Oscars 2019: One month inside this year’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Academy Awards race
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 19, 2019
The Oscars race is an unpredictable, endurance-testing marathon of excess – a multimillion-dollar exercise in vanity, ego, mud-slinging and, very infrequently, art. From the moment nominations are announced to the glitzy ceremony itself, the fortunes of nominees can swing up, down and sideways depending on everything from box-office numbers to shifting cultural and political winds, especially in 2019, in which #MeToo, #TimesUp and #OscarsSoWhite show no signs of gently fading into the landscape. (However desperately certain industry elements may wish otherwise.)
Here, The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz tracks the Academy Awards conversation from just before nominations were announced Jan. 22 through the close of voting for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this week, to offer his best prediction of which film will come out on top Sunday night. Remember, everyone (mostly Bradley Cooper): It’s an honour just to be nominated.
Jan. 19: Although the Producers Guild of America Awards air three days before Oscar nominations are announced, the guild is the first industry organization to make its voice heard after Academy voters’ nomination forms were due Jan. 14. Thus, the PGA’s decision to give Green Book its top prize represents a significant window in Oscar voters’ thinking, given that the guild and the Academy share members, and that the winner of the PGA Award has matched the eventual best-picture Oscar-winner in 20 of the former’s 29 years of existence (including last year, when the PGAs honoured The Shape of Water). Bonus: the PGA Awards use the same kind of preferential ballot that the Academy deploys for best picture voting – meaning that even if Green Book isn’t the consensus No. 1 choice, it could still ultimately come out on top.
Jan. 23: No sooner does Green Book’s Oscar-night victory seem increasingly likely than Wesley Morris pens an essay in The New York Times unfavourably comparing the film to Driving Miss Daisy (which won best picture in 1990, the same year that Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing failed to get even a nomination for best picture). Titled, “Why do the Oscars keep falling for racial reconciliation fantasies?”, the column asks pointed questions about why so many Oscar-bait films ostensibly explore racism, but are more concerned with a white character’s journey toward tolerance. If you don’t think a New York Times feature can derail an Oscar campaign, look at last year, when Morris published an essay eviscerating the ostensibly progressive themes of then-favourite Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.
Jan. 23: Four months after rumours popped up that Esquire was ready to publish an investigation into sexual-assault allegations against director Bryan Singer, The Atlantic runs a lengthy exposé. The feature, by Alex French and Maximillian Potter (who worked for a year on the piece with Esquire before they say Hearst Magazine executives “killed” it), chronicles two decades’ worth of sexual-misconduct allegations against the filmmaker, whose Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is up for five Oscars, including best picture, though not best director. Singer, who was fired close to the end of Rhapsody’s production by studio 20th Century Fox for reportedly being absent on-set (but retains a director credit), calls The Atlantic story a “homophobic smear piece ... conveniently timed to take advantage of [Bohemian Rhapsody’s] success.”
Jan. 24: The GLAAD Media Awards, which previously championed Bohemian Rhapsody for its depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, removes the film as a contender for its best original film category following The Atlantic’s investigation. The media watchdog says the story “brought to light a reality that cannot be ignored or even tacitly rewarded,” adding that Singer’s response “wrongfully used ‘homophobia’ to deflect from sexual-assault allegations.”
Jan. 26: On Twitter, journalist Pramit Chatterjee posts a clip from Bohemian Rhapsody highlighting its “objectively bad” editing and lack of basic film grammar – with another user pointing out a bewildering 52 cuts in a single 82-second scene. The tweet quickly goes viral, with the clip garnering more than 1.44 million views.
Jan. 27: Black Panther, which seems to be an awards-race after-thought – the attitude being that it’s real victory was to be nominated – has a strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning best motion picture ensemble, the evening’s top prize. Meanwhile, Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek wins the first SAG Award of his career for playing Mercury.
Feb. 1: Perhaps realizing that his Oscar success will now rely on distancing himself from Singer rather than ignoring the issue altogether, Malek washes his hands of his director while being honoured at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. “I’ve sat here and talked about how everyone deserves a voice and anyone who wants to talk about what happened with Bryan deserves to have their voice heard,” said Malek, who did not acknowledge the director while accepting his Golden Globe for best actor in January. “In my situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all."
Feb. 2: The Directors Guild of America Awards gives its top honour to Roma’s Alfonso Cuaron, setting the Mexican filmmaker up for a similar success at the Oscars, given that the two institutions have only disagreed seven times in 70 years. Cuaron’s win, his second DGA Award after winning five years ago for Gravity, also sees the the filmmaker triumphing over the same four directors (A Star Is Born’s Bradley Cooper, Green Book’s Peter Farrelly, BlacKkKlansman’s Spike Lee, and Vice’s Adam McKay) he competed with at the Golden Globes in January. McKay doesn’t walk away from the DGAs empty-handed, though, as he wins the drama series award for HBO’s Succession. Cooper, meanwhile, practically limps away, not only losing to Cuaron, but failing to win the DGA Award for best first-time director, which goes to underdog Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade). Lest anyone doubt it: We’re far from the shallow now.
Feb. 2: Despite being mocked online for this very thing, Bohemian Rhapsody wins the best edited feature film (dramatic) award at the American Cinema Editors’ Eddie Awards. Nine of the past 14 Eddie winners for this category have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars.
Feb. 6: The British Academy of Film and Television Arts removes Singer’s name from Bohemian Rhapsody’s BAFTA nomination, calling the director’s alleged behaviour “completely unacceptable and incompatible” with the institution’s values. Bohemian Rhapsody remains nominated for outstanding British film.
Feb. 8: Actor, novelist, and part-time El Chapo sleuth Sean Penn writes a, um, passionate op-ed on industry website Deadline imploring voters to award A Star Is Born. “To spare myself potential disappointment, I’m raising a glass in advance to Bradley Cooper and A Star Is Born,” Penn writes. “Surely a raised glass is as legitimate as a globe of gilded gold or a male statuette minus a penis (also gold gilded). God forbid it have balls this year!”
Feb. 10: Roma picks up more momentum as the drama wins four BAFTAs, including best director and best film. (The British organization shares about 500 members with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, offering a glimpse into roughly 5.4 per cent of the latter org’s thinking.) Meanwhile, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite gets a much-needed boost, taking home seven BAFTAs, including best actress for Olivia Colman and outstanding British film. And Malek continues his roll, picking up the award for best actor.
Feb. 10: Despite lingering controversy over both Green Book’s subject matter and its filmmaking team’s past behaviour (before nominations were announced, Farelly admitted to a history of flashing his penis, while co-writer Nick Vallelonga apologized for posting an anti-Muslim tweet), the film is the one breakout financial success among this year’s Oscar dramas (not counting superhero blockbuster Black Panther and musicals Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born). Cracking US$60-million at the North American box office, Green Book looks healthier than fellow contenders The Favourite ($30.2-million), Vice ($45.2-million), BlacKkKlansman ($48.6-million), and Roma (whose distributor, Netflix, has yet to make box-office figures available).
Feb. 11: Singer’s name continues to dominate headlines, with The Hollywood Reporter confirming that the director’s follow-up to Bohemian Rhapsody, the comic-book adaptation Red Sonja, has been placed on hold by production company Millennium Films.
Feb. 12: Cooper finally wins an award ... from PETA. The Star Is Born director, who only a few months ago was pegged as the surest of sure-things, picks up the animal-rights organization’s Best Director Oscat (that’s not a typo), for casting his own pet dog in the drama instead of hiring a pup through an agency. Good boy, Bradley Cooper. Good boy.
Feb. 13: Although it’s unlikely to move the needle on his award chances, Lee is one of 40 high-profile filmmakers to sign an open letter excoriating the Academy for its decision to not live-broadcast four of this year’s award-winners (including best cinematography, editing, hair and makeup, and live-action short). Days earlier, fellow 2019 nominee Cuaron subtweeted the Academy, writing “In the history of CINEMA, masterpieces have existed without color, without a story, without actors and without music. No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and without editing.”
Feb. 13: As Roma inches closer to becoming the odds-on favourite to win best picture, journalist Richard Rushfield’s industry-insider newsletter The Ankler speculates that Netflix has spent an unprecedented US$40- to $50-million on the drama’s Oscar campaign, including multiple premieres on multiple continents, media gift packages (including fancy coffee-table books and pillows, only one of which this journalist has received), and a TV- and billboard-advertising spree (thanks in part to Netflix’s acquisition this past fall of more than a dozen outdoor advertising surfaces on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, among the most valuable advertising real estate in the United States). The question remains whether those working in the film industry will want to give its top prize to a company that explicitly undermines the very movie-theatre model it runs on.
Feb. 15: In a it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad comedy of errors, the Academy reverses its decision to present four categories during commercial breaks.
Feb. 16: When in doubt, look toward the experts: Online betting site Easy Odds gives Roma 1:3 odds to win best picture, with Green Book right behind at 4:1. Spare a thought (a quick one, though) for Vice, as it sits at the bottom with 100:1 odds. Bonus news for gamblers in the U.S.: This year is the first time that licensed U.S. sports books will have a legal green light to offer betting on the Oscars ... but only in New Jersey. Tony Soprano weeps (if he’s still alive, that is).
Week of Feb. 18: As voting closes Feb. 19, it appears the best-picture race is Roma’s to lose, with Cuaron a lock for best director, Malek destined to win best actor despite all of Bohemian Rhapsody’s behind-the-scenes scandals, and Glenn Close to receive a career-topping honour for her performance in The Wife. And Bradley Cooper will remain very, very sad.
The 91st Academy Awards air live Feb. 24 at 8:30 p.m. (ET) on CTV and ABC