Should win and will win: “Roma”
Netflix ’s first best-picture nominee has ignited a debate over whether a film being distributed mostly via streaming even belongs in the category. But it shouldn’t matter. By any measure, Alfonso Cuarón has made a masterpiece, a movie that transcends formats, genres and business models. A tribute to Mr. Cuarón’s childhood nanny in 1970s Mexico City, “Roma” is both intimate and enormous, speaking eloquently to our need for stories that expand our understanding of love and family. In doing so it lights up screens of any size.
Watch the trailer for the movie “Roma.” Photo: Netflix
Should win and will win: Alfonso Cuarón
Mr. Cuarón is—I was going to say “arguably,” but make that “inarguably”—the most important feature-film director of our time, having preceded “Roma” with “Gravity;” “Children of Men;” the best of the Harry Potter movies, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban;” and “Y Tu Mamá También.” What makes him so consistently distinctive is the suite of gifts that makes his most recent work worthy of an Oscar: his ability to deploy the techniques of modern filmmaking—pace, thematic density, dramatic fluency, visual power—with traditional human values. Stanley Kubrick would have admired “Roma;” Jean Renoir would have loved it.
Should win: Bradley Cooper
Will win: Viggo Mortensen
Why has “A Star Is Born” been coming up short during this awards season? Maybe because this mainstream studio production is so entertaining, as opposed to spectacular, controversial or didactic, and more easily dismissed as conventional. The film happens to be hugely entertaining, thanks in significant measure to Bradley Cooper’s direction, which gained no Academy respect at all, but also to his performance, which is exceptionally affecting, solidly grounded, impeccably musical, virile, tender and intelligent. Yes, he’s up against strong competition from Viggo Mortensen in “Green Book,” but what does a guy have to do to win an Oscar in this category? He’s done more than enough. Give him one.
Watch the trailer for “A Star Is Born,” starring Bradley Cooper, and Lady Gaga. Photo: Warner Bros.
Should win: Melissa McCarthy
Will win: Glenn Close
Logic and sentiment combine to make a strong case for Glenn Close in this category: She’s long overdue for an Oscar, and moviegoers have been stirred by her performance in “The Wife.” But I just can’t get Melissa McCarthy out of my head for her incarnation of Lee Israel in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” I can still hear her quirky line readings, feel the thwarted yet unquenchable intelligence of her character. She’s a new one on me, this down-and-out, though also up-and-coming, literary forger. In my review I called her a model of eccentricity descended from Dickens by way of that quintessential Manhattan chronicler Damon Runyon. Here I’ll just call her an original, played by an original.
Watch a clip from the movie “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” starring Melissa McCarthy, and Richard E. Grant. Photo: Fox Searchlight
Best Supporting Actor
Should win: Richard E. Grant
Will win: Mahershala Ali
The front-runner in this category is formidable: Mahershala Ali, who could move us by reading the proverbial phone book, has strong drama and formidable charm on his side in “Green Book.” Still, I’d like to think there’s still a winning place for performances that may seem less than consequential—one definition of a supporting player—yet are in fact indispensable. Melissa McCarthy couldn’t have achieved what she did without the counterpoint of Mr. Grant’s raffish Jack Hock. Thick as thieves only hints at the relationship; like her Lee, his Jack lives beneath thick layers of contradiction and complexity. It’s a brave characterization, full of life, devil-may-care wit and genuine deviltry.
Best Supporting Actress
Should win: Regina King
Will win: Rachel Weisz
It’s no reflection on Rachel Weisz to say this is an odd category this year. Lots of discussions in critics groups—and the real world—have turned on who starred and who supported in “The Favourite,” an ensemble piece if there ever was one. No such uncertainties concern “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a beautiful film in which Regina King gives the very essence of dramatic support. She does so quietly, at first, as Sharon, the heroine’s mother, then not at all quietly as she plays a leading role—a leading supporting role—in the effort to prove the innocence of the young man her daughter loves.
Watch a clip from the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Photo: Annapurna Pictures
Write to Joe Morgenstern at email@example.com