With Oscar Sunday less than a week away, I figured it was about that time – to take a peek at each of the eight nominees for this year’s Best Picture and cast my vote (not that The Academy cares what I think) for which title (likely) will take home the evening’s top prize.
And the nominees – in the order in which I saw them – are:
What’s it about? In this marvel from Marvel, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda to take his rightful place as King following the death of his father. But when a new and unexpected threat surfaces, it puts T’Challa’s reign, the future of Wakanda and the fate of the world at risk.
What makes it a contender? Everything. Seriously, everything. “Black Panther” takes superhero movies to a new level with its strong story and stronger characters, including some of the strongest females ever assembled. Its themes, performances and direction, colors and effects, and cultural homage easily prove “Black Panther” to be an all-encompassing powerhouse that gets so many things right
Will it win? It might. Wakanda Forever! The film reined in the Screen Actors Guild award for Cast in a Motion Picture. If that’s any indicator… .
A STAR IS BORN
What’s it about? Bradley Cooper stars in and directs this romantic drama in which a hard-core addict musician discovers and falls for a woman (Best Actress nominee Lady Gaga) with untapped yet undeniable musical talents.
What makes it a contender? In addition to captivating performances from Cooper, Gaga and Supporting Actor nominee Sam Elliott, “A Star is Born” yields achingly beautiful vision from its director; its thoughtfulness and tone adds a sense of heartache to this triumphant yet woeful story; the original songs are delivered with such tenderness and energy that you feel them in your soul.
Will it win? Probably not, but look for Gaga to nab a statue for Original Song. And I’m actually surprised Cooper (who garnered recognition as a Best Actor hopeful) didn’t get a nod for his rhythmic work behind the camera. Anyone else?
What’s it about? This biographical flick follows the four gents that wowed with their music and showmanship as Queen, the storyline focusing mainly on the band’s iconic lead singer. “Bohemian Rhapsody” brings to life the times and the tunes as well as the turbulence of success.
What makes it a contender? This one definitely is a toe-tappin’ crowd pleaser. Rami Malek channels his inner rock star, embracing the nuances that defined the legend and almost literally transforms into Freddie Mercury.
Will it win? Probably not, but Malek very likely will take home that Best Actor award.
What’s it about? A good blend of comedy and drama, “Vice” tells the “… as true as it can be…” account of Dick Cheney’s (Best Actor nominee Christian Bale) dominant and powerful track to becoming Vice President of the United States.
What makes it a contender? Best Director nominee Adam McKay, the same writer-director who gave me a big headache with the troublingly truthful peek at the housing market crash in 2015’s “The Big Short,” once again delivers wry humor, innovative narration techniques, fourth-wall breaks and stinging realism. This one is full of amazing performances – with spot-on personal ticks – from Bale and Supporting Actor nominee Sam Rockwell (as George W. Bush), as well as the commanding Amy Adams (up for Supporting Actress as Lynne Cheney), who kicks ass and steals scenes like it’s her job.
Will it win? Just like “The Big Short,” no.
What’s it about? Set in 1708, “The Favourite” is part comedy, part drama – and total diabolical malevolence, in which cousins Sarah Churchill (Supporting Actress nominee Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Supporting Actress nominee Emma Stone) try to best one another to be the court favourite of Queen Anne (Best Actress hopeful Olivia Colman).
What makes it a contender? It’s visually stunning. Stun-ning! From the sets to the costumes to the camera angles and techniques, it’s a cinematic masterpiece. The use of the fish eye lens offers a unique perspective, allowing us to see so much while it symbolically speaks volumes of inescapable loneliness.
Will it win? I don’t think so, but keep an eye on “The Favourite” to be a favorite for Costuming, Production Design and Cinematography (though it’s up against a tough competitor there).
What’s it about? Inspired by a true story, pianist Don Shirley (Supporting Actor nominee Mahershala Ali) hires Copa Cabana bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Best Actor nominee Viggo Mortenson) – based on his “innate ability to handle trouble” – as his driver for a musical tour in the 1960’s deep South.
What makes it a contender? Knockout performances from both Mortenson and Ali will resonate long after you’ve left the theater; personal and definitive discussions of one’s heritage and its place in 1962 society; arguably the best (and most unlikely) onscreen bromance since Buzz and Woody – amiright?!?!
Will it win? I absolutely loved “Green Book,” so I wouldn’t be upset if it won (though I doubt it will). Its cerebral story runs the gamut of emotions, and its message still is relevant – perhaps even more so – today.
What’s it about? Based on the 2014 memoir “Black Klansman,” this flick follows Colorado Springs Police Department’s first African-American detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), as he attempts to not only infiltrate but expose the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.
What makes it a contender? “Dis joint is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t.” The story alone is insanely bold, and director Spike Lee makes an even bolder statement the only way he knows how. The use of those split screens gives “BlacKkKlansman” that fo’ real 70s vibe, and the recent footage at the film’s close is a head-shaking eye opener.
Will it win? Oh, man. It really should. It’s intense and so well done. “BlacKkKlansman” is brilliant and significant. It’s also entertaining AF because of the engaging work from Washington, Supporting Actor nominee Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Robert Burke; and Ryan Eggold, Michael Buscemi, Topher Grace and Jasper Pääkkönen. And there’s that heavy, heavy scene with Harry Belafonte. Right? Damn!
What’s it about? Best Director nominee Alfonso Cuaròn wore many hats to bring to the screen this semi-autobiographical look at his upbringing in Mexico City; the narrative depicts the life of live-in housekeeper Cleo (Best Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio) in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma neighborhood.
What makes it a contender? It’s the nuances: the imagery; the focus; those hypnotic long takes; the way the camera moves – or doesn’t – to capture the action; the care given to simultaneously show activity on multiple planes. Simply put, “Roma” is visual poetry. It’s a very personal story that deftly balances anguish with artfulness.
Will it win? Probably. A no-brainer for Cinematography, “Roma” already nabbed a Best Film BAFTA and a Best Picture Golden Globe, so don’t be shocked if (when) it takes home Oscar gold.
Find out for sure which film wins this, that or the other thing at 7 p.m. CST Sunday, Feb. 24.