From Lady to Radio, it’s the year of Gaga: a look at 2019’s Oscar nominations

The Best Picture shortlist includes A Star Is Born, up for eight awards including Best Actress (Lady Gaga) and Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody – hated by critics – which is up for five.

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So this is the year of Gaga, whether Lady or Radio. Awards bodies everywhere have fallen for both, in the shape of A Star Is Born and the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. And the Oscar nominations, which have just been announced, show that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is no exception. 

Sometimes there is a noticeable chasm between the movies that impress Oscar voters, who are comprised of industry professionals young and old (mostly old, but that is changing); and those which wow the Golden Globes, which are decided on by a secretive ragbag of freeloading hacks. 

Yet both these pictures have done staggeringly well, not only in their tally of nominations – eight for A Star Is Born, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Lady Gaga), and five for Bohemian Rhapsody, which is also fighting for Best Picture and Best Actor (Rami Malek) – but also at the box office. 

I was underwhelmed by Bradley Cooper’s remake of the evergreen rise-and-fall story, with Cooper (himself a Best Actor nominee) as the falling star and Lady Gaga as the rising one, though it had the backing of many critics. Bohemian Rhapsody manifestly didn’t. (My colleague Kate Mossman, a Queen devotee, was mixed, applauding Rami Malek’s “energy and tenderness” while hilariously singling out the film’s strange temporal conflations and its instances of “mega-exposition”.) Both have triumphed here, though, and that, for now, is what counts. 

Vice, which I’ll be reviewing in this week’s New Statesman, has also proved popular, with eight nominations including two it deserves to convert into prizes: one for Christian Bale, who should scoop Best Actor for his witty portrayal of Dick Cheney; and the other for the make-up team, headed by Greg Cannom, which helped make that performance physically possible.

The other big news about the Oscars, and the 2018-19 awards season in general, is the abundance of good filmmaking that is being rewarded. Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical drama Roma deserves to win big – though I’m reluctant to endorse any prizes that will make Netflix press ahead with their current plan of giving such projects only the most negligible theatrical runs. (If you haven’t seen Roma on the big screen, you haven’t seen the half of it.) Roma got ten nominations, including one for Best Director for Cuarón. 

Yorgos Lanthimos’s brilliant and acerbic period comedy The Favourite also has ten nods. Both films are in the running for Best Picture; both would be equally deserving winners. Olivia Colman is up for Best Actress for Lanthimos’s film and the prize would surely be hers to lose, were it not for the presence in the same category of Glenn Close, nominated for her excellent, nuanced performance in The Wife as the overlooked spouse of a Nobel-winning novelist. Close also has sentimentality in her favour: though this is her seventh Oscar nomination in a film career spanning more than 35 years, it would be her first win.

Other notable nominations include two acting nods for Can You Ever Forgive Me? – one in the Best Actress category for Melissa McCarthy as the real-life literary forger Lee Israel, another for Richard E. Grant (Best Supporting Actor) as her sloshed partner-in-crime, a beautifully judged performance with a faint echo of Withnail about it. 

The other big news is that black is the new black. The pleasant surprises in the Oscars list are mostly down to the high number of nominations for Black Panther (seven, including Best Picture) and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (six, with Lee up for Best Director and the film itself for Best Picture). It was the concern that Black Panther might not make the cut, don’t forget, which prompted the ridiculous decision last year by the Academy to propose a new category of Best Achievement in Popular Film -- one it thankfully ditched after widespread and deserved derision. Black Panther did just fine, it seems, without any bureaucratic helping hand. I was also pleased to see some love for Cold War (up for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director for Pawel Pawlikowski) and for Hale County This Morning, This Evening (Best Documentary Feature).

But there’s one not-insignificant detail that remains unconfirmed at the time of writing: the category of Presenter. First it was going to be the comic actor Kevin Hart. Then he stepped down after refusing to apologise for homophobic comments he had made on Twitter. Next came the really strange part, when Ellen DeGeneres tried and failed to get him to reconsider. Right now, the big Oscars question is not, "Who’s going to win big at the ceremony?" so much as ‘"Who’s going to present the damn thing?"

The 91st Academy Awards are on 24 February.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.