AP NEWS

The Winner is ... Who Knows?

February 23, 2019

By Bob Strauss

Southern California News Group

Here are my expert Oscar predictions. And my “expert” advice is: Don’t bet on anything this year!

At least not in the Best Picture race. Yes, it’s been hard to predict that winner since the academy expanded the nomination count and introduced a preferential balloting system for the category about 10 years ago. But other factors make this one the biggest free-for-all Best Picture race of the decade.

For one thing, all of the major Hollywood guilds have given their highest honors to different films this year, making even a front-runner that might lose impossible to intelligently lay odds on.

That stipulated, of the eight BP Oscar nominees from 2018, “Roma” and “Green Book” are probably the most likelies. But they’ve both got what competition handicappers might call problems.

“Roma,” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white Mexican movie is by far the most critically acclaimed art film of last year -- but it’s an arty, black-and-white production in a foreign language, and nothing that foreign has ever won the top Oscar before (though a French production shot in L.A., “The Artist,” a few years back was a mostly silent film, with what little spoken dialogue it had in English). On top of that, “Roma” is a Netflix release, which means it has not only enjoyed an outrageously expensive awards campaign leading up to and following its co-leading 10 nominations, but also that it has to overcome any “theatrical movies only” prejudices academy voters may still harbor against the game-changing streaming service.

As for “Green Book,” though audiences tend to adore this story of overcoming personal and institutional racism in the early 1960s, critics find it weak, and socially conscious folks wonder why a film about an essentially African-American thing (the actual “Green Book” was a guide to safe accommodations for motorists of color in the Jim Crow South) is told from a predominantly white perspective. In addition, director Peter Farrelly was not nominated in his category, and it’s rare for a film to win Best Picture without a directing nod, though not impossible -- the similarly complained-about interracial friendship story “Driving Miss Daisy” was the last to pull off that trick 29 years ago.

Other possible contenders for the 91st Academy Awards’ top prize are “The Favourite,” which tied “Roma” for most overall nominations, and two films about black subjects actually made by African-Americans -- Ryan Coogler’s record-breaking, superhero, box-office hit “Black Panther” and Spike Lee’s first-ever Picture and Director nominee, “BlacKkKlansman.” Heck, even the music movies “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” are obviously loved by enough people to make them Best Picture upset possibilities.

If “Vice” hadn’t been about Dick Cheney, we could make an argument that it’s actually an eight-way race this year.

Anyway, I’ll guess “Roma,” but you’ve been warned so don’t blame me if you lose your office pool.

The acting categories seem like the surest bets. Lead Actor should be “Bohemian’s” Rami Malek, Lead Actress Glenn Close for “The Wife,” “Green Book’s” Mahershala Ali for Supporting Actor and Regina King from “If Beale Street Could Talk” for Supporting Actress. Only King looks the least bit shaky at this point, since she wasn’t nominated for some earlier industry awards, but I think she’ll pull through Sunday.

The craft categories aren’t quite as tough to call as the Best Picture race, but from where I sit, most of them could go two or three ways.

All of which, let’s be honest, is good. While every nominee may not be what you’d call worthy -- and inevitably some of the year’s best artists get completely overlooked (hello, Ethan Hawke) -- most of the current contenders have done excellent work, and that’s ultimately what matters more than who gets a prize.

But we watch the Oscars for the suspense of who’s going to win, right? This year’s Best Picture race, especially, has an extra dimension to the standard, envelope-opening intrigue. Its outcome will tell us a lot about whether the recent influx of foreign, female, younger and ethnically diverse members, in response to the #OscarsSoWhite criticisms of several years ago, has really changed the academy voting population’s overall sensibility.

It’s not just racial sensitivity that’s at play in the contest that pits “Roma,” “Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” against “Green Book.” There’s also a tension between artistry and what Hollywood -- which, after all, the Oscars represent -- is more geared toward: entertainment. You could say those first three films, along with “Favourite” and “Vice,” are relatively uncompromising works bent on taking provocative chances, with the massive popularity of “Panther” a delightful icing on that cake. “Green Book,” “Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born,” on the other hand, represent the please-’em-first approach (simplifying and smoothing out gnarly, potentially upsetting story elements, rehashing tried-and-true formulas, your favorite hit tunes!, etc.) that Oscar traditionally favors.

Who and what wins Sunday will indicate whether or not the academy voters approve of venturing into the uncertain new, or favor falling back on the dubious comforts of what has worked before.

Anyone want to give odds on that?