An Oscar best picture win can signal boost a movie into the broader conversation where even the least active screen-watchers (like my parents) make a point to check it out. The prize can feel like progress, as when the queer Black love in Moonlight surprised us all by eclipsing the Academy-tailored La La Land to win. Or it can feel like we prefer safe, uplifting takes on discrimination, like The Shape Of Water, as opposed to a more prickly, confrontational conversation like Get Out.
There’s no clear frontrunner in this year’s best picture race – nominations come out January 22 – but we narrowed it down to the main contenders and discuss what it would mean if they won.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga attend a screening of A Star Is Born at TIFF.
A Star Is Born
The Bradley Cooper-directed remake starring Lady Gaga is already a major hit with critics and audiences. For the record, I felt nothing after that Shallows performance.
But Cooper’s generous work with fellow actors can’t be denied and will likely overshadow the film’s questionable dismissal of pop music.
WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN Perhaps it would signal nothing more than the love of an old-fashioned romance, especially when it activates Hollywood’s narcissism by being about show business.
A Star Is Born would also be a safe bet for Oscar voters who would rather retreat from the identity politics that come with the other contenders. That, too, would be telling.
Green Book is comfort food about racism, charming and funny for sure, but yet another story about an exceptional Black man giving a bigoted white man the opportunity to prove he’s not all that bad.
Peter Farrelly’s odd couple comedy has already picked up the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and was named best picture by the National Board of Review, which means so far it has scored more prizes than The Hate U Give, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk and Black Panther.
WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN That a white saviour narrative has this much mileage just proves we haven’t come that far since the days of Driving Miss Daisy.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has swept critics’ awards, but will it have the same effect come Oscar nomination time?
Critics groups in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto have all awarded Alfonso Cuarón’s latest their top prize, nudging Netflix ever so closer to not only the industry-disrupting streamer’s first best picture Oscar nomination but perhaps a win. In the age of Trump, a black-and-white, foreign-language film about an Indigenous nanny is something I’d love to get behind, but I have my reservations about Cuarón’s wondrous ode to his childhood nanny.
The semi-autobiographical film about Cuarón’s upper-middle-class childhood stars Yalitza Aparicio. Her Cleo occupies almost every frame. And yet I felt nothing for her because she’s reduced to a silent, stoic, resilient symbol who lacks interiority. Cleo borders dangerously close to a Magic Indian figure, quietly weathering the elements (look for the earthquake, forest fire and tidal wave).
Meanwhile, Cuarón’s showy tactics – his meticulously choreographed long takes drawing our attention to what’s in the background – regularly dwarf Cleo, as if her main purpose in the film is to be a hanger to hold his epic vision. Even now, she serves him well.
Critics and voting bodies have thus far indicated they would rather reward Roma’s perched sympathy, tinged with white guilt, over If Beale Street Could Talk’s soulful, eye-level empathy for its similarly marginalized characters.
WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN It would say a lot about who votes for awards and the perspective they hold.
If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk hasn’t won a single precursor award this season. The only thing I have to go on in calling it a best picture contender is undying hope that the right one wins.
An adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, Barry Jenkins’s heartache of a movie about love enduring through oppression doesn’t dwell too hard on the trying circumstances facing Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). Instead, it demands an audience see past all of that and feel their strength, beauty and humanity.
Unlike Roma, which distracts from its marginalized lead with a busy mise-en-scène, Beale Street’s sensuously designed, Wong Kar-Wai-inspired set pieces envelope Tish and Fonny, always drawing us closer to them.
WHAT A WIN WOULD MEAN It would convince me that Moonlight’s deserving victory was not just some fluke or a knee-jerk response to #OscarsSoWhite. Let’s hope the Academy is really changing, or at least widening its perspective.
This article is part of NOW’s 2018 Holiday Movie Special. Check out more here.