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Alfonso Cuarón Sets His Sights on a Major Oscar Record

Despite waves of critical adulation in the wake of its Venice Film Festival premiere two months ago, Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film “Roma” — the director’s most personal work to date — admittedly has a few on-paper hurdles to clear on its way to potential Oscar glory.

First, it’s a foreign-language film; only 10 such films have landed best picture nominations in the Academy’s 90-year history, the most recent being Michael Haneke’s “Amour” six years ago. Second, it’s a Netflix film; the streaming giant is still seeking its first bid in the category, in the face of many who view it as the enemy. And figuring in the mighty actors branch, the Academy’s largest group, there are no well-known performers in the film — in fact, it’s largely populated with non-actors and newcomers.

Cuarón himself even faces a notable challenge in the cinematography race; the branch has never nominated a filmmaker who served as his or her own director of photography.

Those are the challenges, yet “Roma,” by many estimates the year’s finest film, still feels like the hearty, across-the-board contender it should be, i.e., it’s poised to shift some of the governing awards-season logic. Eight or nine nominations are well within its grasp.

But the headline is this: Alfonso Cuarón has a shot at tying Walt Disney’s all-time record for most nominations by an individual in a single year. Well, sort of (more on that in a moment).

Not only that, but while Disney pulled his 1954 haul from six separate movies, Cuarón is poised to do so for a single motion picture. That would obliterate the record of four shared by Warren Beatty (“Heaven Can Wait” and “Reds”), Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”).* In fact, only one other person besides Disney has ever received more than four nominations in the same year: Francis Ford Coppola picked up three for “The Godfather Part II” and a pair for “The Conversation” in 1974.

As producer, director, screenwriter, cinematographer and editor of “Roma,” Cuarón seems assured Academy mentions for most if not all disciplines he tackled on the film.** Meanwhile, recent rules have spread the love within the foreign-language film category from merely the country represented to the director behind the work as well…at least as far as the win is concerned; as of 2014, the director’s name is etched on the Oscar statuette along with the country. Now, the Academy’s language still notes that only the country is the nominee of record, but if the winning director’s name is etched on the prize, why wouldn’t the nomination be his/hers, too? That remains a murky bit of business the Academy ought to clear up, but all told, Cuarón’s name — with an asterisk if it must — could reasonably be expected in the Oscar record books alongside a titan of the industry very shortly.

And if indeed the cinematographers let him onto the field of play (it would be an asinine snub), he could quickly become the odds-on favorite there. After winning directing and film editing Oscars for “Gravity” five years ago, adding a cinematography prize to the mantle would add the exclamation point: He’s one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, hitting milestones few are likely to reach.

The season only just got started, so who knows what fate awaits Cuarón and his film. But the possibilities sure are eye-popping at the outset.

For more on “Roma,” read Variety’s cover story on Cuarón and the childhood memories that shaped the project.

*Orson Welles was nominated in three categories for “Citizen Kane.” The film’s best picture nomination officially went to distributor Mercury at a time before producers were recognized on the ballot.

**Not to be left out of this general conversation is Bradley Cooper. As producer, director, writer and star of “A Star Is Born,” he has an angle on four nominations for the same movie this year. He would have had a shot at a fifth, but it appears Warner Bros. has opted out of submitting any of the original songs he co-wrote with Lukas Nelson for the film, pooling resources around “Shallow,” “Always Remember Us This Way” and “I’ll Never Love Again” instead.

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