Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse for Best Animated Feature
“Anyone can wear the mask.” Those five simple words spoken by Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse have echoed in my head ever since the credits rolled. To say nothing of its breathtaking animation, pitch-perfect casting (John Mulaney as Spider-Ham is an all-timer), and its deep-cut Clone High Easter egg that makes me wish the multiverse were real, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse deserves to win an Oscar because of what it means to so many people, myself included.
Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero ever since I first cracked open my father’s old copy of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 in my childhood basement, because he has been so eminently relatable. Peter Parker made me feel like I could be a superhero. And now as Miles Morales—as well as a slew of other delightful Spider-People—have shown us, it doesn’t matter who wears the mask, as long as someone steps up to do what’s right when the going gets tough. Anyone can be your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if they put their mind to it, and that is more powerful than any radioactive arachnid.
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) for Best Director
I know Alfonso Cuarón is considered a lock in this category, but I can’t silence that voice in the back of my head that wants this to be Spike’s year. After decades of snubs, now feels like the perfect moment for a director who’s used his career to shed light on and deconstruct the establishment of racism in this country. In a lot of ways, BlacKkKlansman is the anti-Green Book, a movie that’s drawn criticism for its rosy depiction of racial disparity.
BlacKkKlansman has its own controversies—mostly centered on its pro-police plot—but it also confronts the fallacy that we live in a post-racism society. Lee’s trademark humor and style are in every frame of the film, and rewarding him would send a message that the Academy is expanding its worldview. It would also be a nice way of course-correcting one of the most famous snubs of all time, when Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing was denied Best Picture and Director nominations.
“Shallow” from A Star Is Born for Best Original Song
I’ll be thrilled if Lady Gaga wins for Best Actress, but I won’t be disappointed if Glenn Close wins her first Oscar. I will also be happy if A Star Is Born wins Best Picture, but I think Roma deserves it more. But what will upset me is if Lady Gaga’s amazing, nuanced, powerful performance of “Shallow” doesn’t earn her the title of “Oscar-winner.” She was a revelation in the movie that owned 2018 more than any other film, and giving the gorgeous “Shallow” the Oscar for Best Song would be a way to honor both her and the movie.
Ally’s out-of-body experience on the side of the stage hearing her song being performed (a mini acting class unto itself), followed by her finding the courage to walk out on stage to perform it with Jackson in an intimate moment happening in front of tens of thousands of people, was a perfect moment. It’s everything I love about the movies, and it’s a scene that will always stay with me. A win in this category would celebrate all of that.
Cold War for Best Foreign Language Film
Though the 2019 Oscar nominees are a super mixed bag, some of this year’s unifying threads are the pyrrhic battles you wage with those you love or pretend to. No nominated film from 2018 so starkly or tragically paints this emotional erosion as Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War. The black-and-white story follows two Polish musicians in post-war Europe whose romance begins with a betrayal and ends with a promise.
Despite spending years and countries apart, they never stop suffering the other’s gravitational pull until they finally decide to collapse into each other. With Pawlikowski’s patient, sometimes doleful eye, Cold War tallies the damages of its two lovers and tells an honest story about the brokenness that can stow away when you love someone.
The Favourite for Best Picture
It might not be getting as much as attention as some of the flashier Best Picture frontrunners, but Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is the kind of delicious black comedy that will wind up being super rewatchable in years to come. Yes, it is only very loosely based on historical events, but historical accuracy aside, this tale of devious palace schemers playing dirty tricks to get ahead had me snickering with delight at all the underhanded bitchery and shade-throwing. Olivia Coleman is flat out amazing as Queen Anne, but Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz also bring their conniving best. Nothing would make me happier than to see The Favourite become just that at the Oscars.
Shoplifters for Best Foreign Language Film
With a story about the assembly and inevitable deterioration of an intergenerational found family of outcasts in the slums of Tokyo, it’s fairly amazing Shoplifters doesn’t leave you gutted and hopeless at the end of its two-hour run. Run through the ringer, sure, but not without a spirited appreciation for the people who come into, and sometimes out of, our lives. But Shoplifters is indeed something to be amazed by, not only for its surprisingly heartening emotional wallop, but also the cleverness, humor, and empathy with which its striking characters, and the strange little world they inhabit, are drawn.
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Lady Gaga’s performance is what makes A Star Is Born work, plain and simple. Her passion, her fierceness, and her ability to both shed her superstar persona to play the down-to-earth Ally, while also gently referencing her own personal journey to musical success, is the key to Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. That’s not to mention her humor and chemistry with nearly every actor with whom she shares a scene. Gaga is equally deft at playing Ally’s strength and vulnerability, and A Star Is Born highlights the fact that Lady Gaga is a truly beautiful crier. It’s hard to call the performance a “star-making turn” when Lady Gaga already is a star, but her cinematic acting debut should be recognized for how electric and engaging Gaga can be when playing someone other than herself.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for Best Adapted Screenplay
Joel and Ethan Coen have made movies in all sorts of genres, and have set them in many different time periods, but they seem to be returning to the Western more and more frequently, and I love it. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an atypical film from two of Hollywood’s most atypical writers, exploring existential themes of death, loneliness, betrayal, and triumph in vignettes that go from the wholly absurd to the brutally serious. Each gives us a glimpse at the Coens’ version of How the West Was Won, where anything can kill anyone, fortunes turn (usually for the worse) on a dime, and no one is safe. But, like, in a funny way.
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