Best Documentary Feature – Free Solo
This category has opened up to predictions following the notable omission of the expected front-runner, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The Mr. Rogers documentary seemed like such a shoo-in for the top prize given its critical acclaim and beloved subject matter, with many declaring that it was the movie everyone needed at this moment in time. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG could fill that hunger instead but our bet goes on Free Solo, a staggering technical achievement and fascinating ethical study in the limits of the documentary, focusing on a free solo climber attempting to scale El Capitan. It’s one of the most astounding cinematic experiences of 2018.
Best Foreign Language Film – Cold War
It’s rare to see films not in the English language get nominated for Best Picture. No such film has ever won the top prize and only eight films up until this year have received nominations. Roma’s presence there is ground-breaking on a number of levels but especially notable here. That it is a Best Picture front-runner should be celebrated as foreign language films are typically relegated to one category. However, that may mean the Academy want to spread the wealth around. Cold War, Poland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film, won Best Director at Cannes last year and sees Paweł Pawlikowski nominated for the same prize in the Oscars. His cold war romantic drama, inspired by his own parents, clearly has fans in the Academy given its three nominations. Pawlikowski has also won this prize before for Ida and familiarity helps in a category like this.
Best Make-Up and Hairstyling – Vice
While not always the case, the Oscar for make-up and hairstyling is typically rewarded to the most extravagant work, be it dramatic period wigs or transformative prosthetic work. This year, the obvious front-runner in that regard is Vice, if only for the make-up required to age all its actors over decades of history as well as the feat of making Christian Bale look eerily like former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Best Visual Effects – Avengers: Infinity War
The films absent from the category of Best Visual Effects are almost as notable as the ones that are present: No Black Panther, no Aquaman, No Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. And in their place: Christopher Robin? As with make-up and hairstyling, this award frequently goes to the biggest and most elaborate work of the year, and nowhere was that more evident than in 2018's biggest movie, Avengers: Infinity War. Even superhero cynics cannot deny the sheer scale and skill on display in that film, nor the attention to detail in realizing Thanos.
Best Costume Design – Black Panther
Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer of Black Panther, has been a long-time collaborator of Spike Lee and has worked with directors as illustrious as Steven Spielberg, Joss Whedon and Ava DuVernay. Her afrofuturist inspired work on Black Panther has seen her pegged as the front-runner in this category for close to a year now and there’s no reason to doubt her chances of victory. The costuming in the film is detailed, elaborate, spans an incredible range of historical and cultural inspirations, and represents decades of Carter’s work at its finest.
Best Production Design – Black Panther
Production design is another category typically favored by period dramas and large scale productions, as evidenced by this year's nominees. Black Panther is the film set to benefit the most from a sweep of technical categories and it remains the best place to celebrate the film given the long-shot status of its Best Picture odds. It also happens to feature some of the most dazzling production design of the year, as the film creates an entirely fictional country from scratch, combining African history and culture with futuristic technology.