The Academy Awards recently proposed a new category of Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film to reward the sort of multiplex releases that rarely win awards, only to hastily scrap the idea amid widespread derision. Multiplex-goers were to be catered for instead by the choice of the goofball comic Kevin Hart as the ceremony’s presenter on 25 February – except he had to step down amid controversy over his history of homophobic tweets. Mainstream tastes should be amply represented by nominations for A Star Is Born, and by a likely Best Supporting Actor nod for Michael B Jordan for his charismatic turn as the villain Erik Killmonger in Black Panther.
Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous Roma is a possible Best Picture contender, which would represent the first non-documentary Oscar win for a Netflix production. Yorgos Lanthimos’s riotous period comedy The Favourite (see opposite) should be in line for prizes, including Olivia Colman as Best Actress, a title she took at the Venice Film Festival last year. That category will find Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born pitted against Glenn Close in The Wife. Felicity Jones may be in the mix as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex (8 February). My vote, if I had one, would go to Melissa McCarthy as the literary forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (1 Feb).
Other big-hitters include Green Book (1 Feb), a race-relations road movie with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for Moonlight. The latter film’s director, Barry Jenkins, is back with an acclaimed adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk (8 Feb). The Front Runner (11 Jan) has Hugh Jackman as the presidential candidate Gary Hart, while Christian Bale is vice-president Dick Cheney in Vice (25 Jan).
Serious issues abound in three movies starring two young Oscar nominees: the drug-addiction dramas Beautiful Boy (18 Jan) with Timothée Chalamet from Call Me by Your Name, and Ben Is Back starring Lucas Hedges of Manchester By the Sea fame alongside Julia Roberts. Hedges also plays a young gay man undergoing conversion therapy in Boy Erased (8 Feb). The danger is that all these big, serious movies become indistinguishable. Anyone for Beautiful Ben is Erased?
This article appears in the 02 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions