Last Updated: January 21, 2019
Oscar season is now in full swing, so it's time to take a look at what films are the leading candidates for Best Picture. The awards circuit has been abuzz ever since the fall festivals (Venice, Telluride, Toronto, etc.) took place, where several hopefuls premiered and started their campaigns. Some of those movies firmly announced their status as ones to watch, while others fell by the wayside and came up short of their expectations.
In the build-up to the Academy Award nominations (which are announced in January), several precursors have already weighed in on what they feel are the best in film from 2018. While there's still a long way to go before the race is settled, the likes of the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute, and Golden Globes have offered a bit of clarity to the proceedings, so here's our latest rundown of the likeliest Best Picture nominees.
Related: Oscars 2019: Best Actor Predictions
Speaking of Oscar surprises, Green Book certainly fits the bill for 2018. Directed by Peter Farrelly (one half of the Farrelly brothers directing duo behind comedies like Dumb and Dumber), few would have anticipated this would become one of the most-praised titles of the year. Premiering to an unsuspecting Toronto crowd, Green Book took home the festival's coveted People's Choice Award, which all but assures it's in the running for the Oscar. Green Book also won Best Film from NBR and has popped up elsewhere, including AFI, the Golden Globes, and the Critics' Choice Awards. By all accounts, it's Universal's top dog in the race - a twist nobody saw coming.
Despite criticism that it handles its subject matter a bit too conventionally and plays up white savior tropes, Green Book was living a charmed life on the awards circuit. In between its numerous guild nominations, the film took home three Golden Globes, including Best Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali). But after that, the wheels flew off. Green Book is now embroiled in a controversy surrounding co-writer Nick Vallelonga's 2015 tweet where he supported Donald Trump's claim Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the September 11 World Trade Center attack. That kind of backlash is sometimes enough to derail a campaign, but Green Book just won the Producers Guild Award for Best Picture, squarely putting it in the driver's seat for the Oscar.
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper's romantic drama-musical was long seen as a possible Oscar player, and it's more than lived up to the hype in that regard. Premiering at Venice back in August, critics and audiences were quick to praise the remake, which is arguably the best rendition of this particular song. A Star is Born rode waves of excellent buzz to a stellar box office haul of $202.2 million domestically, which is the twelfth-highest total of the year so far. It's already received several accolades, including four wins at NBR (tying a record), a spot on the AFI's top 10 list, five Golden Globe nominations, and nine Critics' Choice Award nods.
Unsurprisingly, A Star is Born has also been a massive hit with the various industry guilds. It crossed all of them off, earning a Best Picture nomination from the Producers Guild, Best Director at the Directors Guild, Best Performance by a Cast from the Screen Actors Guild (as well as individual nods for Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliott), and Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writers Guild. And while it's never a good thing to be the perceived frontrunner from so early on in the season, A Star is Born has made it through the gauntlet with minimal backlash or controversy. It's a movie many people like, has the star power behind it, and even a catchy soundtrack to boot. A Star is Born should do very well on a preferential ballot, and the Academy has a soft spot for films about the entertainment industry. Losing the Golden Globe hurts, but the top prize could still be Cooper's to lose.
This Spike Lee joint has been generating buzz ever since its premiere at Cannes, where it received heavy praise for its deft handling of various tones, great performances, and poignant social commentary. It's based on the true story of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth, who successfully infiltrated a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Given the current political climate in America, its period piece story was seen as highly relevant to what's happening in the country today, with its devastating final minutes illustrating how much further we have to go. For many, this was Lee's best work in years.
Like A Star is Born, BlacKkKlansman hit the four big guilds with all the key nominations, establishing it as one of the leading Oscar contenders. It should receive nominations across the board in major categories like Best Director and Best Actor. Curiously, none of Lee's earlier films have been nominated for Best Picture (including the revolutionary Do the Right Thing), so there's a classic overdue narrative at play here. After decades of delivering quality and influential films, the Academy may decide now is the right time for Lee to get his recognition. BlacKkKlansman has also made it through awards season without much pushback, indicating it has much support. What will be interesting to see if there's a Best Picture/Director split. Perhaps Lee has a better chance in Best Director, and A Star is Born or Green Book takes Picture.
The track record of foreign language films cracking the Best Picture lineup isn't great, but Alfonso Cuarón's Roma could be an exception. Serving as his first movie since 2013's Gravity (which netted him Best Director and was a threat to win Best Picture), Roma is a 1970s period piece following a middle-class family in Mexico City over the course of the year. Netflix released a trailer ahead of the film's festival premieres, impressing many with its lush, beautiful black-and-white cinematography and personal narrative. This promises to be a unique experience.
Related: Read Screen Rant's Roma Review
Roma has popped up as frequently as Star is Born and BlacKkKlansman on all the precursors, including NBR, AFI, Golden Globes (where it won Best Director), and the industry guilds. If you're looking for an ironclad lock in your Oscar pool, Roma is definitely winning Best Foreign Language Film. As for Best Picture, that seems less likely. Cuarón is a respected helmsman with many fans, but as stated above, foreign language films don't have much success in this category. Only 10 in history have been nominated and none won, so Roma has a lot of history working against it. With all of the accolades it's received thus far, it will be nominated in Best Picture, but have to settle for that. However, Roma's big wins at the Critics' Choice Awards certainly give it a boost.
The surprise of awards season, the Freddie Mercury biopic overcame its lukewarm reviews and is officially in the race. Picking up Best Picture - Drama at the Golden Globes, Bohemian Rhapsody also found plenty of love from the guilds. It was one of the 10 movies nominated for the PGA's Best Picture, Rami Malek scored a Best Actor nod from SAG, and the ensemble found itself in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast field. Despite being ignored entirely by NBR and AFI, Bohemian Rhapsody obviously struck a chord with other awards voters and now cinephiles have to wonder how much further it will go.
It's impossible to overstate how massive the Globe win was for Bohemian Rhapsody. The last time the Globe winner in Drama wasn't nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars was way back in 1963 when The Cardinal emerged victorious. What hurts Bohemian Rhapsody's odds of winning the Oscar is the fact it (understandably) missed out at the Directors Guild Awards. The DGA has been handing out trophies since 1948 and only twice in history (1948 and 1989) has the Oscars' Best Picture winner not been nominated by DGA. That's quite a stat for Bohemian Rhapsody to overcome, putting it at a severe disadvantage when compared to some of the other titles in contention.
One of the last shoes to drop this awards season, Adam McKay's Dick Cheney biopic seems to live up to the on-paper potential many believed it had. Due to it premiering much later in the year than other Oscar hopefuls, Vice was noticeably absent from a few of the early lists, like NBR and AFI. However, it's recently enjoyed a nice surge and seems to be in line for the Academy Awards. Vice earned six Golden Globe nominations (the most of any film), including Best Picture - Comedy or Musical, Best Director, and Best Actor. It was also a favorite of the Critics' Choice Awards, scoring nine nods from that organization. Bale is a threat to win Best Actor thanks to his transformative performance as the former VP.
Besides Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice is the Oscar contender that fared the worst with critics, polarizing pundits with McKay's distinct and bold stylistic choices. Still, awards voters seem to enjoy what they saw. Vice was present at all of the guilds, earning nominations in Best Picture (PGA), Best Director (DGA), Best Original Screenplay (WGA; and because of the Green Book issue, it's now a top contender there), and Best Actor & Best Supporting Actress (SAG). What's keeping it in the middle of the pack is that Vice may be too polarizing a film to truly thrive on a preferential ballot. It should get enough first place votes to secure a Best Picture nomination, but second and third place votes are key here. Vice doesn't seem like the kind of work that will do well in that area.
The Academy has a fickle history with superhero movies. None have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and very rarely are they recognized in the top prestigious categories. Famous exceptions include Heath Ledger's posthumous win for The Dark Knight and Logan's Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, but fans are waiting for one to break new ground. Black Panther might be the one to do just that. Released to universal critical acclaim back in February, the film captured the imagination of the zeitgeist with a thoughtful narrative that tapped into socially relevant issues and further proved director Ryan Coogler is one of this generation's brightest stars behind the camera. Black Panther transcended its genre and became a phenomenon.
On the awards circuit, Black Panther truly exceeded expectations. Earning a Best Picture - Drama nomination at the Golden Globes, the film was also recognized as one of the best of the year by NBR and AFI. It also showed up on the guilds, snagging a Best Picture spot from PGA, Best Adapted Screenplay by WGA, and Best Cast by SAG. After months of dreaming, it seems like a superhero movie is finally going to get nominated for Best Picture. Panther has earned too much love to come up short now and the Academy is still trying to live down the infamous Best Popular Film snafu. But Coogler missing a DGA nomination essentially prevents Panther from winning it all, and even if he did crack that lineup, it feels like a stretch the Academy would go from never nominating a comic book movie for Best Picture to giving one the top prize in the span of a year. Baby steps. Here, the nomination is a huge victory.