Sunday night is Oscar night, from the red carpet in the early evening to the white line in the small hours. The Oscars, like the most of the members of the Academy, have seen better days. Audience shares are down, and it no longer seems possible to find presenters who can read jokes from an autocue, or, in the case of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in 2017, read the Best Picture winner’s name correctly.
This year, it wasn’t even possible to find a presenter. Kevin Hart would have been a great host — unlike most actors in Hollywood, he’s capable of ad libbing, and he can also move the muscles of his face. But Hart was culled on grounds of political correctness. Instead, we’ll be subject to an endless parade of actors who’ve ‘volunteered’ to help out, in the way that press gangs used to find volunteers for the navy. The multiplication of hosts will ensure that we’re sprayed with a greater barrage of politically correct drool than usual. I can’t wait.
This pixellation of the presenters reflects the entropy of the modern movie business. There is still a sign and a place called ‘Hollywood’, but films are now streamed, not seen, and if there was an Oscar for studio of the year, it would go to Netflix, whose disembodied back lot has produced some of the year’s best movies. That might be bad for the old studios, but it’s good for us, the viewers.
It is rumored that the Academy, in its wisdom, has decided to abandon to tradition of having last year’s winners present this year’s Oscars, and to use more famous actors instead. This is a futile tweaking of the format in pursuit of ratings and relevance. But introducing a Best Popular Film category was a good idea. The first Oscar ceremony, in 1929, awarded two Best Picture Oscars, one for sales, the other for quality. No one pretends the two are natural partners, so why not give one Oscar for business and another for show?
Well, because show business is too political for its own good. When the Best Popular Film idea was announced, people started calling it the ‘Black Panther award’. The Academy, fearing it might be seen to have added a new variation to its rich repertoire of patronizing attitudes towards black people, dropped the Best Popular category.
Does that mean Black Panther has less chance of winning Best Picture? Probably not. Best Picture has never gone to a superhero film. Sooner or later, the violent infantilization of American culture, a regression in which Hollywood has played a leading role, will break that pattern. But I suspect that A Star is Born, which lost out to the deeply mediocre Bohemian Rhapsody at the Golden Globes, will win on Sunday night.
The one thing that the Academy enjoys more than a bit of virtue signaling is a fit of self-congratulation. That’s why its members keep funding remakes of A Star is Born. Also, the Academy has decided that the cure for the falling Oscar ratings is the impossible, cashing and retaining the attention of millennials. So Lady Gaga is my tip for Best Actress.
The same business sense probably means that The Favourite won’t convert its multiple nominations into more than a couple of second-rank Oscars. And even then, the Best Costume might go to Black Panther, and Best Cinematography to the vastly superior Cold War. Then again, Cold War which, along with First Reformed, would be my films of the year, may well be beaten in Best Foreign Language by Roma, and Cold War’s director Pawel Pawlikowski may well lose out to Roma’s director Alfonso Cuarón, but Best Director is the hardest category to call this year.
Harvey Mansfield — not a Hollywood producer, but a Harvard professor — was so frustrated by grade inflation that he started giving his students two grades, a real one for their personal use and a false one for their academic record. Critics should take the same approach to the Oscars. I’ll be back on Monday morning to see how badly wrong I was in both categories.
Best Picture should go to Cold War or First Reformed, neither of which were nominated, and should otherwise go to Roma, but will probably go to A Star is Born.
Best Director is the toughest category to call this year, with three foreign movies nominated along with the perennially second-rate Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman). Pawel Pawlikowski should win for Cold War, or Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), but will the Academy be able to resist giving the Oscar to a black director for the first time?
Best Actress should go to Yalitza Aparicio, Glenn Close or Melissa McCarthy, but it’ll probably go to Lady Gaga.
There’s a distinct possibility that Best Actor will go to Best Prosthetics, and be awarded to either Christian Bale (Vice) or Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody). I can see a split vote here, giving the award to Bradley Cooper, whose prosthesis is an acoustic guitar.
Best Supporting Actress presents a dilemma for the virtue-signaling voter. It should go to Amy Adams for Vice, but Marina de Tavira (Roma) and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) fit the profile.
The same goes for Best Supporting Actor. Richard E. Grant was wonderful in Can You Ever Forgive Me. But giving the award to Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Sam Rockwell (Vice) will send the preferred racial and political message.
Best Original Screenplay should go to Paul Schrader for First Reformed. Anything less will be one of those all too common Oscar farces.
Black Panther should win Best Costume. It’ll probably take Best Production Design too.
Best Original Song may see ‘All the Stars’ (Black Panther) beating ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go (Mary Poppins Returns) for the usual tokenistic reasons. Too bad.
Best Original Score has two composers who deserve an Oscar every time, Alexandre Desplat (Isle of Dogs) and Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman), but Marc Shaiman, who I suspect may miss out in Best Original Song, may sneak through here for Mary Poppins Returns.
Best Foreign Film