“Roma,” a black-and-white, Spanish language coming-of-age drama, and “The Favourite,” a comedy about life in the court of an obscure English monarch, dominated nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, picking up a leading 10 nods apiece. The competition for the top honor also includes “Black Panther,” the blockbuster comic book film; “A Star is Born,” a rock ‘n roll remake of an oft-told love story; and “Vice,” a scabrous look at the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Roma’s” strong morning solidifies Netflix’s position as a major force in prestige filmmaking, not to mention a company that is willing to spend top dollar to promote its films to Oscar voters. It is the first time Netflix has earned a best picture nomination. “The Favourite’s” recognition comes as Fox Searchlight, the studio behind the critically adored film is preparing for life under a new corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company.
The remaining films among the eight nominees for best picture are “BlacKkKlansman,” a thriller about a black detective’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan, “Green Book,” a road trip dramedy that unfolds in the Civil Rights era, and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a biopic of Freddie Mercury that endured the firing of its director Bryan Singer to emerge as a box office sensation. This year, also marks the first time that a superhero film, “Black Panther,” has earned a best picture nod. The Marvel adventure became a cultural sensation and a rallying cry for the power of inclusion at a time when Hollywood is under pressure to produce more movies starring women and people of color.
“A Star Is Born” and “Vice” scored eight nominations each, with “Black Panther” close behind with seven nods. “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” each racked up five nominations.
Glenn Close picked up her seventh Oscar nomination for “The Wife,” an indie drama about a woman whose contributions to the career of her husband, a Nobel Prize-winning author, have been overlooked. If she loses, Close will become the unluckiest actress in Oscar history, lapping Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr, both with six losses, for that questionable distinction. Close’s main competition is likely to come from Lady Gaga, the pop singer who dazzled critics with her turn as a blazing new vocal talent in “A Star is Born,” or Olivia Colman, the English actress who ably unearthed the bruised heart of an otherwise gorgon of a queen in “The Favourite.” The other contenders are Yalitza Aparicio for her work as a kind-heartted nanny in “Roma” and Melissa McCarthy for her turn as a misanthropic literary forger in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Best actor is also looking to be a tight race. As expected, Christian Bale earned his fourth nomination for his chameleonic turn as Dick Cheney in “Vice.” The Welsh actor packed on 40 pounds to transform himself into the conservative politician, and despite the fact that he’s already been rewarded for “The Fighter” (he shed weight for that one), he could be well positioned to earn his second statue following a Golden Globes win. Right now, Bale’s main rivals for the prize are likely to be Rami Malek, nominated for his performance as Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Bradley Cooper, recognized for his work as an alcoholic singer in “A Star is Born.” Malek won the Globe for best actor in a drama, while Bale took the best actor in a comedy prize. The Oscars don’t distinguish between the categories in that way. The other nominees were Willem Dafoe for his work as a tortured Vincent Van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate” and Viggo Mortensen as a racist bouncer in “Green Book.” Despite being recognized for his acting Cooper was snubbed for his work directing “A Star is Born.”
Instead, the directing category includes “Roma’s” Alfonso Cuaron, a previous Oscar-winner for “Gravity,” “Vice’s” Adam McKay, “The Favourite’s” Yorgos Lanthimos, and “Cold War’s” Paweł Pawlikowski. The fifth slot went to Spike Lee for “BlacKkKlansman.” It was astoundingly, the first directing nomination for Lee, despite a resume that includes such classics as “Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing.” Lee was also nominated for producing “BlacKkKlansman” and for co-writing its screenplay.
Cuaron, who drew on his childhood in Mexico City to craft “Roma,” also scored Oscar nominations for his work as a producer, writer, and cinematographer on the film. That showing ties him with Warren Beatty, Alan Menken, and Joel and Ethan Coen for the most nominations for a single movie. Beatty previously pulled off that feat on two separate occasions, for “Heaven Can Wait” and “Reds,” while Menken hit the milestone with his compositions for “Beauty and the Beast” and the Coens achieved the feat for “No Country for Old Men.” Cuaron was shut out in one category — he was overlooked for editing “Roma.”
All of this jockeying for awards comes amidst tectonic shifts in the movie business. It has been roughly a year since “The Shape of Water” swept the 2018 Oscars and in the ensuing months the landscape has been forever altered. Disney is wrapping up its $72 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox and much of the Murdoch clan’s entertainment assets, and AT&T has completed its $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, rechristening the company WarnerMedia in the process. The hope is that these mergers will better position the companies for a digital future, one in which customers prefer to have their movies and shows are streamed to their televisions, laptops, and smartphones. At the same time, Netflix, the internet disruptor who has ushered in these changes, has shown a willingness this awards season to incorporate more of the old ways of doing business. “Roma,” for instance, became one of the digital giant’s first movies to have an exclusive theatrical release. However, its relatively brief two weeks in theaters only run did little to endear Netflix to exhibitors.
Netflix has also exhibited a traditional media company’s affinity for validation in the form of golden baubles. The company has spent heavily in its pursuit of awards attention, shelling out more than $25 million in its battle to make “Roma” an Oscar champion. As part of that effort, it also signed a deal with veteran awards strategist Lisa Taback to provide her services. Taback has previously overseen the campaigns for such Oscar darlings as “Chicago” and “The Artist.”
It was a bittersweet morning for Fox, which scored the most nominations of any company, a leading 20, even as it stared down the barrel at virtual oblivion. The Disney merger will likely result in thousands of layoffs. In addition to “The Favourite,” Fox scored five nominations for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” two for “Isle of Dogs,” and three for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Every Oscar campaign attracts controversies and this year has been no exception. “Green Book” is riding high after its win at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday, but the look at the friendship between a white nightclub bouncer and the black jazz pianist he’s hired to drive through the segregated South has careened from one bad headline to another. In recent weeks, decades-old stories about director Peter Farrelly exposing himself to actors as a joke on the sets of his earlier films recirculated, and an anti-Muslim tweet by producer Nick Vallelonga was discovered and widely shared on Twitter. Farrelly was snubbed in the directing category. Likewise, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been grappling with how to best handle the firing of Singer, who, depending on the telling, either stopped showing up to set as part of a career-long pattern of unprofessional behavior or had to deal with a family emergency. So far Malek and the producers’ solution has simply been to ignore the elephant in the auditorium by ignoring him in their awards show speeches.
The Oscar telecast itself has also suffered its share of missteps. In December, Kevin Hart was tapped to host the broadcast, but stepped down within days of his selection after controversy erupted over his past homophobic jokes. Hart’s initial decision to shrug off the mounting anger over his comments in a shirtless Instagram video only further inflamed the criticism (he later apologized, saying he was “sorry I hurt people”). The Academy now seems poised to have a host-less telecast for the first time since its 1990 broadcast. Even if the Oscars had been able to snag a big-name replacement the show itself has been increasingly diminished. The looser, boozier Globes, which also honors the best in television, has seen its profile rise, and there have been a ballooning list of televised awards show competitors, ranging from the Indie Spirits to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, to siphon off viewers. Indeed, ratings for last year’s Oscar telecast, which was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, hit a record low of 26.5 million viewers. In contrast, the 2014 show attracted an audience of 43.7 million.
There were several unexpected nominations and admissions. Timothee Chalamet was overlooked in the supporting actor category for his performance as a drug addict in Amazon’s “Beautiful Boy,” a blow for the streamer which has been reassessing its approach to making movies after a series of box office disappointments. Amazon will have to content itself with a best foreign language film and directing nominee for “Cold War.” Other performers who were overlooked include John David Washington for his turn as a crusading cop in “BlacKkKlansman,” Emily Blunt for putting a new spin on a familiar nanny in “Mary Poppins Returns,” and Claire Foy for her work as Janet Armstrong, the long-suffering wife of astronaut Neil Armstrong, in “First Man.”
With Chalamet left out in the cold, the supporting actor race will be between Mahershala Ali (“Green Book”), Adam Driver (“BlacKkKlansman”), Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), and Sam Elliott, scoring his first nod at 75 for his work in “A Star is Born.” Sam Rockwell was a surprise nominee for his sly take on George W. Bush.
The supporting actress battle includes two co-stars from “The Favourite,” Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, as well as Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Amy Adams (“Vice”). Marina de Tavira was a surprise nominee for her role as a mother struggling to hold her family together in the midst of a divorce in “Roma.” King and Ali have picked up most of the supporting actor awards leading into Tuesday’s nominations.
The 2019 Oscars ceremony will be broadcast live on Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.