Oscars 2019: Why Did The Winners Win?

A deep dive into why the Academy might have picked the winners they did this year.

Green Book

There is always so much to talk about after the Academy Awards end, and sometimes the discussions that happen after the awards end is more interesting than the discussions that lead up to the show.

This year has been bonkers crazy, even before the official beginning of the season. With big box office hits like Black Panther, A Star is Born, and Bohemian Rhapsody all getting into Best Picture, the threat of a Best Popular Film category seemed to shape the season toward a populous vote, and that’s something that the Academy may like to repeat in future years. After all, the results are in, and we’ve had our best telecast in five years for ABC and family.

So to wrap up the Oscars season, I want to start by looking at the winners in each category one last time, and talk about the ones I got right, and definitely get into the ones I got wrong (and there’s a surprisingly large number of them). We’ll start with Best Picture and work our way down.

 

Best Picture

Winner – Green Book
Predicted Winner – Roma
Front-Runner – Roma

The odds seemed to favor Roma on Sunday night. It had won numerous awards from critics groups for Best Film, it took the Directors Guild of America Awards top prize, won the Critics Choice Awards for Best Film, and also won big at BAFTA. That, paired with a recent narrative of rule-breaking at the Oscars (Birdman winning without an editing nomination, Shape of Water winning without a Screen Actors Guild Ensemble nomination) showed that a film available only on streaming, for the most part, could win Hollywood’s most coveted award. But nope, here comes Green Book to crash the party.

All year, Green Book has seemed to be the one film that the former Oscar frontrunners like First Man and A Star is Born had to look out for in the rearview mirror. Green Book got the party started with a win at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. Then it went on to win the National Board of Review for Best Film, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture: Comedy/Musical, and most importantly the Producers Guild Award for Best Film. While that may have been all fine and dandy, the drum that kept beating around Green Book was the neverending stream of controversies surrounding the film and its creators.

First, Viggo Mortensen used a racial slur during a promotion for the film. Then the film was slammed for historically inaccuracies regarding the Don Shirley character. Then director Peter Farrelly, lead actor Viggo Mortensen, and co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga were all hit with inappropriate behavior on previous films or with social media. It just felt like the poster child this year for the film that you torpedo, as Weinstein and company have been accused of doing in the past. Still, it managed to overcome all of these negatives and win Best Picture. How?

Well, there are two big factors that I have discounted all season. Number one is the rooting factor. For the most part, movie audiences, even the ultra-liberal types, do not want to go into movies ready to hate them. Green Book seemed like a quaint, comedic romp about race relations, and the road trip and buddy-movie aspects of it were something the Toronto audiences were on-board for. That, and the Driving Miss Daisy in reverse angle that everyone took seemed to be aspects that everyone, at first, wanted to root for. Then, after all the tabloid-level controversies struck, there was a certain mentality, both in the blogosphere and among the general public, that you wanted to see this movie overcome all of this and still win. It became the underdog of the Oscar race.

The second factor is the good-hearted feelings the movie generates. A big comparison I make between this year and last year is comparing Green Book to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, two films that won the audience award at TIFF, went on to box office success in limited markets, then were slammed with controversies. They both went on to win big at the Golden Globes, but were then both snubbed in the Best Director category. Where the comparisons end, however, is how audiences felt about the films.

Three Billboards was, if anything, a dark comedy, brilliantly looking at America in a satirical way that, for my money, showed not only how race relations is still an issue in the American heartland (and I can personally testify to that), but also centered around a female figure that would not be told no, a character you definitely rooted for and wanted to see get over on the “bad guys”. The only problem was the ending of the film, you could argue, left viewers a little empty and unsatisfied.

Green Book, on the other hand, was a bit more sincere in its generic approach. It has its moments of comedy, but also takes a time-out to get serious with its depictions of the Jim Crow south in 1960s America. Like Three Billboards, you were rooting for the main characters, but this time, there was more innocence in the two leads than there was in Three Billboards. And the ending of the film is truly a warm-hearted one that leaves the characters on Christmas Eve, surrounded by family and friends. It may be fluffy stuff, but it works.

One last item that may have helped Green Book overcome Roma is the Academy’s voting mentality. As we’ve seen in recent years, Oscar frontrunners The Revenant, La La Land, and Three Billboards all disappointed in Best Picture. Part of me believes that’s because of their frontrunner status, and especially when you count in the Academy’s tricky preferential ballot, where the voters ranking films impacts the film’s chances of winning, that gives an opportunity for underdogs like Spotlight, Moonlight, and The Shape of Water to come back and reclaim the winner status or upset out of nowhere, like Moonlight did. Whether that just comes from voters wanting to bunk the trends, or being more passionate about the films that win than the films that are perceived to win, has yet to be answered, but maybe next year we might take that into account.

 

Best Director

Winner – Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Prediction – Alfonso Cuaron
Frontrunner – Alfonso Cuaron

This is one category that did work out on Sunday, and maybe another reason we saw Roma slip in the top category has to do with the film’s director, writer, co-producer, cinematographer, and co-editor. Cuaron accepted all three wins for Roma, and if Cuaron had won for Best Picture, he would only be the second person to win four Oscars in one night (Walt Disney won four in 1953). Still, Cuaron was a well-deserving winner for his directorial job on Roma.

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Winner – Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Prediction – Rami Malek
Frontrunner – Rami Malek

This race was over after the SAG win for Malek. After he took down Christian Bale there in Vice, there was no looking back for the Mr. Robot star. It also capped off a big win for Bohemian Rhapsody, who cleaned up with four wins, the most of any film on Sunday night.

 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Winner – Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Prediction – Glenn Close, The Wife
Frontrunner – Glenn Close

This was a jaw-dropper. No doubt, Olivia Colman is fantastic in The Favourite, and of the five nominated performances, she had my vote for the best, but especially after the Golden Globe win for Glenn Close, and her wonderful acceptance speech, it felt like the Oscar had Glenn’s name engraved on it. It also felt like despite The Wife’s only support being Glenn’s nod, she would pull out the win because of her past six losses. So why did she go 0/7?

Well, there are three principal factors in play. First off is BAFTA. Colman won BAFTA, and it wasn’t an easy one for her. It felt like Close was in sweep-mode by that point, but playing to the home crowd definitely helped Colman win. BAFTA was the last televised award show leading up to the Oscars, and that was a big help for her. A few predictors had Rachel Weisz winning Supporting Actress because of her BAFTA win, and it lined up with the Sylvester Stallone theory, but it turns out another last-minute BAFTA win took down the frontrunner in their category, and it was this one.

Also, The Favourite, which tied Roma for most nominations of the year, lost every award it was up for up to this point, and clearly having 10 times as many nominations as your competitor showed a lack of enthusiasm around Glenn’s film and a large amount of enthusiasm around Olivia’s film. Even though we’ve seen Christopher Plummer and Julianne Moore win Oscars in films that only had one nomination in the past. While it’s largely ruled that in both of those cases, the voters blindly put the winner’s name down without watching the film they were in, that did not work out for Glenn.

My last possible explanation has to do again with the underdog factor. Olivia was definitely the underdog in this race, and if just enough of voters go into voting with this mentality: “Glenn has this one in the bag, so I’ll vote for Olivia”, that’s enough to push one contender over the cliff and the other one over the edge for the win.

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Winner – Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Prediction – Mahershala Ali
Frontrunner – Mahershala Ali

This was the easiest call of the four acting races, and being in the Best Picture winner doesn’t hurt, either. Mahershala wasn’t hurt by any of the controversies around Green Book this year, either, so that sealed the deal for him.

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Winner – Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Prediction – Regina King
Frontrunner – Regina King

This is one spot where I get some bragging rights. From the first trailer we saw for If Beale Street Could Talk, I had my money on Regina King winning the Oscar. I had that in my first couple posts of the season, and while it was a rocky road for Regina (missing out on BAFTA and SAG nods), she ended up taking Oscar stage for her marvelous performance.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Winner – Green Book
Prediction – First Reformed
Frontrunner – The Favourite

This was the tougher of the two screenplay categories to call. You know, I stood behind my prediction here because every year at the Oscars, there’s a massive upset somewhere. Three years ago, it was Mark Rylance over Sylvester Stallone in Supporting Actor. Two years ago, it was Moonlight over La La Land for Best Picture. Last year ran pretty much according to book, or the closest competitor won in close races, but you could argue that Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 was an upset in Best Documentary Short. I was predicting First Reformed to do that this year, especially since writer Paul Schrader was so overdue. But my longtime prediction, Green Book, won.

This was not an easy win for the film. Sure, it won at the Globes, but then co-writer Nick Vallelonga, as mentioned several times, was hit with an anti-Muslim tweet resurfacing. Since then, Green Book lost the screenplay prize at the Critics Choice, BAFTA, and, most importantly, the Writers Guild of America Awards. Despite Green Book’s overall great performance with the guilds, it couldn’t win that one with both The Favourite and First Reformed not even in the race. Instead, it was bested by non-Oscar nominee Eighth Grade. So I felt that was the nail in the coffin for the film’s chances in screenplay.

So why didn’t The Favourite or First Reformed win? Well, it goes to show that First Reformed’s only nomination this year was at Critics Choice, and it did win there, as well as pick up several critics prizes, and The Favourite was showered with a bunch of screenplay nominations through the season as well, but it’s only win was at BAFTA, where The Favourite won seven awards. So neither had a strong track record going into the Oscar voting, and instead we saw Best Picture take its respective screenplay prize. We’ve seen that with Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, and Argo in previous years. If I had been predicting Green Book for Picture, I might have picked this one up on that logic.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner – BlacKkKlansman
Prediction – BlacKkKlansman
Frontrunner – BlacKkKlansman

It just felt right to say that Spike Lee and his trio of co-writers would take this one home, and it was a great win for a great film.

 

Best Animated Feature

Winner – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Prediction – Spider-Man
Frontrunner – Spider-Man

Ever since the win at the Golden Globes, Spider-Verse didn’t look back. A well-deserved victory.

 

Best Documentary Feature

Winner – Free Solo
Prediction – Free Solo
Frontrunner – Free Solo

The BAFTA win for Free Solo led me to this correct prediction. There was a lot of love for RBG, but the box office success and daring filmmaking that makes up Free Solo was a one-two punch that Oscar couldn’t ignore.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Winner – Roma
Prediction – Roma
Frontrunner – Roma

Since Roma couldn’t quite pick up the Best Picture win, this was the consolation prize. Still, another win for Netflix and company.

 

Best Cinematography

Winner – Roma
Prediction – Roma
Frontrunner – Roma

Seemingly from the start, Roma had the win here, regardless of if it would win Best Picture or not.

 

Best Film Editing

Winner – Bohemian Rhapsody
Prediction – Vice
Frontrunner – Vice

This might have just been an addition to the mini-sweep that happened with Bohemian Rhapsody. The film’s editor, John Ottman, might also have won because of the film’s troubled production, including the firing of director, and long-time collaborator, Bryan Singer. While Vice had the BAFTA win and the flashiest editing, it’s clear that it didn’t have the popularity that Bo Rap did with the overall Academy. That is probably the key reason why we saw Bohemian upset.

 

Best Costume Design

Winner – Black Panther
Prediction – The Favourite
Frontrunner – The Favourite

I simply did not have Black Panther down for any wins, and that clearly was a mistake on my part. While The Favourite had the most obvious costumes, and would be the Oscars’ traditional pick, it still wasn’t quite as popular as Wakanda’s best. It also served as an opportunity for Ruth E. Carter to pick up an Oscar win, the first African-American woman to win in the category. While the names of the contributors are not on the ballot past the screenplay categories, that may have had a hand in why Black Panther triumphed.

 

Best Production Design

Winner – Black Panther
Prediction – The Favourite
Frontrunner – The Favourite

We usually see the two design categories go hand in hand, with an occasional split, and I know of several Oscar predictors who had Black Panther winning costumes but The Favourite winning Production Design, so it felt like more of a sure bet for The Favourite to win this one. Still, though, the power of Black Panther was too much. Again, we saw our first African-American woman with this category with Hannah Beachler.

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Winner – Vice
Prediction – Vice
Frontrunner – Vice

This was a pretty easy call, and the trio of makeup artists on Vice well-earned their Oscars.

 

Best Original Score

Winner – Black Panther
Prediction – If Beale Street Could Talk
Frontrunner – If Beale Street Could Talk

I probably should have remembered that in this category Best Picture nominees are always preferred. You have to go back to The Hateful Eight the last time a non-Best Picture nominee won here, and before that you have to go way back to Frida. So yeah, Black Panther should have been the easy call here. Beale Street sure had its passionate supporters, but it was clearly underseen when compared to Black Panther.

 

Best Original Song

Winner – “Shallow” from A Star is Born
Prediction – “Shallow”
Frontrunner – “Shallow”

Of course it was going to be Lady Gaga in this category. And her and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” may well have been the highlight of the three-hour plus show.

 

Best Sound Mixing

Winner – Bohemian Rhapsody
Prediction – Bohemian Rhapsody
Frontrunner – Bohemian Rhapsody

After the BAFTA win for Best Sound went to Bohemian Rhapsody, it felt like one or both of the sound categories would go that way. I suspected a split, and was very confident that Bo Rap had this one.

 

Best Sound Editing

Winner – Bohemian Rhapsody
Prediction – A Quiet Place
Frontrunner – First Man

Again, a big testament to the popularity of Bo Rap with the Academy. While A Quiet Place made sense, and First Man was the loudest film, they were not on Oscar voters radars the same way the Queen biopic was. Plus, Bo Rap did go over big at the Sound Editors guild, so I should have considered that more.

 

Best Visual Effects

Winner – First Man
Prediction – First Man
Frontrunner – Avengers: Infinity War

I was a little shaky on the bid for First Man here. Avengers sure had a ton of effects in it, and felt like a more obvious choice. Then again, First Man fits into the tradition of sci-fi films winning here, as well as being the most nominated film in the category, and it also benefited from being the one nominee in the category that felt the most like a Best Picture nominee. And traditionally, Best Picture nominees dominate this category.

 

Best Animated Short

Winner – Bao
Prediction – Bao
Frontrunner – Bao

I think everyone got this one, and a great winner in a great category.

 

Best Documentary Short

Winner – Period. End of Sentence
Prediction – Black Sheep
Frontrunner – Black Sheep

By the time the Oscars were just about to start, the odds were pretty much 50/50 on either Black Sheep or Period would win this one. Clearly, the subject matter of Period helped it, and it hurts my pride to note that I saw a whole bunch of promotional material and support for the film just after I had made my final decision to go with Black Sheep.

 

Best Live Action Short

Winner – Skin
Prediction – Marguerite
Frontrunner – Marguerite

This one stings even more, especially since I was taking the upset win with Skin until just a few days before the ceremony. Ouch. I was afraid that two race-relations films would hurt each other in these short categories. My sentiments turned out to be true, but I bet on the wrong horse. Again, I feel really stung by missing this one.

So yeah, I only predicted 14/24, and that’s the worst I’ve performed at the Oscars since I started filling out the TV Guide ballot in 2009. Still, I can attribute my poor performance to many of these categories being close races, and an overall psychotic year as far as the ups and downs of frontrunners, studios and filmmakers go.

The second part to my follow-up will be coming soon, and that will be devoted to the lessons learned from this year’s Oscar results.

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