Wakanda forever? The eight films singled out for the Academy's top prize include the highest grosser of 2018 and two box office smashes ('Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'A Star Is Born') in the most commercial crop of nominees in years.
RELEASE DATE Feb. 16
BOX OFFICE $1.3B
SEVEN NOMINATIONS Picture, music, song and four crafts
STRENGTHS Sure, a win would make the fanboys happy, but it's more than just the first superhero movie to break into the circle of best picture nominees. More importantly, it marked a cultural moment, an Afrocentric corrective that saw black actors and craftsmen take center stage to the excitement of audiences eager to see themselves reflected onscreen. Plus, by now, nearly half of the actors branch (the Academy's largest) has either appeared in a Marvel movie or hopes to do so in the future.
WEAKNESSES It is built around a comic book character, no matter how noble, and for some that means it lacks the requisite seriousness for Oscar. And, unfairly or not, none of its actors collected a nomination.
DISTRIBUTOR Focus Features
RELEASE DATE Aug. 10
BOX OFFICE $89.4M
SIX NOMINATIONS Picture, director, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, editing, music
STRENGTHS In its powerful finale, the movie takes direct aim at Donald ("Very fine people on both sides") Trump as it underscores that the racism exhibited by the KKK in the 1970s persists today. So a vote for this is both a condemnation of the past and a repudiation of those who still traffic in such beliefs. In retrospect, it now looks near criminal that Spike Lee's 1989 breakthrough Do the Right Thing didn't get a best picture nom, so a best picture statuette for his latest film, which is just as dynamic, could be the right thing.
WEAKNESSES For some, Lee will always be a polemicist who hasn't shied away from criticizing the Academy and its choices in the past. And he received an honorary Oscar in 2016, so he doesn't need another trophy so soon.
DISTRIBUTOR 20th Century Fox
RELEASE DATE Nov. 2
BOX OFFICE $798.8M to date
FIVE NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, editing and two other crafts
STRENGTHS Who doesn't like singing along to "We Are the Champions"? For Queen fans, actor nominee Rami Malek convincingly summons the spirit of Freddie Mercury, and there's a potent re-creation of 1985's Live Aid.
WEAKNESSES But, wait, wasn't Bryan Singer fired off the film? Even if producer Graham King gets extra credit for keeping the project from imploding, how do you reward a movie whose director went AWOL?
DISTRIBUTOR Fox Searchlight
RELEASE DATE Nov. 23
BOX OFFICE $42.5M to date
10 NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actress, supporting actress (two), original screenplay, production design and three other crafts
STRENGTHS When in doubt, the Academy loves falling back on a costume drama, and this one has costumes — and wigs! — to die for. It also has some of the most cutthroat female intrigue since the 1950 Oscar winner All About Eve, performed here by nominees Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.
WEAKNESSES Best director nominee Yorgos Lanthimos' fish-eye angles can be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. And male voters may be alienated since most of the poncey men in the movie look like fools.
RELEASE DATE Nov. 16
BOX OFFICE $46.7M to date
FIVE NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, supporting actor, original screenplay, editing
STRENGTHS It's a crowd-pleaser, as its Toronto Film Festival audience award attests. And for many, it's a well-told, expertly acted (by nominees Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali), reassuring parable about how mutual respect can transcend racial differences.
WEAKNESSES So far, the movie has weathered the criticism that has swirled around it — complaints from Don Shirley's family, Peter Farrelly's flashing, Tony Vallelonga's anti-Muslim tweet — and even picked up the PGA award. But the fact that Peter Farrelly failed to claim a directing nom is disquieting.
RELEASE DATE Nov. 21
BOX OFFICE N/A
10 NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actress, supporting actress, foreign language, original screenplay and four crafts
STRENGTHS The fact that Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira — names that weren't anywhere on Hollywood's radar six months ago — got nominations means attention is being paid to Alfonso Cuaron's loving re-creation of his childhood in Mexico City. And the film's craft noms, like sound and sound mixing, suggest Academy members are experiencing it in theaters, not just accessing it via Netflix.
WEAKNESSES Sure, we all know the history — no foreign-language film has ever won best picture — but history is made to be rewritten. Still, there's one danger ahead: Some could vote for it for best foreign-language film and consider their duty done.
DISTRIBUTOR Warner Bros.
RELEASE DATE Oct. 5
BOX OFFICE $409.2M to date
EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, adapted screenplay, song and two crafts
STRENGTHS Traditionally, the Academy has looked favorably on actors turned directors, especially when they direct themselves — witness Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves, Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and Mel Gibson's Braveheart. And Bradley Cooper didn't just direct and act, he also produced, wrote and sang — all while ensuring a genuine star took flight in co-star Lady Gaga. None of the three previous versions of this quintessential celebrity love story took best picture, but maybe the fourth time's the charm.
WEAKNESSES In the end — even though its concert scenes represent a degree of difficulty — some could say it's still just a remake. And unlike Costner, Eastwood and Gibson, Cooper missed out on a directing nom.
RELEASE DATE Dec. 25
BOX OFFICE $39.5M to date
EIGHT NOMINATIONS Picture, director, actor, supporting actor and actress, original screenplay and two crafts
STRENGTHS Adam McKay's warts-and-all portrait of Dick Cheney — uh, make that just warts — has secured all the key noms to make a run at the big prize. And the shape-shifting Christian Bale seems to be the prohibitive favorite in his category.
WEAKNESSES Though the movie criticizes the former veep, there's a certain type of Hollywood liberal who doesn't want to give him any more attention, even if it's negative.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.