With all of this year’s Oscar narratives thoroughly dissected and each of the contenders mapped out, it’s time for the first real assessment of this season’s best picture race in this space. Below are the top 10 players as we see it, with nominations just over a month away.
(Also check out In Contention’s full list of predictions in the Academy’s 21 feature film categories.)
Spike Lee’s latest has been on a mission since scooping up the Grand Prix in Cannes back in May. It’s a movie that speaks to the zeitgeist, which is always a key ingredient in the best picture derby, and it does so quite directly; footage from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., closes out the drama.
“Black Panther” (Disney)
In some corners of the web, you’ll uncover actual anger over a Marvel release finding itself in the Oscar discussion. “Superhero movies are for children and teens,” one person sniped on Twitter when asked why so serious. OK, but what about movies that center a conversation about growing up with systemic oppression versus growing up surrounded by an encouraging sense of personal history and achievement? Who are those movies for?
“The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight)
Searchlight is always in the thick of it, but the reigning best picture champ’s broader play, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” appears to be struggling after a great festival-season launch. “The Favourite,” however, is a consistent critics’ fave that has below-the-line appeal, making it more formidable.
“First Man” (Universal)
Given the disappointing box office profile of Oscar winner Damien Chazelle’s intimate moonshot drama, it would be fair to consider “First Man” the weak link here. However, a strong broadcast film critics reception (10 nominations including best picture) proves there’s still passion in broad groups, e.g. the Motion Picture Academy.
“Green Book” (Universal)
Perhaps the most old-fashioned of this year’s contenders, “Green Book” has delighted audiences since winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. It has its share of detractors, but it keeps on ticking all the same.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna)
Barry Jenkins returns after “Moonlight” with another home run, a companion piece of sorts to his 2016 best picture winner. The Academy’s various crafts branches are sure to swoon, and even if it might not have the wide-ranging support to win, like “Moonlight,” it has a fiery passion base that will get it into the running.
“Bradley Cooper’s take on an ages-old tale looks to be the front-runner.”
“Mary Poppins Returns” (Disney)
Very little in this year’s race sends you out of the theater on a cloud like “Mary Poppins Returns”; in Hollywood, at this moment in time, that’s going to count for a lot. And like “The Favourite” and “Beale Street,” Rob Marshall’s musical is mouth-watering for the various crafts branches.
The crown jewel of this year’s lineup (in this columnist’s humble opinion) is Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal black-and-white meditation, and the film that could bring him a second best-director Oscar. The big question: Can a foreign language film win best picture? More to the point, can a Netflix film?
“A Star Is Born” (Warner Bros.)
Bradley Cooper’s take on an ages-old tale looks to be the front-runner. It’s been an industry favorite since the first-time director began showing it to friends and colleagues well over a year ago, a populist piece of work that fires on all cylinders, which professional filmmakers will respect.
Adam McKay’s latest could be perceived as vulnerable, given some critical assessments, but it could not have hoped for a better launch than a field-leading six Golden Globe nominations. It’s deep satire, and that either works for you or it doesn’t, but it worked for enough voters on “The Big Short,” McKay’s previous Oscar winner. Plus, a performance like Christian Bale’s does a lot of legwork.
Films just on the outside of the short list include “Bohemian Rhapsody,” boasting far more fans in the industry than among the critical rank and file; “Cold War,” which could make history with “Roma” if both foreign films are nominated; “Eighth Grade,” a critics’ favorite that could make A24 a return nominee when many counted them out; “Leave No Trace,” which boasts its own impressive critical profile and netted director Debra Granik a major LA film critics prize; and “A Quiet Place,” an AFI selection that could be an attractive option for voters looking for popular titles.
Find out which films made the cut when Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 22.