I don't really cry at movies. There have been a few exceptions, but it's usually real world loss that gets me. Loss of an argument, loss of life, loss of a close relationship. Most embarassing of all, I cried when Reggie Southerland lost to Guy Fieri in the season two finale of Food Network Star. HE WAS JUST A BETTER COOK, DAMMIT.
Sometimes, the bad guys win. Evil prevails. A bad movie wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. It happens. And with this year's lineup, there looks to be the whole spectrum in the mix. And why not? This is a celebration of cinema, and some cinema is bad. It isn't on purpose, I suspect, but the Academy lets all sorts float to the surface. This is a rundown of why each of these movies should and shouldn't win, and what I honestly think of each. You could use this as an edge up in your last minute Oscars betting, but I am violently emotional and in no way a safe source for odds. So, grain of salt.
A Case For: A band whose treasure trove of hits includes "We are the Champions" should immediately send shivers addressed to the competition. Bohemian Rhapsody commanded its audience with almost 900 million at the international box office. The film is a joy ride with a glowing anchor in Rami Malek's performance. There are moments where you feel the utter majesty that was Freddie Mercury. Mere movie theaters were transformed into Live Aid itself as moviegoers were singing along on opening night. This film was arguably an experience for the whole family, baptizing new Queen fans in the waters of rock anthems and sick mustaches.
A Case Against: Cast aside the tumultuous behind-the-scenes drama with Bryan Singer being fired from the film, leaving Dexter Fletcher a mere three weeks to try and salvage a troubled film. Cast aside the heinous accusations leveled against Singer. Hell, cast aside the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen left the project in 2013 due to concerning "creative differences", robbing the world of a potential Oscars acceptance speech in character as Borat. This film is STILL a hot mess. The editing is bizarre, the facts left on the cutting room floor in exchange for a PG-13 rating, and performances that are little more than above-average SNL impersonations. The only thing this film gets right is the music, which is the lowest compliment one can give to a FUTZING MUSIC BIOPIC.
My Thoughts: This is not a very good movie. It's not the worst film I saw this year, but it feels like the missing-est missed opportunity to come to the big screen in a long time. Music as loud and as big as Queen's deserves far more magic than this by-the-numbers biopic, but it had its moments. And heck, people loved it! Still, a stellar box office shouldn't be enough for a Best Picture win. Rami as Freddie Mercury is . . . fine? The teeth look awful, the perfomance is a bit one-note, and it makes me nervous for an up-and-comer that had me incredibly excited just a year before. This personal letdown hasn't hurt Rhapsody's chances, however. Malek is a frontrunner for Best Actor, and producer Graham King is so loved, the movie could go home with the big one Sunday night. You can practically hear King sing along to "Don't Stop Me Now" in the shower.
(Go watch the trailer for Rocketman. I am far more excited.)
A Case For: In the off chance you haven't heard of MARVEL, they've made 20 little films about troubled people who wear tights and punch things. After so many tries, they've finally crafted a near-masterpiece in Black Panther. A sprawling epic that manages to tie one of the most grounded themes in this category to a mythical, Afro-futurist nation, this film is an uncompromising combination of art and dealer. Making a massive box office is just icing on the cake for a film so precisely tuned in its world. Each performance is great on its own merits, and the ensemble together is the perfect assembly of super-y people. Director Ryan Coogler has created a film for everybody with no sacrifices from anybody.
A Case Against: Comic book movies, these Marvel films in particular, aren't quite Oscar-worthy. They follow a formula that is designed to get butts in seats and toys in the hands of kids. Just because this particular entry is better than the others doesn't make it eligible for the biggest award in film. This isn't The Godfather, it's bad CGI rhinos and good-guy-looks-like-bad-guy fight scenes. This is surface charm and populist masses demanding their voices be heard. Try reading a book without pictures first, losers.
My Thoughts: Sorry about that last "against" bit. I had to channel the haters, although their points aren't invalid. I really dug Black Panther, even more than Infinity War. Is this the best film in the category? No. However, the concept of Best Picture is a vague collection of art, celebration, and criticism. This is a great movie, seen by a lot of people, and feels very contemporary without pandering. It's smart, but not without heart. It's got a little bit of everything to love in movies, and only minor faults against it. Look at this one for the technical category wins, and, potentially, a Best Picture steal from close rival Roma.
A Case For: There is something for everyone to love in this movie. Whether you like to get Emma Stone'd on the weekends, you've been a Weiszhead since her appearance in The Mummy, or you're a human being and therefore love Olivia Colman, the main cast is exceptional. You like laughing? This film is hilarious. You prefer drama? This is a dark and twisting tale of sabotage, expertly written and directed. The sets are so immaculate, the story is engrossing, and the all-women trio of stars is worthy of much more than just the timely subtext.
A Case Against: There is something for everyone to loathe in this movie. The director is known for his dreary, awkward additions to cinema, and not one of them drops below an 11 out of 10 for polarization. Others might be rightly tired of Britishness, having had their fill of queens and countrymen. The outlandish display is only going to tickle the freaky few, and capturing so small a sect of the moviegoing population is not what the Academy should honor.
My Thoughts: I LOVE DIRECTOR YORGOS LANTHIMOS. I love his cringe, his sickening twists and his darkly comic sensibilities. Hell, I love how his name rolls off the tongue. I might even name one of my kids Yorgos! (UPDATE: I will now be alone and childless forever) Despite all of my love, I don't know if I want The Favourite to win Best Picture. What would definitely be a personal win for me would also serve as a further alienation of a much broader audience. This movie has already won my love, can't you all just be satisfied??? No? Good call. This film is primed for a Best Screenplay win, and with Best Supporting Actress being unpredictable, Weisz or Stone could steal the show away from Regina King.
A Case For: Spike Lee has pulled off the achievement of Most Entertaining Provocateur in Film for decades now, and his latest is no exception. A sharply tinged drama that captures the ridiculous evil of the KKK, BlacKkKlansman punctures the hearts and minds of a modern audience battling old demons of history. Standout performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver bring levity and charisma to a complicated tale so necessary to today. What's more, it is a time to honor the career of Spike Lee, a man whose hand has gone without having ever touched that sweet Academy gold for too damn long.
A Case Against: Spike deserves an Oscar, alright, but he sure doesn't deserve it for this. This movie doesn't even crack the top 5 of Spike Lee joints. Furthermore, it's a messy telling of an otherwise quiet story, one that softens police controversy and fails to stick the landing in a WTF third act. Sandwiched between a baffling Alec Baldwin cameo and a heavy-handed epilogue of recent events, Spike could've better summed up his intro and outro with tweets instead of actual scenes. This kind of misfire is, frankly, unworthy of an Oscar, no matter how much Spike "deserves" it.
My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but it's just good, not great. Any award for Spike with this film feels like an honorary Oscar, and I've never been a fan of giving an award to someone because we should've done it 20 years ago. It's an ugly cycle that requires a hard stop. Still, don't count out BlacKkKlansman for Best Adapted Screenplay, because it's currently feeling like the frontrunner. I'm doubtful on Best Director and Best Picture.
A Case For: Sometimes, you need a little something for everybody, and Green Book delivers no matter the audience. Racism is a temperament that hasn't cooled since the 1960s, and this powerful story of hardship and friendship is as piercing today as in the past. Held down with two wonderful performances, Green Book continues to prove the talent of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. director Peter Farrelly has transitioned from mad cap comedy to a compelling landscape artist that challenges the relationships and prejudices of modern day.
A Case Against: Imagine if Driving Miss Daisy was 80% more aware of its racial ignorance, and, somehow, Green Book still isn't worth the time, let alone the award. In a mere 3 year period, we have had two far more conscious, thoughtful, crafted films on race today and in the past. Both of them were directed by Barry Jenkins, and Moonlight even has the better Mahershala Ali performance, with far less screen time! Even if you think Green Book is a fine film, and even if you're willing to ignore the writers' separate yet equally stupefying past behavior, this film still isn't enough to compare to other films doing it better.
My Thoughts: I didn't actually see this movie until this past week, and I had heard very negative takes on it leading up. Honestly, this movie is okay. It's not great. There isn't any moment where I think, "Ooh, there's the part that gets em the Oscar." I don't think it's as bad on race as some have claimed, but it still fumbles pretty hard. I just don't think it's worth the hype. And yet, this film has unexpectedly barreled into a top dog spot with Golden Globe and Guild wins leading up to Sunday night. Ali looks to be a solid bet in Best Supporting Actor, and we may even see a Best Picture win.
(Honestly, this is the tightest race in years, and I don't know what I'm doing)
EDIT: "4 AM Joe" broke down a bit. I totally know what I'm doing, kinda.
A Case For: We live in turbulent, ever-changing times, so consider the most incredulous, zipping film out of the bunch. Vice is a thrill ride, complete with the queasy sensation you get at the end, or from having to reckon the political era of Bush-to-Bush. Writer-Director Adam McKay brings his punch and wit to this caustic, enraging comedy that makes us all question how we got the political system we see today. Powerhouse performances from the entire cast, most notably Christian Bale and Amy Adams, bring to life the plotting nature of the Cheneys and the ramifications for years to follow.
A Case Against: This movie is a real mess. McKay has managed to self-congratulate his style and abilities more times in this one movie than Christian Bale has ever attempted to morph his body across his entire career. The jokes are far too dark and loose to feel appropriate in representing the subject. This feels like the work of madman more than a genius, no matter what he thinks of himself. Meanwhile, the performances are overlauded and, frankly, a little one-note. Good for Late Night, mediocre for a Best Picture nominee.
My Thoughts: Give me crazy any day. This movie isn't for everyone, but it is so sharp, yet over the top in it's criticism and portrayal. There is a spark of madness, sure, but it's both a surprise and a pleasure. As for a win, I don't think the movie needs one, and McKay's best work feels ahead of him. The movie feels unlikely to win, anyways, but Christian Bale might be neck and neck with Malek for Best Actor.
A Star Is Born
A Case For: Beyond some of the best memes in 2018 film, this film is firing on all cylinders. Brought to life by Bradley Cooper, there isn't a lousy bone in A Star is Born's body. Cooper's first time behind the camera proves him a real force in cinema, and his knockout role as Jackson Mane ranks among his best. Lady Gaga, meanwhile, is an impressive surprise as Ally, and the rest of the cast rounds out a deeper film that weighs heavy after viewing. The music is also fantastic, as is the cinematography. Every component shines on its own and still comes together to make something greater still.
A Case Against: The hype makes no sense. Lady Gaga is only getting love because this isn't nearly as bad as her American Horror Story role. Bradley is mostly growling and pretending to be Eddie Vedder. The movie is a drag in the second half. One could keep going, but it should be left with this: This is the fourth damn time this movie has been made. In a culture that sees a growing rise in aggravation towards remakes, reboots, and retreads, what business does A Star is Born have receiving Best Picture? Give it to something less photocopied, thanks.
My Thoughts: I dug this movie a good bit more than I was expecting to, and it's certainly an impressive display of Cooper's potential. I'd feel pretty neutral on it taking home the award, only because it sits pretty much in the middle of these nominees for me. The odds look less likely, with A Star is Born underperforming in nominations and guild awards. They look to be taking home Best Original Song, and even that could be threatened by Black Panther.
A Case For: Roma seems to have everything going against it. Released on Netflix, shot in black and white, no notable stars amongst the cast, AND it's foreign language? Fat chance? The opposite. This film celebrates and transcends these features, producing a story so individual and personal. Whether you understand Spanish or have to put on your reading glasses, this movie speaks to the human condition, and all thanks to its visionary, Alfonso Cuaron. Shot with equal parts precision and heart, the most moving picture of 2018 should also be its Best Picture.
A Case Against: Cinema is supposed to be something sacred. Buttered popcorn and first dates, sure. But more so, the feeling of wonder from gazing upon the big screen, taking in the surround sound, and surrendering to the story. Roma represents all that is wrong with where the industry is going. A film that you can stream at home is little more than a Fortnite Twich livestream. There's no commitment to the art form. This movie might be great, but it is a troubling indicator for the medium. Movies belong in theaters, not chromecasts.
My Thoughts: Do it. Do itttttttt. I would love to see this movie take home Best Picture, and you know what? It very well might. It leads the pack by a narrow margin, and screams with opportunity for the Academy to do something good for their show and their film community. Your best chance on return seems to be betting on Roma.
Final Odds (based on my thoughts and little else)
Joe Brueggemeyer hosts and edits The Marquee podcast with Logan, and has an unhealthy obsession with baking.