Best PictureAs usual, I already posted my rankings of the nominated film and my top pick is Vice. This was kind of a weak year for Best Picture, as I would put the each of the last few runners-up over all of this year's entries. But from an imperfect set, I'll go with the work that I feel tried something new and fresh.
I'll be happy if any of my top five get the statue, which since it's only an eight film slate, is not saying much for this year's quality.
Best DirectorI really struggled with this category because of the same imperfections that made selecting a Best Picture this year a little tough. Honestly, if Ryan Coogler had been nominated, I might have picked him because he truly made a great film starring a superhero, which is not easy, or else everyone would be doing it. As it is, I think I'll go with Alfonzo Cuarón, who made an assortment of very unconventional casting choices work pretty well in a well-structured film. I did not pick Roma for Best Picture, but I kind of see this being a situation like Life of Pi, where the craft of a film that far surpassed expectations was too much to not recognize.
Best ActorTo me, this is a slugfest between Christian Bale and Rami Malek, with Bradley Cooper coming in third. Both Bale and Malek truly immersed themselves into their real-life characters, with Bale doing another one of his extreme transformations for a role. I think I have to give my selection to Malek, as he seemed to have more heavy lifting to do and absolutely leapt off the screen as Freddie Mercury. I don't think the Academy can go wrong either way.
Best ActressThere's not a lot to separate this year's nominees, though I think the climactic scenes of The Wife have earned Glenn Close her first Oscar in seven tries. I was not thinking this during most of the film, but then she went from enigmatic to slow burn to this stunning combination of fury and sadness and fear. Honestly, if she's not going to win this year, I don't know what she has to do. None of the other nominees really did it for me, though if I were to pick a runner up, it would be Lady Gaga, who coupled her extraordinary musical talents with some very solid acting chops. If we tend to over-reward actors who sing these days, should we over-reward singers who act?
Best Supporting ActressI would have gone for my perennial favorite actress Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney in Vice, but then Regina King went and had one of those Oscar-winning moments in a breakdown after a failed attempt to negotiate for her daughter's baby daddy's future during a mission to Puerto Rico in If Beale Street Could Talk. Watching that I immediately thought she'd vaulted into the Oscar discussion.
Best Supporting ActorWhy don't we just name this award after Mahershala Ali? Or better yet, make him only take leading roles from now on? Because man, he is too good to just be the perennial supporting actor nominee. His Don Shirley is worldly, erudite, and vulnerable. Green Book would be a poorer movie with almost anyone else in that role. If for some reason Ali doesn't win, I'm hoping that Richard E. Grant wins for his ne'er do well Jack Hock in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a classic rogue who's joyful to watch in action.
Best Original ScreenplayI have not seen First Reformed. Of the others, I think I'd lean toward The Favourite, which really has some delightful moments and has a few things to say about class differences. I put that slightly in front of Green Book, which also has a way with its words.
Best Adapted ScreenplayI've not seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Of the others, I think it's hard to beat the lyrical combination that is Barry Jenkins interpreting James Baldwin's words in If Beale Street Could Talk. The entire movie is almost prose poetry, and blends nicely with the film's masterful score.
Best Animated FeatureI'll just remind you of my rules about assessing Best Animated Feature nominees:
- A nominated film should have seen wide release to win. The larger populace that votes for the eventual winner in Animated Feature seems to not do the same level of homework that it might do for the bigger awards like Best Picture, so to have a real shot, a contender has to be one the voters already know something about.
- Innovation helps, at least to some extent. Some animated nominees were the first to really try some major new technique. I don't think this criteria trumps the first one, but it may help break a tie.
- The winner is often the one that, if shot as a live action film, would still have significant merit. If the story transcends the animation, you may have a winner.
With that, I went into the last couple weeks expecting Isle of Dogs as my choice, as it's hard to top a Wes Anderson animated concept. But then I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Wow. It is the best animated film I've seen since probably Up. And it certainly checks the boxes. Released widely, it is a movie whose direct story would make for a pretty decent live action superhero movie. But what really does it for me is the effective mixing of different animation styles into a cohesive whole. It's truly a stunning film, and well deserving of this honor. Well done!