WhatsUp at the Movies: Our Academy Award Preview

The Academy Awards are less than a week away and our film critic Alex Harrison has a full preview. Check out his capsule reviews below and scroll down for his prediction for “Best Picture.” Let us know if you agree or disagree in comments!

A Star is Born – 5 Stars

The hype was big for actor Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star is Born, but the film he also produced, co-wrote and starred in took the country by storm last fall with an intimate exploration of fame, love and addiction that exceeded expectations. Despite this being the fourth telling of a story as old as Hollywood, Cooper’s film seemed entirely fresh and relevant, primarily because the realistic, character-driven approach to dialogue made each interaction feel remarkably genuine. A killer soundtrack gives it a stranglehold on Best Original Song, but A Star is Born is a worthy contender in all eight categories it’s competing in.

The Favourite – 4.5 Stars

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Not your average period piece, The Favourite combines a royal affair from England’s history with the unique vision of Greek absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos to create his most accessible film to date. Driven by three remarkable performances by actresses each deserving of a statuette, the film presents a royal court where the men wear extravagant outfits and the women vie for political power. Beautiful design, sharp dialogue and a tense plot make The Favourite one of the 2018’s all-around best films, and with a lead-tying ten nominations, don’t expect it to leave the Oscars emptyhanded.

Roma – 4.5 Stars

After making the massive, CGI-heavy Gravity in 2013, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón shifted gears to make his most personal film to date, returning to the Mexico City neighborhood of his childhood in the semi-autobiographical Roma. Quiet and slow for much of its runtime, Roma basks in the beauty of life’s minutia, the camera gliding from tableau to tableau with wide-eyed fascination as it searches for inner peace in a turbulent world. While perhaps not as narratively cohesive as his other works, Cuarón uses his mastery of filmmaking craft to moving effect, and Roma should be considered the frontrunner to win many of its ten Academy Award nominations.

BlacKkKlansman – 4 Stars

Clearly inspired by a recent rise in white nationalism, director Spike Lee infuses a somehow-true 1970s premise with powerful relevance in BlacKkKlansman, his latest call for the country to wake up. While the performances are captivating across the board, with each KKK member representing a different manifestation of racism, the film’s true draw is the way Lee uses editing and structure to deliver razor-sharp social and political critique. Taking home the #2 prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, BlacKkKlansman earned Lee his long-overdue first Best Director nomination, and he should be in strong contention to also make it his first victory.

Black Panther – 4 Stars

A Marvel film dominating the Box Office is nothing new, but the global phenomenon that Black Panther became certainly is, as the studio’s most artistic outing to date tapped into a cultural need for cinematic representation in a big way. Director Ryan Coogler brought a personal intensity to the superhero genre that left audiences struggling not to sympathize with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, a villain so tethered to reality that he helps bring the fictional Wakanda to life. Black Panther is a CGI-action spectacle, yes, but when the effects are inspired by Afrofuturism and the fight choreography highlights weaponized femininity, there is substance to back up the style.

Green Book – 4 Stars

A comedy-drama based on the story of a real-life odd couple, Green Book is the rare crowd-pleaser that uses its formulaic setup to its advantage. Rather than focus on the story itself, director Peter Farrelly shifts all the attention to the lead characters, and the film becomes a vehicle for two incredible performances from Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. The many driving scenes that serve only to deepen the relationship between them leave the supporting cast feeling diminished, but with the compelling leads and a refreshingly hopeful tone, Green Book is sure to leave a mark on your memory.

Vice – 3.5 Stars

In his satirical takedown of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay relies on many of the stylistic devices that made The Big Short a critical darling, but Vice uses them much less effectively. The scattershot direction only serves to distract from two powerhouse performances from Christian Bale and Amy Adams, who fully inhabit Dick and Lynne Cheney to the point of being frequently unrecognizable, which truly is nothing new from the two acting veterans. Bale won Best Supporting in 2010 for The Fighter, but can her sixth time be the charm for Adams on Sunday night?

Bohemian Rhapsody – 2.5 Stars

The music of Queen might be legendary, but it shouldn’t be relied on to carry a movie — or maybe it should, since what feels like a series of episodes structured around the band’s biggest hits finds itself contending for Best Picture. By far the weakest of the eight nominees, Bohemian Rhapsody has its moments but never manages to tap into any emotional current beyond the feelings inspired by the excellent soundtrack, and the controversy surrounding director Bryan Singer and the film’s treatment of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality certainly doesn’t help. Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury is the film’s one major bright spot, and arguably worth the price of admission.

Prediction

Here you have my ranking of this year’s Best Picture nominees, but this ordering is unlikely to be the Academy’s. Despite being my favorite film of the year, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born has been losing momentum since being robbed of the Golden Globe and missing out on a Best Director nod, though it still has a fighting chance to win the top prize. The Favourite is the year’s best union of acting, writing and production value, but fellow nominations-leader Roma is both more personal and less strange, making it tough to beat. While there is a real chance the Academy is content to limit Cuarón’s critical darling to Best Foreign Film, I think it’s likely we’ll hear Roma’s name called for the final award of the night. However, Black Panther did take home the top prize at the SAG Awards, historically one of the best Oscar predictors, so who knows? This year could have a few surprises.    

Should Win Best Picture: A Star is Born

Will Win Best Picture: Roma