NEW YORK -- On a year where one of the lead Oscar contenders is titled "The Favourite," the 91st Academy Awards lack a clear front runner.
Normally a fairly predictable process with one or two favorites, this year's best picture race has been maddeningly unclear, almost devious in its contradictions. The guild awards, usually a road map to the Oscars, have spread their honors around like never before. Not one of the top prizes from the leading guilds has lined up with another.
The producers went for "Green Book," the directors chose "Roma," the actors voted for "Black Panther," the editors chose "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "The Favourite," the cinematographers elected "Cold War" and the writers picked "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and "Eighth Grade," a movie the academy snubbed entirely.
The inconsistency has befuddled onlookers. Variety called it "uncharted territory." Deadline suggested it is "one of the closest races in academy history."
Oscar balloting concluded Tuesday night. With days to go before show time Sunday, here's a rundown of the contenders and why each one has reason to hope.
Many think this is Netflix's Oscar to lose, and, boy, do they want to win it. Alfonso Cuaron's black-and-white drama has some major dings against it. Most notably it was entirely overlooked by the Screen Actors Guild. (All but two films in the last 20 years have needed a SAG ensemble nod to win best picture.) But it remains the critics' choice (both New York and Los Angeles critics groups named it best film), and it won at both the Directors Guild Awards and the BAFTAs. Its 10 nominations evidence widespread esteem for "Roma," including two unexpected acting nods (Yalitza Aparacio, Marina de Tavira). Some prominent academy members ( like Steven Spielberg ) have said the Emmys are the proper place for Netflix films. But "Roma," Netflix's first best-picture nominee, may have turned the tide. It would be doubly historic: "Roma" would be the first foreign-language best-picture winner.
Peter Farrelly's interracial road trip drama seems to be the strongest challenger to "Roma." It won at both the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild Awards , which, like the Oscars, use a preferential ballot. But no movie has been more dogged by criticism. While some see a snappy, feel-good buddy movie, others see an outdated and inauthentic set-up that trades on racial stereotypes. In a close race, can such a polarizing film win? "Green Book," so often compared to 1989's best picture-winning "Driving Miss Daisy," may be exactly the kind of movie that once won best picture. But the film academy's membership has in recent years diversified and grown more international .
Yorgos Lanthimos' period romp comes tied with "Roma" for the most nominations and yet it has few assured wins. It won seven awards at the BAFTAs (where "Roma" ultimately took the top award). As a British period drama, "The Favourite" has the look of a traditional Oscar winner but gleefully inverts and subverts typical traits of the genre — making it kind of a perfect Academy Awards Trojan horse.
Critics don't like it . Some say it sanitizes Freddie Mercury's homosexuality. And its director, Bryan Singer, was fired mid-production and is now facing (and denying) numerous allegations of sexual misconduct . These are not the normal ingredients for a best-picture contender. And yet "BoRhap" abides. Not only that, Singer's biopic is a massive hit, especially abroad, with more than $850 million in ticket sales worldwide. It won not just best picture, drama, at the Globes , but took top honors at the ACE Eddie Awards as the best edited drama. Were "Bohemian Rhapsody" to win, some would slam it as the worst best-picture winner ever. Fans would simply sing "We Are the Champions."
A STAR IS BORN
Something went amiss for the once-presumed front-runner. Bradley Cooper's remake (also a box-office hit with $423 million globally) has been nominated just about everywhere and yet has gone home with little, besides awards for its music. It still scored seven Oscar nominations, but not since 1934 has a movie without either a directing or editing nod won best picture. No amount of Cooper cameos at Lady Gaga concerts seems able to save it. Also not helping: only two remakes have ever won best picture: 1959's "Ben-Hur" and 2006's "The Departed."
Spike Lee's latest joint doesn't have a lot of big wins from the precursor awards, but it's the only movie nominated by every major guild. That speaks to a broad support that no other film can match. Many would also like to see Lee, who was given an honorary Oscar in 2015, win his first competitive Academy Award. Lee has called his film this year's dark horse, "pun intended."
First the bad news. Only once before has a movie with no other major nominations won best picture, and that was "Wings" in 1927, when they were giving out two top awards (the other went to "Sunrise"). The academy tried to bring back that best-picture dichotomy for this Oscars, only to abandon plans for a best popular film category that "Black Panther" would have likely won. But Ryan Coogler's Marvel epic, the first superhero movie ever nominated for best picture, is unique in many ways. It's the year's biggest domestic hit with more than $700 million in North America where it was received as a cultural milestone. It also triumphed at the Screen Actors Guild Awards . A best-picture win wouldn't be the first time "Black Panther" made history.
Adam McKay's Dick Cheney biopic probably has the longest odds of any of the eight nominees. But, then again, it does have nominations in all the big areas: acting (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell), screenplay (McKay), directing (McKay) and editing (Hank Corwin). Only "BlacKkKlansman" and "The Favourite" can say the same.
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