The 2019 Oscar Letdown: ‘Black Panther’ And ‘A Star Is Born’ Are Dark Horses Now

The Oscars have joined the world’s spirited “Wakanda forever” refrain, exalting “Black Panther” ― 2018’s highest-grossing release ― with the first-ever Best Picture nomination for a superhero movie. But can “forever” last long enough to see the fan favorite win the top trophy on Feb. 24?

Based on what the overall Oscar roster indicates, it’s questionable. 

Academy Award statistics tell us that Best Picture winners almost always received nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Director as well. After all, what is a movie without slick editing and sage directing? “Black Panther” didn’t make either category, nor did it receive a single acting nod or screenplay recognition. The last film to win Best Picture without editing, directing, acting or writing nominations was 1932’s “Grand Hotel.”

“A Star Is Born,” the other blockbuster once predicted to sweep the Oscars, got blanked in Best Film Editing and Best Director too, although it can at least claim three acting nods and screenplay kudos. Everyone wanted to take another look at Lady Gaga, who was also fêted for co-writing the popular ballad “Shallow,” but Bradley Cooper will go to bed tonight with only a fraction of the nominations he was expected to garner.

(For comparison’s sake, actor-turned-director Ben Affleck was shut out of a Best Director nomination when he helmed “Argo,” but that movie still won Best Picture ― surely music to Cooper’s ears right about now.) 

So if “Black Panther” and “A Star Is Born” are down, what’s up? “Roma” and “BlacKkKlansman” both made off with a larger bounty than anticipated, slightly puncturing the idea that Golden Globe pacesetters “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” would replace “Black Panther” and “A Star Is Born” as the race’s headliners. “Roma” and “BlacKkKlansman” were included in key categories that “Black Panther,” “A Star Is Born,” “Green Book” and the high-grossing “Bohemian Rhapsody” were not. 

Yalitza Aparicio in "Roma."


Yalitza Aparicio in “Roma.”

“Roma,” a somber black-and-white foreign film that carries the contentious Netflix imprint, tied “The Favourite” for the year’s most nominations, including Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Screenplay and an unexpected Best Supporting Actress slot for the little-known Marina de Tavira. “BlacKkKlansman,” an August release that once seemed like a second-tier contender, landed veteran Spike Lee his first Best Director shoutout, as well as nominations for editing, screenplay and Adam Driver as Best Supporting Actor. 

“Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” on the other hand, earned fewer respective nominations than any of the aforementioned titles, with five apiece. Neither scored directing nods, but they did somehow make Best Film Editing, because Viggo Mortensen taking a bite out of that whole pizza apparently looked good to someone. Campaign controversies, specifically regarding the racial politics of “Green Book” and the sexual assault allegations surrounding “Bohemian Rhapsody” director Bryan Singer, may have dampened fervor for the movies, but they did not douse it entirely. “Green Book” recently won the Producers Guild of America prize, seen as a key precursor in the quest for Oscar’s Best Picture. 

Of course, whether the old statistical probabilities will hold up in the face of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ newly diversified membership is yet to be seen. The voting body is younger, with more people of color and more international members than ever before. Hence Polish maestro Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”) edging out Bradley Cooper for a Best Director nomination.

The preferential ballots could still work in favor of “Black Panther” or “A Star Is Born,” two movies whose loyal fan bases see them as a sort of platonic ideal at a politically polarized moment. Either one winning would double as a middle finger to the academy’s short-lived popularity prize, which was introduced last summer as a way to honor a lucrative film and then eliminated amid a flood of criticism before it was ever awarded.

In an already messy awards season, the competition just got dirtier ― but Wakanda isn’t over yet.

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