This past Tuesday, the 2019 Oscar nominations were announced and, to the surprise of no one, there was plenty to cheer and kvetch about — an inevitable consequence of subjectivity.
There were some surprise contenders, including Yalitza Aparicio’s Best Actress nomination for “Roma” (2018). It was the actress’ film debut and the first Best Actress nomination earned by an indigenous woman. The Best Picture nomination for “Black Panther” (2018) marked the first superhero film nominated for the award. Viewers are getting some stacked categories as well: the Best Actress race between Glenn Close, Olivia Colman, Lady Gaga, Yalitza Aparicio, and Melissa McCarthy is one for the books. There are also categories with clear frontrunners, like Animated Feature Film, where “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) is likely to take home the prize.
There are some snubs, too. Bradley Cooper was notably shut out of Best Director, being replaced by Pawel Pawlikowski. 2018 horror favorites like “A Quiet Place” and “Hereditary” were met with resounding Oscars silence, with the former only getting a nomination for Best Sound Editing. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) missed out on Best Picture — thankfully, Regina King secured a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
There’s also been some controversy. “Green Book” (2018) has been condemned by the family of the pianist the film follows for its misrepresentation of events and characters; sexual assault allegations have plagued “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) director Bryan Singer, who has been notably missing from the film’s award circuit, and homophobic past tweets of once-likely host Kevin Hart have produced the possibility of a host-less Oscars ceremony.
All in all, it’s an interesting year with many big storylines, and some especially strange nominations for the Best Picture category.
Nominations for each category are picked by members of the exclusive (read: minority-underrepresenting) Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) using a preferential ranked voting system. Only Best Picture’s winner is picked by preferential voting; all other category winners are decided by a plurality vote.
In the preferential voting system, members receive their ballots and rank their top five choices for each category. For nominee voting, any movie that reaches a formulaically-determined “magic number” of first-place votes in the first round of ballot counting is a Best Picture nominee. Each potential nominee that receives less than one percent of first-place votes is eliminated. Their ballots are redistributed and the second-place choices are awarded a vote. As movies continue to be eliminated, vote redistribution continues, too.
Prior to the 2009 Oscars, the number of Best Picture nominees was set at five. Then, for two years, at ten, and since 2011, at any number between five and ten. The number of nominees began to vary because of a voting rule change.
Instead of continuously redistributing the votes until a set number of nominees was reached, vote redistribution would stop once there were no more less-than-one-percent vote getters, and any movie with at least five percent of first-place votes would become a Best Picture nominee. This year, only eight movies received at least five percent of votes post-redistribution.
This change devalues movies that primarily end up ranked in the second through fifth places by limiting their chances of receiving votes through redistribution, even though the main benefit of using the preferential voting system is to give value to every movie a voter ranks. This could explain why a movie that was surely included in a significant amount of ballots, like “If Beale Street Could Talk,” was excluded from the Best Picture category.
But there’s more to focus on than the complexities of voting. There’s enough to ponder in the actual group of Best Picture nominees, as it is. The eight respective 2018 nominees are: “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” (2018) and “Vice” (2018). This eclectic group of nominees is bizarre, with multiple relatively low-rated films.
Three of the four lowest Metacritic-rated Best Picture nominees since 2013 are nominated this year. Two of them, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Vice,” are rated substantially lower than the low-70s range that the lowest rated Best Picture nominees of recent years have fallen into, with respective Metacritic scores of 49 and 61.
There are some possible explanations for the surprising nominations of some of these movies.
“Black Panther” made its way thanks to an increasingly diverse AMPAS this year, as well as resistance to early-in-the-year release fatigue via its immense popularity. “Bohemian Rhapsody” made its way by appealing to the nostalgia of non-critic viewers, as evidenced by its high audience-to-critic scores ratio on Rotten Tomatoes. “Green Book” made its way in thanks to its ability to overcome controversy, as evidenced by its high critic score and very high audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. “Roma” made its way in, despite its oft-disadvantageous quality of being a non-English-language film, due to director Alfonso Cuarón’s established place in cinema and AMPAS’ recent inductions of more nationally-diverse members. “Vice” made its way in thanks to an increasingly liberal AMPAS as well as being a love-it-or-hate-it type of film, which is advantageous in the preferential voting system.
The Best Picture category may be a toss-up, but the most likely winners are “Roma,” “The Favourite” or “BlacKkKlansman.”
Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece “Roma” is a black-and-white homage to a live-in housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) in Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. It’s a deeply rich and personal effort with Cuarón taking on most jobs in the film — directing, producing, editing, screenwriting and cinematography.
“The Favourite” is a period comedy set in the early 1700s, following Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and two cousins (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) as they fight for the Queen’s attention — in other words, to be her favo(u)rite. It’s a hilarious, stylish work centered around the fantastic chemistry between the three leads.
The story of Colorado Springs’ first African-American police officer (John David Washington) and his infiltration of the KKK, alongside his Jewish police partner (Adam Driver), is immortalized in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” It’s a sharp, biting, social commentary set in the 1970s but extremely relevant to today’s America, all wrapped in Lee’s unmistakably unique filmmaking technique.
Ultimately, any of the three would be a great choice for Best Picture. The 91st Oscars ceremony airs live on ABC on Feb. 24 at 8pm EST.