Will Netflix win big at the Oscars?

The Oscars unpredictability ought to be good news for those at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, since the awards telecast has steadily been losing viewers in recent years

ALFONSO CUARON’S frontrunner ‘Roma.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
ALFONSO CUARON’S frontrunner ‘Roma.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 91st Academy Awards, which will be broadcast on February 25 at 3:30 a.m. Israel time (with red-carpet coverage starting at 3 a.m.) on YES 1 and YES STINGTV, are the least predictable they’ve been in years. In other words, to quote the late Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.”
This unpredictability ought to be good news for those at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, since the awards telecast has steadily been losing viewers in recent years, and it seems harder and harder to find anyone under 30 with a passion for big-screen moviegoing.
This year – in addition to the rather familiar debate about diversity among the nominees and winners – the big news is that one of the favorites is Roma, a drama that played at film festivals and on a few screens, but was seen by more than 99% of its viewers on the streaming service Netflix. Movies from Netflix have been nominated for Oscars before, but have never been heavily favored to win big before.
If Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, an artsy epic that won virtually every critics’ award and tells the story of a middle-class Mexican family and its housekeeper (just the kind of person Trump wants to build the wall to keep out  of the US, a fact that will undoubtedly influence some of the voters), wins top Oscars, this victory will shape filmmaking for decades to come, as even more stars and money will flock to streaming services.
Skin, a film by Israeli director Guy Nattiv and cowritten by Sharon Maymon, is nominated in the Best Live Action Short Film category.
Best Picture
What is Roma’s real competition among the eight nominees? Any film without a Best Director nod is much less likely to win Best Picture, and the directors of Best Picture-nominated Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book and A Star is Born – a big slight for first-time and much acclaimed director Bradley Cooper – were not nominated. So that makes Roma’s three main competitors Adam McKay’s Vice, Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite.
Vice, a look at the life of former vice president Dick Cheney, is just too snarky to win the big prize – the Oscars reward sincerity. Lee is a well-liked, often controversial African-American director, and BlackKklansman is a good film but not a great one. The Favourite is a bleak look at mean-spirited court intrigues in 18th-century England. But Oscar doesn’t do bleak. And here’s an interesting statistic: No movie with a British title spelling has ever won.
Winner: Roma
Best Director
Cuaron has already won a Best Director Oscar, for Gravity. And he’s part of the Mexican Mafia that has taken over Hollywood in recent years – since 2013, only one non-Mexican has won a Best Director Oscar.
Could Lee, a veteran with a long list of acclaimed films, break through? It’s possible, but not likely.
Winner: Alfonso Cuaron
Best Actress
Nonprofessional actress Yalitza Aparicio gives a touching performance in Roma, but for her the nomination itself is a win. Melissa McCarthy is wonderful as a literary forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? but it’s not a lovable character. That’s a similar problem for Olivia Colman’s performance as an addled, drooling monarch in The Favourite. Lady Gaga is loved by her fans, but the buzz is that she isn’t as popular with Oscar voters.
This year, the Oscar will go to one of the most nominated stars who has never won, the well-liked Glenn Close, who plays a sympathetic, put-upon woman taken advantage of by her scheming husband in The Wife, a perfect #MeToo choice.
Winner: Glenn Close
Best Actor
Christian Bale packed on the pounds to play Dick Cheney in Vice, but Cheney is a figure so abhorrent to most Oscar voters that I don’t see Bale winning for this. Viggo Mortensen from Green Book and Willem Dafoe from At Eternity’s Gate are just along for the ride here.
Oscar voters might reward Bradley Cooper with a Best Actor win, to make up for his Best Director snub, and he gives a terrific performance as a country music star on the way down in A Star is Born.
But according to traditional Oscar algorithms, it would seem that Rami Malek has it all sewn up for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. He is an American doing a British accent; he is playing a real person; this real person struggled to accept his homosexual identity and had a drug problem – all of which, in Oscar math, is roughly equivalent to having a disability, a surefire advantage; and Mercury died tragically young of AIDS. It doesn’t hurt that Malek is so good that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, or that the film was one of the most popular movies of the year. Advantage, Rami.
Winner: Rami Malek
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams’s performance is key to Vice, but Regina King should win for If Beale Street Could Talk. She has won most of the critics’ awards, plus it’s a movie with a serious, African-American historical theme that didn’t receive many nominations.
Winner: Regina King
Best Supporting Actor
I would love to see Sam Elliott, who played the cowboy in The Big Lebowski, take the Oscar for his performance in A Star is Born, because he is a great character actor and they rarely get their due.
But Mahershala Ali is nominated for Green Book, and it’s a showy role and a captivating performance. More than that, he’s actually the lead. Leads nominated in supporting categories do incredibly well. And Ali, who won two years ago for Moonlight, is truly a wonderful actor, currently starring on the new season of True Detective.
Winner: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Lee has never won a competitive Oscar before, and BlackKklansman is an offbeat and suspenseful fact-based drama about an African-American infiltrating the KKK. Even though it is a period film, it has implications for today’s political climate.
Winner: BlackKklansman
Best Original Screenplay
Some have been hoping that Paul Schrader will win for First Reformed, the dour drama of a minister struggling with his own demons. Bizarrely, Schrader, who wrote such legendary screenplays as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, has never been nominated before.
But he is facing off against Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, a movie about a heart-warming friendship between an unconventional and highly educated black musician and a working-class Italian racist who has his prejudices shattered. Always put your money on movies that end with black and white people embracing.
Winner: Green Book
Best Foreign Language Film
It’s a strong category this year. In another year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, which also received nominations for Best Director and Best Cinematography, might have won, and Pawlikowski’s Ida won Best Foreign Language film a few years ago. Shoplifters, by Hirokazu Koreeda, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, also might have won handily some other year. But this year, it will be Roma.
Winner: Roma