Can Alfonso Cuaron pull off an historic win for 'Roma'? Does Spike Lee have the votes? And will Glenn Close or Lady Gaga go the distance? The Hollywood Reporter's awards guru and chief film critic weigh in.
WILL WIN: Roma
Presumptive frontrunners Roma and Green Book each won top prizes at major precursor awards (DGA, BAFTA and BFCA versus PGA and the Golden Globes, respectively), but are divisive (Roma would be the first non-English or Netflix winner and Green Book has been mired in controversy). The Academy’s preferential ballot is intended to select a movie most that most people at least like, and could swing things to timely BlacKkKlansman (the only film nominated for every historically-significant best picture bellwether, from the best ensemble SAG Award to the Oscars for directing, acting, writing and film editing), fan-fave A Star Is Born (nominated by every industry guild or society, save for VES), groundbreaking Black Panther (SAG and ADG winner), internationally-embraced Bohemian Rhapsody (ACE, MPSE and CAS winner), Brit-y and witty The Favourite (ACE and ADG winner) or genre-blender Vice (MUHS winner). Ultimately, though, I suspect that the Academy, which has never had more members from outside the U.S., is ready to make history and give its top prize to a subtitled film.
SHOULD WIN: Roma
Even though I'm on record as a Vice guy, I'm switching my pick to Roma for two reasons: In the long view, Alfonso Cuarón's film based on his childhood in Mexico City will prevail as a more enduring work; and I'd like the precedent to be set that a foreign-language film can win in the biggest of all categories if it's indeed deserving.
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Will this prize go to a Mexican filmmaker for the fifth time in six years (Roma's Alfonso Cuaron, who already won DGA, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for his deeply personal film) or a black filmmaker for the first time ever (trailblazing Spike Lee, for a film that, like his finest earlier works, focuses on racial strife in America)? Both men have campaigned hard and effectively. All signs point to Cuaron, but the fact he won so recently (five years ago for Gravity), while Lee never has (at least in a competitive category), leaves open the possibility of an upset.
SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Best picture and director should almost always go hand in hand in my book, and there's no question that Alfonso Cuarón has put it all together in Roma, a poetic panorama that masterfully mixes autobiography, history, politics, sociology and acute personal drama.
WILL WIN: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
It initially looked like Vice's Christian Bale would become the seventh actor with both lead and supporting wins, but Bohemian Rhapsody's Rami Malek, who is nominated for the first time and has campaigned harder, beat him at the SAG and BAFTA awards (after both won Golden Globes and Bale won the Critics' Choice Award), grabbing the pole position. Because of enthusiasm for A Star Is Born and Green Book, you can’t rule out Bradley Cooper or Viggo Mortensen, respectively, but a win for either would be a shocker.
SHOULD WIN: Christian Bale, Vice
Christian Bale sets new standards for chameleon acts in Adam McKay's tragicomic Dick Cheney biopic. What could have been an SNL-style sketch of a public figure was elevated by this exceptional portrait of how a limited man far exceeded any reasonable expectations anyone could have had for him.
WILL WIN: Glenn Close, The Wife
Can a revered and overdue veteran win for a standout performance even if it is its film's sole nomination? Julianne Moore did four years ago for one Sony Classics film, Still Alice, and Glenn Close — the most Oscar-nominated living performer who hasn’t yet won, with six prior noms and losses — is poised to do it this year for another, The Wife. That said, as stars of best pic nominees, Olivia Colman (The Favourite), who won the BAFTA, and Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), who tied Close at the Critics’ Choice Awards, certainly cannot be counted out.
SHOULD WIN: Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Many are the comic performers who have tried to go serious and deep, with variable results. But I can't think of any who made the transition from buffoon to an utterly convincing and lived-in character more dramatically and winningly than Melissa McCarthy as literary letter forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Some would like veteran Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) to receive a gold-watch award. There is unmistakable late-breaking momentum for character actor extraordinaire Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), whose charm on the campaign trail could put him over the top. And, though there has been some quibbling over Mahershala Ali's placement in this category for Green Book, all quantifiable indications — including Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and BAFTA wins — point to him winning here for the second time in three years (on the heels of Moonlight).
SHOULD WIN: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Richard E. Grant has always posed a bit of a mystery — great in this film and that, then seemingly off the radar for ages. Well, he's back and great again in a mercilessly amusing, indelible performance (playing Lee Israel's hard-partying gay right-hand man) that whisks you back to a very particular and tragic time and place.
WILL WIN: Amy Adams, Vice
If Beale Street Could Talk's Regina King won Golden Globe and Critics' Choice awards (both chosen by journalists, of which there are none in the Academy), but wasn't even nominated for SAG or BAFTA awards (and only one person has ever won an Oscar without even being in the running for either). The Favourite's Rachel Weisz won the BAFTA, but it undoubtedly helped that she's British, and it will be harder for her to beat costar Emma Stone outside of the UK. That leaves Oscar rookie Marina de Tavira (Roma) and perennial Oscar bridesmaid Amy Adams (Vice).
SHOULD WIN: Amy Adams, Vice
This is an unmercifully difficult category, with performances of very different stripes; the two nominated turns in The Favourite alone are impossible to consider one without the other. For her shrewd withholding and whim of iron as Lynne Cheney, I'll support Amy Adams.
WILL WIN: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Forget about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. This is between surprise WGA Award winner Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is adapted from the memoir of its protagonist, Lee Israel; A Star Is Born, which is adapted from earlier screenplays; If Beale Street Could Talk, which is adapted from James Baldwin's celebrated novel; and BlacKkKlansman, the source material of which — the autobiography of its main character, Ron Stallworth — is perhaps the least known of all, but which won a BAFTA and would bring Spike Lee, among others, his first competitive Oscar.
SHOULD WIN: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Here, by contrast, there's no contest, at least if you believe in the basic principles of Screenwriting 101: Can You Ever Forgive Me? is perfectly structured; the character arcs are as sturdy as a well-built flying buttress; and the dialogue is witty and true to its characters and gives the actors lovely opportunities to banter and grow.
WILL WIN: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Some would like vet Paul Schrader (First Reformed), nominated for the first time, to win. Vice's Adam McKay won this award just three years ago for a similarly wacky script, The Big Short. Non-English-language movies have won in this category before, most recently Talk to Her, suggesting Roma has a chance. But the top contenders are Green Book and The Favourite, both dialogue-heavy and witty. The former won a Globe, the latter a BAFTA.
SHOULD WIN: Adam McKay, Vice
This is another ultra-competitive category, with every nominee strong, as well as political, in its own way. The Favourite is mightily potent scene by scene, but it still doesn't have a damn ending, so I have to stick with Vice, which is audacious, smart and shrewd all the way through.
WILL WIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Only once in the last 11 years has a film not from Disney or Pixar won (they make great movies and have large voter blocs), which gives me pause about picking Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony) over Incredibles 2 (Pixar) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney), sequels to a 2005 winner and 2013 nominee, respectively. But my Spidey sense tells me Spider, which swept the precursors — the Annies, the New York and LA film critics, Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA, PGA, ACE, MPSE, VES (only missing ADG and CAS) — has an insurmountable cool factor.
SHOULD WIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea that, in 12 months, I'd be voting for anything related to Spider-Man — or would even go to see anything with the oft-retooled character in it. But here we are and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has swept virtually every animated award in sight, and deservedly so; it's a step above and beyond.
WILL WIN: RBG
This could have been Won’t You Be My Neighbor’s to lose, but the doc branch snubbed it and instead presented the full Academy with the choice of a daringly filmed adventure-doc (Free Solo) or a socially relevant bio-doc (RBG). Both did well commercially, and NatGeo spent heavily in support of Solo, but RBG has a title and symbolic value that seem likely to put it over the top in these hyper-politicized times.
SHOULD WIN: Free Solo
It was such a strong year for documentaries that several of the very best didn't even get nominated. Still, my pick was always going to be Free Solo, a peerless account of risk, nerve and the ability to do something no one had ever done. Even the co-director couldn't stand to watch at one point, he was so nervous.
WILL WIN: Roma
Poland's Cold War has its fans — hence, its directing and cinematography noms — but the other black-and-white nominee, Mexico’s Roma, should run away with this. Four prior non-English films were also simultaneously nominated for best picture and best foreign language film — Z, Life Is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Amour. The former confirms across-the-branches popularity, and each won the latter.
SHOULD WIN: Roma
If I were voting and felt Roma would likely win for best picture, I'd go for Cold War in this category in the hopes of spreading the wealth around. But in an honest film vs. film race, Cuaron's sweeping, poetic, gorgeous, multi-faceted memory piece stands a head above everything else.
WILL WIN: Roma
Since the Academy merged its black-and-white and color cinematography categories 51 years ago, only one black-and-white film has won, Schindler's List. I expect that number will grow to two this year with a win for Roma (which already bagged Critics' Choice and BAFTA awards) over The Favourite. Even people who don't like the film admire its lensing. Cuaron would become the first person to win this award for a film he also directed.
WILL WIN: Black Panther
This is a nail-biter between BAFTA winner The Favourite (Sandy Powell, a three-time winner also nominated this year for Mary Poppins Returns) and Critics' Choice winner Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter, who was the first-ever black nominee in this category and could, on her third nom, become its first-ever black winner). Period fare tends to win, but Favourite could be undercut by Mary Queen of Scots — and there has never been anything quite like Panther.
WILL WIN: Bohemian Rhapsody
One might assume BlacKkKlansman or Green Book — both top-tier best picture contenders — has the edge here, but BAFTA picked Vice and the American Cinema Editors gave its top two prizes to Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite. The latter juggles the storylines of three characters, but ACE's drama winner has gone on to win this Oscar in 11 of the last 15 years, which, along with numerous fast and flashy sequences, bodes well for the former.
WILL WIN: Vice
The edge almost always goes to the nominee that also possess a best picture nom, since that suggests voters beyond the makeup and hairstyling branch have actually seen the film. This year, that means Vice (not Mary Queen of Scots or Swedish-language Border), which has something else going for it, too: voters love seeing famous actors turned into famous politicians who look nothing like they do. (Recent winners include The Iron Lady and Darkest Hour.)
WILL WIN: The Favourite
Black Panther won the Critics' Choice Award, The Favourite won the BAFTA, and both won top prizes at the Art Directors Guild Awards — best fantasy film for the former and best period film for the latter. Panther's Hannah Beachler would be the first black woman to win this award — but the Academy tends to favor period films here, not least because, with fantasy films, it's increasingly hard to distinguish between production design and visual effects.
WILL WIN: If Beale Street Could Talk
Best picture nominees usually win here, which is good news for Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson, whose score already won a Grammy) and BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard, on his long-overdue first nomination). But even people who aren't crazy about soulful Beale seem to be fans of its jazzy score by Nicholas Britell, who was previously nominated two years ago for Moonlight.
WILL WIN: "Shallow," A Star Is Born
There isn’t a safer bet than A Star Is Born's "Shallow," not only because Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sing it so beautifully, but also because it is so organically integrated into the film and has become a bona-fide, Grammy-winning hit outside of it. Black Panther’s "All the Stars" might have had a shot if Kendrick Lamar had supported it. As for RBG's "I'll Fight"? The 10th nom for its criminally Oscar-less songwriter Diane Warren won't prove the charm.
WILL WIN: Bohemian Rhapsody
Black Panther and Roma have campaigned hard, but they are the likeliest also-rans. At the Motion Picture Sound Editors' Golden Reel Awards, First Man was shut out, A Quiet Place (an unfortunate title for a film vying in this category) won one award and Bohemian Rhapsody won two. That breakdown, along with Bohemian's best sound BAFTA win, genre and popularity, suggests that the Freddie Mercury biopic will be the champion, my friends.
WILL WIN: Bohemian Rhapsody
The sound editing and sound mixing Oscars have gone to the same film on only 17 occasions, but I expect this year to mark the 18th. When nominated in this category, musicals — or, at least, music-centric films — almost always do well (La La Land being the most notable recent exception). Bohemian Rhapsody beat A Star Is Born to win the Cinema Audio Society's top prize, which predicted this winner in six of the last 10 years, and, again, won the best sound BAFTA.
WILL WIN: First Man
Few voters know how to evaluate VFX or bother to see all of this category's nominees, so its award is usually won by a nominee that is also nominated for best picture, or, if none are, the nominee that probably came closest. This year, that is clearly First Man, which I expect to hold off Avengers: Infinity War, even though that film became Marvel's first to win the Visual Effects Society's top prize, which has predicted this Oscar in six of the last 10 years.
WILL WIN: Bao
Bao is artful and moving; was seen more widely than the other nominees (it screened before Incredibles 2); and will benefit from not only Disney/Pixar’s built-in bloc of voters, but also the reality that none of the other four options — witty Animal Behaviour, humanistic Late Afternoon, touching One Small Step or inventive and dialogue-free Weekends (made by a Pixar animator through a company program) — has emerged as a primary alternative.
WILL WIN: Period. End of Sentence
End Game is well-made but terribly bleak. Black Sheep and A Night at the Garden are deeply moving, but not all voters accept them as belonging in this category, given that the former is comprised mostly of reenactments and the latter entirely of preexisting footage. Meanwhile, Lifeboat and Period. End of Sentence are about innocent victims and selfless heroes. Edge to Period, the sole nominee with a local connection and/or that leaves viewers hopeful.
WILL WIN: Skin
All five nominees are well-made, entertaining and have the potential to be expanded into a feature (one, Skin, already has been). Detainment features brilliant acting by young kids, but is probably too disturbing and controversial to win; Mother is a gripping horror flick; and wistful Marguerite is the only one that doesn’t leave a viewer devastated. Fauve and Skin are both cinematic and haunting, but the latter provides the audience with a more satisfying ending.
Editor's note: Some "will win" predictions have been updated since this issue went to press. The movies listed here should be considered Feinberg's final choices.
A version of this story appears in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.