Oscars: How 'Roma,' 'A Star Is Born' and Others Must Now Shift Gears to Go the Distance

Oscars In Gear_Illo - THR - H 2019
Illustration by: Johnny Dombrowski

Voting is done and nominations are coming Jan. 22, so several top contenders should make course corrections in their campaigns if they want to be recognized by the Academy come Feb. 24.

Lost in the hoopla of the Jan. 6 Golden Globes and the parade of awards and nominations that came tumbling out the following week was this simple fact: The death knell has now rung for a host of once-promising candidates in the race for a best picture Oscar. Private Life, Mary Queen of Scots, First Reformed, Widows, The Mule, At Eternity's Gate, The Front Runner, On the Basis of Sex, Ben Is Back, Beautiful Boy and Boy Erased are just some of the titles that can say goodbye to their chances of winning the top Academy Award, even if their hopes remain alive for earning a picture nomination and perhaps taking home a statuette in another category after noms are announced.

This is not for the most obvious reason, that none of those contenders won one of the top Globes. In fact, the Globes have been an indifferent litmus test for the Oscars of late — over the past decade, only 50 percent of Globe winners in the best drama and best musical/comedy categories have gone on to victory with the Academy. Rather, it's because a bunch of other, more reliable indices are trending against them.

No film in the past 10 years has won the best picture Oscar without being nominated by both the Directors Guild and BAFTA; and Oscar winners have a history of being nominated for one of the Writers Guild's two top prizes, with the exception of movies the WGA deemed ineligible (mainly because they weren't made under guild contracts).

That means, if the past is indeed prologue, the ultimate Oscar will go to one of these competitors: A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, Roma or Vice.

Two other strong entries, Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite, failed to earn DGA or WGA noms (Favourite didn't qualify for the latter), which gives both down arrows, despite Favourite's impressive 12 BAFTA nominations. As for Rhapsody, no best picture winner has ever been credited to a director who was fired in the middle of the shoot, as was the case with Bryan Singer.

How can these finalists shift gears for phase two and convert a nom into a win?

A Star Is Born Despite impressive damage control after negative publicity about Lady Gaga's connection to R. Kelly (she apologized for working with the alleged sexual miscreant), the Warner Bros. release won no major Globes, taking only best song. Strategists might have erred in touting the film as a drama, not a musical. Time for the picture to embrace what it truly is: part of a hallowed tradition, the toughest of all genres to pull off.

BlacKkKlansman The movie's greatest asset may be its biggest drawback: director Spike Lee. The polarizing filmmaker is admired but not widely liked in Academy circles, despite being granted an honorary Oscar in 2015. (He has never received a directing nomination.) Focus Features needs to put him on the back burner, turn to BlacKkKlansman's charismatic stars, John David Washington and Adam Driver, and remind voters of what Lee did so brilliantly: take one of the most serious issues of our times and make it grist for a comedy.

Green Book The feel-good movie of the year has been feeling kind of bad after revelations that its director made a habit of parading his genitals and its writer once tweeted support for Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric. Universal should double down on civil rights leaders and other activists who can defend the crowd-pleaser (as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does on page 38) and make executive producer Octavia Spencer lead spokesperson, boosting the points she earned with her Globes presentation.

Roma It may be deja vu for Alfonso Cuaron, who won a directing Oscar for Gravity in 2014 but lost best picture to 12 Years a Slave. Netflix has been wise to put him front and center, at the risk of overkill. Now it needs to persuade Oscar voters that Netflix itself is on the organization's side and deflate objections by the likes of Steven Spielberg that the streamer should be in the Emmy, not Oscar, business. Best move: a bold proclamation to pursue other theatrical releases and learn from Roma's success on big screens.

Vice The bad news for Green Book may be good news for Vice, if it wishes to lure Academy members who want to send a political message. Position Adam McKay's satiric biopic as the year's most anti-Trump movie (even if it's really anti-George W. Bush), so that liberal voters see it as Hollywood's best symbol of resistance.

This story also appears in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.