Before dawn on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross will gather to read this year’s Oscar nominees in 24 categories.
But why wait until then to discuss what may go down? As your Carpetbagger, I’ve been studying the race for months and flagging several developments to look for. Who might make Oscar history, and how should we read some of these tea leaves?
Here are five pressing award-season questions that will soon be answered.
Which film will get the most Oscar nominations?
Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” has received across-the-board recognition from every major Hollywood guild it was eligible for, suggesting that on Tuesday morning, it will be our nomination leader. Oscar nominations for picture, director, actor (Cooper), actress (Lady Gaga), song, cinematography, editing and sound mixing are all but assured. Less certain but still likely are nominations for supporting actor (Sam Elliott) and adapted screenplay.
If “A Star Is Born” nabs every single one of those, it will lead the field with 10 nominations, but if it misses one or two, there are several other films that could tie it or even outright claim the title of nomination leader. Among them are “Roma,” “The Favourite,” “First Man,” “Vice” and “Black Panther.”
Can “Green Book” continue its momentum?
After taking the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical and adding the top prize from the Producers Guild of America over the weekend, “Green Book” could be considered our best-picture front-runner. After all, there have been only two times since the academy expanded its best-picture field that the Oscars and the producers guild have differed on their ultimate victor. The PGA also has a membership similar in size to the academy’s and uses the same sort of preferential ballot when voting.
Still, the academy has taken great pains to diversify its ranks over recent years, and I wonder if this increasingly international, female membership will be as enamored of “Green Book” as the producers guild was. We’ll have a good idea of how far it can go if “Green Book” pulls off some on-the-bubble nominations like best editing, best director and best supporting actress for Linda Cardellini.
Who takes the fifth best actress slot?
Four women have made pretty much every best actress lineup so far: Glenn Close for “The Wife,” Lady Gaga for “A Star Is Born,” Olivia Colman for “The Favourite” and Melissa McCarthy for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Barring a shock that would be among Tuesday’s biggest snubs, expect all four to receive Oscar nominations. But who will be the fifth?
Emily Blunt received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for her work in “Mary Poppins Returns,” but Bafta, the British organization, went for Viola Davis in “Widows” instead. The “Roma” lead Yalitza Aparicio has been mostly overlooked by precursor awards, but if Alfonso Cuarón’s film can’t manage a single acting nomination, does it mean that actors — who make up the academy’s biggest voting branch — are the least enamored of this critically acclaimed film?
And then there are all the dark horses, like Toni Collette in “Hereditary,” Nicole Kidman in “Destroyer” and Joanna Kulig in “Cold War.” In a less competitive year, they’d be locks, but the best actress race is as fierce as these performances.
[Yalitza Aparicio on what an Oscar nomination would mean to Indigenous people in Mexico.]
What Oscar history may be made?
Spike Lee is likely to earn his first best-director Oscar nomination for “BlacKkKlansman,” and if Ryan Coogler for “Black Panther” or Barry Jenkins for “If Beale Street Could Talk” makes it in as well, it would be the first time that more than one black director was nominated in the same year. Jenkins, if recognized, would also become the first black director to receive two Oscar nominations for best director, after picking up one for “Moonlight” in 2017.
“Black Panther” is poised to become the first superhero movie nominated for best picture, and the production designer Hannah Beachler has a strong shot at becoming the first African-American nominated in her category.
Netflix has never before fielded a best-picture nominee, but the streaming service is likely to have its first contender with “Roma.” And thanks to that film, Netflix could be contending for the first time in best director, actress, original screenplay, editing, foreign-language film and production design, as well as both sound editing and sound mixing.
Can Bradley Cooper and Alfonso Cuarón become the most-nominated men?
Only two multihyphenates have received four nominations for the same film: Orson Welles was recognized for writing, directing, producing and starring in “Citizen Kane,” while Warren Beatty pulled off that feat twice, for “Heaven Can Wait” and “Reds.” This year, expect two more men to join their ranks.
Cooper is likely to receive the same four nominations Welles and Beatty got, though he could have added a fifth if Warner Bros. had submitted one of the songs he co-wrote for “A Star Is Born.” Instead, the studio entered only “Shallow,” which Cooper does not have a credit on. Still, he can’t be disappointed with four nominations in one go, and after earning four other Oscar nods this decade, Cooper is on a career path that could someday make him one of the most-nominated industry figures ever.
Cuarón ought to pick up a different set of four nominations: In addition to nods for producing, directing and writing “Roma,” he also served as the film’s cinematographer. Could he make Oscar history by receiving a fifth nomination for the same film? Not quite: Though “Roma” is a lock to be nominated in the foreign-language race, that category technically honors the submitting country, not the director of the film.
Can a critics’ favorite sneak in?
There are a lot of big Hollywood hits in the mix this year, but I wonder if a few smaller films could still make it into Oscar contention, provided enough academy members were finally able to catch up with them during the last days of voting.
Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” was among the best movies of last year and a major comeback for its acclaimed director, who has somehow never received an Oscar nomination despite scripting movies like “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.” The academy has the chance to make it up to him in the original-screenplay category this year, while the “First Reformed” lead Ethan Hawke is on the bubble to make it into a weak best actor field.
The best director race can often be counted on for a few curveballs, and the directors branch that votes on this category is among the most transformed by the multiyear effort to diversify the academy. I wonder, then, if we might see a highbrow pick here even if the director’s film isn’t nominated for best picture. Might the Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, riding high from a surprise Bafta nomination, make it in for “Cold War”? If Pawlikowski is nominated alongside Cuarón, we’d have two black-and-white foreign films in contention here.
My hope is that enough members of the directors branch saw “Leave No Trace,” Debra Granik’s superb father-daughter story, and see fit to push Granik into the race. Her drama “Winter’s Bone” scored a best picture nomination, and she’s a one-of-a-kind auteur chronicling hardscrabble American lives with journalistic curiosity and empathy. Any nomination that might encourage people to seek out “Leave No Trace” is a win no matter who ends up taking the best director Oscar.