book, and will prove victorious.

William Altreuter:

Rockwell’s performance was a stunt. It was a well-executed stunt, but not the sort of stunt that wins prizes. Playing the second worst American President of the 21st Century is not the same thing as Rain Man, although I suppose there are some superficial similarities.

Green Book is the sort of movie that might have scooped up some prizes in the early, guilt-ridden 70’s, but my sense is that commentaries on American race relations have moved on, thanks in no small part to Spike Lee’s work. That’s why I like Adam Driver here. A win by Driver validates Spike’s work, but keeps him at arm’s length a bit, which is where I suspect the Academy is most comfortable.

Supporting Actor isn’t where A Star is Born will plant its flag—that’s always about the two leads. I had to look up who had the part in the first three. (Gary Busey, Jack Carson and Adolphe Menjou. Also, did you know that Dorothy Parker wrote the screenplay for the 1937 version?)


Jared Mobarak:

This category is an abundance of riches too and always was going to be no matter who made the cut. The weakest nominee of the bunch is Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born and there’s many people who believe she’ll win. That’s a crazy level of talent.

Personally I would have gone with Carey Mulligan in Wildlife, Nicole Kidman in Destroyer, Toni Collette in Hereditary, Regina Hall in Support the Girls, Kathryn Hahn in Private Life, or Rosamund Pike in A Private War. And that’s just to start. I do get the appeal of Gaga, though. She’s very good in the second half of her film and shows promise in the beginning (although that meme of her turning around didn’t help anything since it’s probably her worst acted scene of the whole). Could she win in the future? Sure. She shouldn’t win now.

I don’t think Olivia Colman or Melissa McCarthy will either. The former’s nomination was the goal. Isolating her as the least recognizable face in The Favourite was the studio’s best chance of getting all three of its stars a nod. And now she gets to put this on her resume to become a household name moving forward (“The Crown” should help). The latter’s nomination was perhaps the surprise of the category. She’s top five of the year for me, but I think a lot of people had her missing out. It’s a shame because Can You Ever Forgive Me? truly allowed her the chance to show what she’s got. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see her back in the future and maybe even exit with a victory.

So it’s down to newcomer versus veteran. Does Roma run the table and vault Yalitza Aparicio over the top or does Glenn Close finally get her due with an unforgettable performance in The Wife? It’s a coin toss for me, but I give Close the edge.

Christopher Schobert:

Can’t disagree with your reasoning here. I was hugely unimpressed with all elements of The Wife except for Close’s performance. I don’t think she gave the year’s finest female performance. But she did give a strong one, and the “she’s due” narrative is strong.

William Altreuter:

Melissa McCarthy demonstrated range, which is impressive. It’ll take a few more movies before the Academy respects that. I agree that in a field like this Yalitza Aparicio’s performance is going to be ignored—this is, in a turn of phrase I detest, a situation where the nomination is the award.

But why quibble about the others? This comes down to Lady Gaga and Glenn Close. Although A Star is Born is exactly the sort of movie the Academy loves: a big show biz romance, tinged with sadness. Two out of the three leading ladies in the earlier versions went home with prizes, and my parents will tell you that Janet Gaynor was robbed. Here’s the thing though—Glenn Close has been robbed so much it’s practically a tradition at this point. I don’t think The Wife is her best work, but c’mon, what else does she have to do? Set herself on fire? Stefani Germanotta demonstrated that she is the complete package and will be back. Close will be the one that gets to say, “Hello, gorgeous.”


Jared Mobarak:

I have no doubt Ethan Hawke wins for First Reformed here. Wait. What? He didn’t get nominated? Is there a write-in opportunity?

It still amazes me that Hawke got snubbed. The fact his movie got another nomination below proves voters watched it, so what happened? Did Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book really speak to them more? I refuse to believe it.

My top six actors of the year didn’t make the cut, so I have no clue what to think. Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born was my number seven and thus the man I’ll root for if my brain stops me from hoping Willem Dafoe gets a “career win” for At Eternity’s Gate. That’s not to say the latter doesn’t deserve to be here—he’s great in that film. It just means CBS Films did their job to help him beat Hawke, Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here, Brady Jandreau in The Rider, Ben Dickey in Blaze, Ryan Gosling in First Man, and Ben Foster in Leave No Trace.

But here I am talking about fantasies when reality shows this is Malek’s trophy to lose. I’m a big fan of him as an actor, but this shouldn’t be the one. Will Christian Bale pull the upset for his Dick Cheney transformation in Vice? Maybe. They’re just both too goofy and bogged down by the weight of their film’s failings to muster any enthusiasm.

Christopher Schobert:

A few weeks ago, I’d have bet money on Bale. Today? I think Rami Malek will win, and it’s not even close. For all the knocks against it (and my goodness, there are many), I found Rhapsody to be an entertaining trifle, and Malek pretty memorable. I think, however, Oscar voters liked it and him a lot more than I did. In fact, I think there’s little chance of anyone else winning.

William Altreuter:

I’m with you two on who will win. Malek was pretty great in a movie that made bank. Bale was impressive, and I am not among those who think the prosthetics did all the work. Bradley Cooper had the advantage of working with a completely charming Lady Gaga. I think he may have burned his bridges by kvetching about being passed over for the Director’s prize where he would have been a contender. Willem Dafoe was solid, and I like him in that kind of role even though he spells his first name wrong, but if it comes down to an amazing performance in a blockbuster film versus a solid performance in a “prestige” movie I think this is the category where popularity will be rewarded.


Jared Mobarak:

A perfect world sees Barry Jenkins winning his second Oscar in this category. Where I think Regina King survives the lack of Best Picture nomination for If Beale Street Could Talk, though, I sadly don’t think he does. It’s a real shame because that film is beautiful.

I’m going to throw Joel Coen & Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs out because I think the surprise nod for Netflix is where this one ends—Oscars love for Coens notwithstanding. I’m going to throw Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters out too since A Star Is Born is by far the weakest entry here. It simply didn’t get out from under the previous iterations’ male gaze enough to succeed.

Give me Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini for Leave No Trace, Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan for Wildlife, Lynn Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here, or Steve McQueen & Gillian Flynn for Widows instead. That those four films were shut-out completely by The Academy is criminal.

Of those who are left then, I’m giving this one to Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman. I think there will be some major push back against Green Book and Vice with young blood banding together to get Spike a win. But don’t count Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? out as a spoiler. My gut says BlacKkKlansman, but my hopes lie with CYEFM.

Christopher Schobert:

Here is another category I changed my mind on. I felt Jenkins was a shoo-in before the nominations were announced, but the lack of director and picture nominations for Beale Street is meaningful. Now, Can You Ever Forgive Me? was also ignored in those races. But considering its broad appeal—especially for Academy members watching at home—I believe Holofcener and Whitty will win. If it’s not Jenkins, I truly hope it is Can You Ever.

William Altreuter:

The omission of Widows surprised me too.

I don’t see A Star is Born as a contender—interestingly it is also credited to Moss Hart, (based on the 1954 screenplay), John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, (based on the 1976 screenplay), and William A. Wellman, who wrote and directed the original with Robert Carson and Dorothy Parker, (who is not credited here). Why is Parker left out is what I want to know. But for these purposes we should be considering Star as a screenplay that is less adapted and more just filled in.

It is possible that The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is my favorite from this list? The weirdness about it being a Netflix production makes picking it seem problematic, though.

I’m going with If Beale Street Could Talk here. James Baldwin is having a moment in American culture and I am sure that there were a lot of voters who were unfamiliar with his work before this excellent introduction.


Jared Mobarak:

Similar to Hawke, I cannot believe Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You didn’t pop up here. That thing is the kind of wild script you want to reward in this industry both for its creative artistry and its Hollywood studio for willing funding it (thanks Annapurna). I had hoped the new-look Academy would give it a chance, but this category has old guard written all over it. Sadly Boots wasn’t alone in getting snubbed either. I put Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary above those who made the cut.

That’s not to say I’m not happy for Paul Schrader regardless of my feelings for First Reformed on the whole. It’s great to see him finally being recognized. Kudos to Alfonso Cuarón and Roma for sneaking in here too since that film’s excellence in visuals and performances started on the page. And applause to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for setting The Favourite up to be a dark horse spoiler here. Fingers crossed it can do it.

I’d honestly be happy if any of those three win since the alternatives are Oscar-winner Adam McKay with Vice (the script is well-constructed and researched enough to begrudgingly earn this nomination even if the final result was poor) and Nick Vallelonga and friends (Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly) for Green Book. The sad fact is that the latter will probably win since it unfortunately looks like older voters are angry at the backlash and eager to lean into this one simply as a show of strength.

Christopher Schobert:

I’m going to go crazy with this one, and say Schrader takes this prize in an upset. On paper, he has little chance. But this is a questionable group, and even though the Academy unfairly ignored First Reformed, I think they’ll acknowledge the greatness of its script. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

William Altreuter:

Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite. It ticks all the boxes—just not any of mine.


Jared Mobarak:

Lynn Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here) and Debra Granik (Leave No Trace). I get The Academy not voting in both, but they couldn’t let one of them to vie for this prize? Two of the best directed films of the year? Besides the eventual winner (Can anyone beat Alfonso Cuarón and Roma now?), these two are far and away better than the rest.

It’s cool to see Yorgos Lanthimos and Paweł Pawlikowski in here for The Favourite and Cold War respectively, though. Both are stunning films to look at and experience (I’m not so hot on the latter’s narrative) and their names are outside of the box enough to really put a smile on your face. Do they have a shot? No.

Spike Lee? Like what I said about BlacKkKlansman’s acting, I wouldn’t say the direction here is more potent than the others—especially when compared to his previous knockouts. Adam McKay? The direction is where Vice falls apart most. His decision to put that tone on a film about monsters in a way that subverts his point of them being monsters is the definition of tone-deaf.

Just give Cuarón his Oscar now.

Christopher Schobert:

Giving this award to Spike Lee would be a glorious kick in the ass to this year’s Oscars, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening. I thought Roma was a fantastic film, and I think even the most brainless Oscar voters can appreciate its artistry. I agree, Jared, that Cuarón will take it.

William Altreuter:

This ain’t going to happen for Spike Lee this year, mostly, I think, because he is still great at pissing everyone off. I see it coming down to The Favorite of which it can be fairly said that you can see the work that went into the direction right there on the screen; and Alfonso Cuarón. Roma is an impressive thing and deserves this.


Jared Mobarak:

I’ve talked about my glaring omissions already: If Beale Street Could Talk, Leave No Trace, and You Were Never Really Here. Add First Man to the list and it becomes interesting to see the so-called indie darlings scene has been usurped by mainstream appeal. The sad part of this is that it might be intentional. With crazy decisions to enlist “bigger” talent to present awards than last year’s winners and to keep some categories off-air completely, The Academy is seemingly desperate to win audiences that simply don’t care about them. It won’t work. On the contrary, it will backfire as they risk losing those of us who actually care about the craft of cinema and not box office dollars.

Bohemian Rhapsody simply shouldn’t be here. Vice is a head-scratcher that only feeds into the idea of liberal bias over quality. A Star Is Born has faded fast since bowing in the fall and The Favourite doesn’t have the votes.

That leaves Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, and Roma. The Marvel juggernaut getting a nomination is its victory and Spike’s based on real life yarn isn’t going to be the minority-lead hopeful to take out Peter Farrelly’s patronizing white-wash of a civil rights movement that still rages on. No. It will be up to Roma to pull the upset, because right now Green Book is very much the frontrunner. The DGA picked the former and the PGA picked the latter. So it’s really down to the acting branch and international voters. Black Panther won the SAG Awards, but I think they know it won’t win this. If they pull behind Roma, it will rise to the top.

Unfortunately, I don’t have faith that will happen. My guess: Green Book. And I weep.

Christopher Schobert:

Ha, here we go again, in agreement. I simply don’t believe there is any stopping the weak-kneed Green Book. It will go down as one of the most forgettable Best Picture winners in film history, and it is therefore the winner that this year’s Oscars deserves.

William Altreuter:

If this doesn’t go to Black Panther I will despair. The Academy even tried to rig a whole category for it! I suppose Roma would be the next best choice—it’s a classy kind of intimate movie, but c’mon, there isn’t a single explosion? This is a chance for the Academy to give a well-made, popular movie with only one white guy in it the love that everyone who saw it believes it deserves.

Green Book? Please, please no. BlacKkKlansman? With Panther on the ballot that would feel like tokenism. I will admit to liking Bohemian Rhapsody more than I thought I would, mostly because I’m not a big fan of Queen’s music, but that hardly means that it was the best motion picture of the year.

You know what was? Black Panther. Of all the movies on this list it is the one I am most likely to watch in five years.



Jared Mobarak

Supporting Actress:
Regina King
(If Beale Street Could Talk)

Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali
(Green Book)

Lead Actress:
Glenn Close
(The Wife)

Lead Actor:
Rami Malek
(Bohemian Rhapsody)

Adapted Screenplay:
Charlie Wachtel
David Rabinowitz
Kevin Willmott
Spike Lee

(BlacKkKlansman)

Original Screenplay:
Nick Vallelonga
Brian Currie
Peter Farrelly

(Green Book)

Director:
Alfonso Cuarón
(Roma)

Best Picture:
Green Book


Christopher Schobert

Supporting Actress:
Regina King
(If Beale Street Could Talk)

Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali
(Green Book)

Lead Actress:
Glenn Close
(The Wife)

Lead Actor:
Rami Malek
(Bohemian Rhapsody)

Adapted Screenplay:
Nicole Holofcener
Jeff Whitty

(Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Original Screenplay:
Paul Schrader
(First Reformed)

Director:
Alfonso Cuarón
(Roma)

Best Picture:
Green Book


William Altreuter

Supporting Actress:
Marina de Tavira
(Roma)

Supporting Actor:
Adam Driver
(BlacKkKlansman)

Lead Actress:
Glenn Close
(The Wife)

Lead Actor:
Rami Malek
(Bohemian Rhapsody)

Adapted Screenplay:
Barry Jenkins
(If Beale Street Could Talk)

Original Screenplay:
Deborah Davis
and Tony McNamara

(The Favourite)

Director:
Alfonso Cuarón
(Roma)

Best Picture:
Black Panther


photography:
Nominees for the 91st Oscars® were celebrated at a luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton, Monday, February 4, 2019. The 91st Oscars will air on Sunday, February 24, live on ABC. Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

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