A Star is Born
Released to deafening hype at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star is Born seemed destined to steamroll awards season and maybe even sweep all of the major categories. At the time, the film seemed too big to fail. It had tremendous star power behind it (Cooper and Lady Gaga), did extremely well at the box office, and sported a killer soundtrack that spawned a smash single ("Shallow"). And then the various awards bodies started handing out the Oscar precursors, and A Star is Born became a cautionary tale of why you never want to be the preordained Oscar frontrunner in September. That's too long a time to hold on to the pole position, allowing other films to emerge and backlash to settle in.
A Star is Born's campaign started to fall apart when it lost Best Drama at the Golden Globes and everything snowballed from there. The film received nothing from the major guilds, with Cooper even coming up short in the Best First-Time Director category at DGA. When he was snubbed in the Oscars' Best Director category, it became clear A Star is Born wasn't winning. Yes, something similar happened with Ben Affleck and Argo not too long ago, but the key difference there is Argo swept the season. It won all of the awards A Star is Born couldn't. Now, the one-time Best Picture favorite has to lick its wounds and make peace with Best Original Song. That might be its only win of the evening, a turn of events few could have seen coming months ago.
Overcoming an extremely troubled production, Bohemian Rhapsody became the year's unlikeliest Best Picture nominee. Premiering back in November to mixed reviews panning it for its formulaic narrative and sanitized handling of Freddie Mercury's fascinating life, many thought the biopic would just be a crowd-pleasing box office hit. However, Bohemian Rhapsody picked up numerous awards nominations and wins (including Best Drama at the Golden Globes) and managed to crash the Academy Awards with five nods. Star Rami Malek is also the Best Actor frontrunner for his turn as Mercury, illustrating the film has a lot of support with the voters.
The Bohemian Rhapsody team might have to be content with Malek being their biggest winner of the night. That Globes victory remains the lone win of note for the film overall, after it lost at the PGA and SAG. There's also the Bryan Singer situation, which looms over the movie despite the cast and crew's best efforts to distance themselves from it all. It's true Singer himself isn't up for any Oscars, but the optics of Bohemian Rhapsody winning in the wake of Me Too and Time's Up would be extremely problematic and send the wrong kind of message. Clearly, the Mercury biopic is loved by a section of the Academy, but it probably doesn't have enough to get across the finish line.
Tied with Roma for the most Oscar nominations this year, Yorgos Lanthimos' deliciously-spun costume drama continued Fox Searchlight's dominance on the awards circuit (they released The Shape of Water and Three Billboards last year) and proved the acquired taste of Lanthimos could appeal to the masses (of Academy voters, at least). Fueled by a trio of strong performances, The Favourite told a compelling story of love and power in 18th century England, depicting a fascinating rivalry between Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) as they fight for the affections of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).
The Favourite's 10 nominations would seemingly indicate it's a top contender to pick up a few awards, but it doesn't appear to be one of the top dogs in the race. Much like many of the other films on this list, it didn't win anything from the major guilds, and its big night at the BAFTAs (where it won seven trophies) may have more to do with its subject matter. As indicated above, Lanthimos isn't for everyone, which isn't necessarily the best recipe for a Best Picture victory. There's some question over how The Favourite will fare on the preferential ballot. Second and third place votes are key there, and voters may put something a little more accessible in those slots.
Director Adam McKay reinvented himself as an Academy darling with The Big Short, which won Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture a few years ago. He continued on that trajectory with Vice, a darkly comical look at Dick Cheney's rise up the political ladder. Bolstered by Christian Bale's scary, transformative performance as the former VP, Vice pulled a Bohemian Rhapsody and rose above its mixed reviews to become a prominent player on the awards circuit. Due to its late arrival on the scene, Vice missed notices from the National Board of Review and American Film Institute, but picked up several nominations after it finally screened. It's up for eight Oscars, and may have a shot in the crazy Best Original Screenplay race.
As for Picture, Vice is perhaps the longest shot. While the film has its fans, it definitely wasn't beloved by all, with McKay's outlandish and bold stylistic choices proving to be divisive. That's rarely a good thing for Best Picture hopefuls, especially in the age of the preferential ballot. And with Vice also failing to pick up any awards at the guilds, it's clear it doesn't have widespread industry support.