A bitter power struggle set in the 18th-century court of Queen Anne. A panoramic epic about a Mexican domestic servant. A time-tested tale of rising and falling Hollywood fame. A road movie about interracial brotherhood. A true-life story about a black undercover cop in the Ku Klux Klan. And the first comic book superhero saga ever to be nominated for best picture.
The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards are nothing if not diverse.
With the most nominations — 10 each — going to the period film “The Favourite” and Mexico’s “Roma,” two films from foreign-born directors skilled at straddling the Hollywood/arthouse line, the Oscars appeared to stake their claim for offbeat fare far from the multiplex crowd. Yet the next rung of nominations, eight each, went to “A Star Is Born” and the acrid Dick Cheney biopic, “Vice,” two provocative entertainments aimed squarely at mass audiences.
Eight movies in total were nominated for best picture: “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma, “A Star Is Born,” and “Vice.”
Spike Lee saw six nominations go to “BlacKkKlansman,” his powerful crowd-pleaser about undercover cop Ron Stallworth (John David Washington); the film is Lee’s 23rd theatrical feature yet marks the first time one of his films has been nominated for both best picture and best director. (He has been nominated for director twice before and was given an honorary Oscar in 2015.)
“Green Book” was nominated in only five categories, but they were big ones: picture, actor (Viggo Mortensen), supporting actor (Mahershala Ali), original screenplay, and editing. The film about the civil rights-era friendship between pianist Don Shirley and his driver Tony Vallelonga, has managed to be both beloved and controversial. If the film’s win at the Producers Guild Awards on Sunday night could be seen as an Oscar bellwether, the continuing awards-season placement of costar Ali in the supporting category offers fuel to the film’s critics.
The best actress category looks especially competitive this year, with nominations going to Yalitzia Aparicio, the soul of “Roma”; Glenn Close (“The Wife”), who has been nominated for an Oscar seven times over her long career and has never won; Olivia Colman, the critical favorite for her ferociously neurotic Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite”; Lady Gaga, the populist choice for “A Star Is Born”; and deserving dark-horse candidate Melissa McCarthy for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
That leaves Colman’s costars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz to duke it out in the supporting actress category against Amy Adams (“Vice”), Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), and surprise nominee Marina del Tavira, the distressed employer in “Roma.”
When the nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, “Black Panther,” the Marvel blockbuster about the superhero king of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman), came away with seven nods, many of them in technical categories that reflect the state of big-studio fantasy-franchise filmmaking. That the movie has the third highest US box office return of all time does nothing to diminish so many nominations going to a project centered around characters, actors, and filmmakers of color. (Hannah Beachler is the first production designer of color to be nominated in her category.)
On the contrary; since Academy voters tend to favor artistic ambition and social messaging over box office success, “Panther,” which cannily combined the last two qualities, is all the more remarkable for its presence in the 2019 Oscar race — even if the actors went unnominated and director Ryan Coogler, the film’s prime mover, got skunked in the best director category.
So did Bradley Cooper, despite expectations that he’d be nominated for “A Star Is Born.” (To no one’s surprise, Cooper was named in the best actor category.) Nor were possible contenders Barry Jenkins (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), or Peter Farrelly (“Green Book”) voted into the category, although Adam McKay of “Vice” managed to squeak in despite polarized reviews for his hyper-stylized approach. And the overall absence of nominated women filmmakers in a movie year with “Leave No Trace” (Debra Granik), “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (Marielle Heller), “Private Life” (Tamara Jenkins), and others is striking.
Best actor nominations went to Cooper, Mortensen, Christian Bale for “Vice,” Willem Dafoe for his portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in the little-seen “At Eternity’s Gate” — the actor’s fourth Oscar nomination; he has never won — and Rami Malek for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Best supporting actor nominations went to Ali, Sam Elliott for “A Star Is Born,” Adam Driver for “BlacKkKlansman,” Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush in “Vice,” and Richard E. Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
That there were so many perceived snubs in the acting categories testifies to the strength of the year’s performances. “First Reformed” saw a nomination for Paul Schrader’s screenplay but not for Ethan Hawke’s committed lead performance. The nominations for “BlacKkKlansman” didn’t extend to its star, Washington. Michael B. Jordan went unrecognized for investing a supervillain with sympathy in “Black Panther.” Where was Emily Blunt (“Mary Poppins Returns,” “A Quiet Place”) or Toni Collette (“Hereditary”)? And so on.
This year’s nominations also reflect a changing movie marketplace and a culture turning increasingly toward streaming-video options. The Coen brothers’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” a Netflix production that received a token theatrical release, was nominated for best song, costume design, and adapted screenplay (wait — adapted from what? Only two of the film’s six vignettes come from sources other than the Coens).
And “Roma,” a critical favorite and festival prize winner from Alfonso Cuaron (who won best director for “Gravity” in 2014), has been playing both on Netflix and in movie theaters since mid-December. It’s the first movie distributed by the streaming service to be nominated for best picture. Don’t expect it to be the last.
“Roma” is also nominated in both the best picture and best foreign language film categories. If that’s not exactly unusual (“Amour,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Life Is Beautiful,” and 1969’s “Z” have been there before), a win in both categories would be a first. This year, more than in most, anything seems possible.
The 91st Academy Awards will be held Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.