Entertainment

Predicting this year's wild Oscar race: Who will win — and who should

Will Academy voters choose Wakanda Forever? Or has Spanish-language film Roma won more hearts? As the Oscars approach, Eli Glasner explains how the film industry's biggest prize could play out.

The 91st Academy Awards will be presented in Hollywood on Sunday

Will Academy voters choose Wakanda Forever? Or has Spanish-language film Roma won more hearts? As the Oscars approach, Eli Glasner explains how the film industry's biggest prize could play out. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

The danger with Oscar predictions is a sense of complacency.

For months we've heard the same films mentioned again and again. But in many ways, the 91st Academy Awards race has been one of the most interesting contests in years.

This year's nominees reflect the affections of an organization that is changing rapidly.

Given the unpredictable nature of this year's show, expect surprises. Here's what to watch for.

Best supporting actress

Regina King appears as Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk. (Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures)

Who will win: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Though director Barry Jenkins's followup to his Oscar-winner Moonlight hasn't gain the traction many expected, Regina King's road to the Oscars is unstoppable. In the film, she portrays Sharon Rivers, the mother of Tish, a woman whose boyfriend (played by Canadian Stephan James) is wrongly imprisoned. In the role, King communicates a lifetime of fear and frustration — in particular during a desperate trip to Puerto Rico. That, combined with her picture-perfect acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, makes King one of this year's safest bets.

Who should win: Rachel Weisz, The Favourite.

Rachel Weisz slinks into the role of Lady Sarah so effortlessly that it's easy to take her for granted. But her performance contains multitudes. It begins with a woman manipulating the affections of the queen. By the end, the Machiavellian​ schemer is outmanoeuvred. Making us sympathize with the devil? A nice trick indeed.

Watch out for: Amy Adams, Vice.

If there's a dark horse in this category, it's Amy Adams. A six-time Oscar nominee, Adams is an industry favourite who stood out in the political farce Vice.

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali is shown as Don Shirley in the Green Book. (Universal Pictures/Associated Press)

Who will win: Mahershala Ali, Green Book.

Sometimes the gods of awards season decide early — and that certainly appears to be the case with Mahershala Ali's performance as classical pianist Don Shirley. Ali disappears into the role and the crowd-pleasing film has already wooed Golden Globe and BAFTA voters.

Who should win: Sam Elliott, A Star is Born.

Though A Star is Born has its flaws (like the second half of the film, where momentum leaches away), no one can deny Sam Elliott's laconic, lived-in turn as Bobby, the brother of the roots rocker Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). The push and pull between Jack and Bobby — one successful, one in the shadows — puts the twang into this country tale.

Watch out for: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

In a series of tweets and interviews, Richard E. Grant has been living his best life this Oscar season. At 61, the Withnail and I star is in the spotlight again, thanks to his turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? And he did it by being his charming, irascible self.

Best actress

Glenn Close appears in a scene from The Wife. (Sony Pictures Classics)

Who will win: Glenn Close, The Wife.

At the outset, Olivia Colman's scene-shredding turn in The Favourite appeared to be a contender. But Glenn Close's performance as a woman lost in the glare of her husband's fame has gained momentum, racking up award after award this season. Part of this is certainly due to her long and varied journey as an actor, but an Oscar for her performance as Joan — who is no longer willing to subvert her own happiness — makes a fitting tribute to Close's career.

Who should win: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma.

Her face a mask of kindness hiding her inner turmoil, Yalitza Aparicio​ is the soul of Roma. Without her, the movie wouldn't have worked, said director Alfonso Cuaron. While the fact that the preschool teacher-in-training never acted before makes her accomplishment on-screen even more impressive, don't let her amateur status stop you from savouring her utterly convincing performance.

Watch out for: Olivia Colman,The Favourite.

While it does seem more of a supporting role, Olivia Colman has been having a ball this awards season — and her portrayal of a mad queen certainly has fans.

Best actor

Rami Malek, right, sizzled as late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. (Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox)

Who will win: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Hips thrusting and lips quivering, Rami Malek's version of Freddie Mercury is electric. Working with a heavy-handed and somewhat sanitized script, Malek still managed to show a vulnerable side of the Queen frontman. Haters can debate how much credit goes to his outsized orthodonture, but Malek's Oscar is a lock.

Who should win: Willem Dafoe, At Eternity's Gate.

Playing the artist Vincent van Gogh, Willem Dafoe is the creative spirit personified. With wild eyes, he shows us a man trying to translate the beauty of God's creation one brushstroke at a time. But this heretic who laughs at priests and rolls in the mud is likely too radical for mainstream voters. Pity.

Watch out for: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book. 

With wins at the Producers Guild Awards and Golden Globes, Green Book is a more serious contender than some Oscar intelligentsia care to admit. Sure, Viggo's performance ain't subtle, but it is entertaining.

Best director

Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron dedicated his film, Roma, to his childhood nanny. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

Who will win: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma.

This black-and-white, Spanish-language movie set in Mexico City is the definition of an art film, but it's also a very personal one inspired by and dedicated to Alfonso Cuaron's real-life childhood nanny. Tied with The Favourite for 10 Oscar nominations, Roma has already been scooping up trophies at the BAFTAs, Critics' Choice Awards and Golden Globes.

Who should win: No complaints with the academy on this one. By narrowing his gaze to tell an incredibly specific story, Cuaron crafted a classic that nonetheless possesses universal appeal.

Watch out for: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman.

If there's an upset, it will come from the supporters of Spike Lee. The director of Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 25th Hour and more has — improbably — never won a competitive Oscar (he received an honorary prize in 2015). Given the current political climate, liberal-minded voters may want to send a signal by marking their ballot in favour of the pointedly anti-Trump filmmaker.

Best picture

The Netflix-produced Roma landed the streaming service its first best-picture nod. (Participant Media/Esperanto Filmoj)

Who will win: Roma.

Oof. Not gonna lie, folks: This is a tough one to call. Perhaps the toughest in years.

With newsfeeds filled with arguments overs borders and walls, my heart wants to believe that Roma's humanistic portrayal of Indigenous nanny Cleo will resonate with voters. Though the fact that Netflix produced this film may rankle some of Hollywood's old guard, the streaming service has spent mightily getting Roma into theatres and in front of voters.

Who should win: Black Panther.

You want an argument for Oscar relevance? All hail the king. Black Panther is the best of both worlds: a box office smash and an artistic triumph, weaving generations of black pain into an Afrofuturistic adventure. Just as Cuaron did, director Ryan Coogler drew on his own upbringing in Oakland, Calif., to make this Marvel movie superhuman.

Watch out for: Green Book.

Remember 2006, when Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain to win best picture? It could happen again. Green Book has already snapped up three major Golden Globes and the Producers Guild's top prize. Sure, the story of a white driver learning to see a black musician as a whole person feels like a throwback. But if anything, that's the appeal. Green Book is cinematic comfort food.

From Roma to Black Panther to BlacKkklansman, this year offers many films exploring what divides us, but Green Book frames it with a feel-good story of hope. The question is: Are Oscar voters looking to send a message? Or play it safe?

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC News. Each Friday he reviews films on CBC News Network as well as appearing on CBC radio programs coast to coast. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet.

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