The Road to the 91st Oscars, Part I: An Oscar is Born

This is the first in a series of articles about the 2018 year in film and the lead-up to the 91st Oscars. As with last year’s posts, I will include discussion threads for individual Oscars categories with my personal predictions in the comments section, as well as a General Discussion thread.

Hirokazu Kore-eda. Lee Chang-dong. Claire Denis. Olivier Assayas. Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Orson Welles (technically). Jia Zhang-ke. Zhang Yimou. Naomi Kawase. Gaspar Noé. Pawel Pawlikowski. Asghar Farhadi. Lars Von Trier. Alice Rohrwacher. Bruno Dumont. Hong Sang-soo. Jafar Panahi. Karyn Kusama.

Every one of these world-renowned directors (and Lars Von Trier) released a movie in 2018. Every one of these movies (except for perhaps Von Trier’s controversial, shocking, hilarious, remarkably self-aware The House That Jack Built) has been well received. And aside from a likely Best Foreign Language Film showdown between Kore-eda’s Shoplifters and Pawlikowski’s Cold War, every one of these movies is on track to receive a whopping zero Oscar nominations come January (though I’d be more than happy for Nicole Kidman’s genius turn in Kusama’s Destroyer to prove me wrong).

On one hand, the current state of the Oscars race should tell you something about how exciting a year this has been for film – in my opinion, the best in recent memory. 2018 has been such an unbelievably good year at the cinema that even without all of the films mentioned above, the slate of Oscars front-runners is packed with modern classics, from Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma to Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk to Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. On the other hand, the fact that we are looking down the barrel of a showdown between A Star is Born and Green Book signifies the Academy’s continued failure to make particularly interesting choices. Indeed, if Cuaron’s masterful Roma stays on its current path to a certain Best Picture nomination, it would be only the 11th foreign language film nominated for the award in the history of the Oscars, and the first since 2012’s Amour. Interestingly enough, when A Star is Born snags its inevitable Best Picture nomination, it will be the first of the four adaptations of this apparently timeless story to do so.

With all that said, the 91st Oscars season is slowly warming up, and the critics awards and nominations have started to trickle in. The Indie Spirit nominations were announced in mid-November, and this past week saw the winners of the National Board of Review (NBR) Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) Awards, and the Gotham Independent Film Awards announced. What do these precursors tell us?

As usual, the Indie Spirits and the Gothams don’t really tell us much, but they do indicate strong support in the independent film community for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. All three have outside chances at screenplay and lead acting nominations, and should be considered long shots for Best Picture. If Beale Street Could Talk also saw its position on Oscars ballots reinforced.

NYFCC and NBR both chose to show some love to If Beale Street Could Talk’s Regina King and First Reformed’s screenplay. NYFCC gave its picture and director awards to Roma, notably the first foreign language film to win the NYFCC’s top prize since Federico Fellini’s Amarcord in 1974. NBR split its top four awards (picture/director/actor/actress) evenly between Green Book and A Star is Born.

The next month will be key, as strong contenders like Vice and Mary Poppins Returns approach their premiere dates and films that have already had their time in theaters (Black Panther, A Quiet Place, BlacKkKlansman, Eighth Grade) or have recently fizzled (First Man, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Boy Erased, Beautiful Boy) struggle to stay in voters’ consciousness. My latest predictions in the major races are in the comments below; sort by “Newest” if you’re looking for the General Discussion thread! As I did last year, I will expand to more categories in future articles, but am keeping to the core races in these early days.