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7 winners and 5 losers from the 2019 Oscar nominations

Winners: Roma! Black Panther! Foreign films! Losers: A Star Is Born! Emily Blunt! Mister Rogers!

Vice, Roma, Green Book, and Black Panther were all nominated for Oscars — some more than others.
Vice, Roma, Green Book, and Black Panther were all nominated for Oscars — some more than others.
Annapurna Pictures; Netflix; Universal Pictures; Marvel Studios

One of the weirdest Oscar seasons in recent history continues thanks to a weird list of Oscar nominations, one filled with great movies but also shocking snubs and heartening surprises.

Roma and The Favourite are at the top of the heap, with 10 nominations each; Vice and A Star Is Born are in second place with eight apiece. Black Panther, the first superhero movie ever nominated for Best Picture, is in third with seven.

But dig further down into the list and you’ll find some odd things going on in this oddest of awards seasons. They include a surefire documentary winner not even being nominated, the continued mistreatment of Emily Blunt, and the surprisingly soft total for A Star Is Born. Read on for more on all these snubs and surprises, and the seven winners and five losers from the 2019 Oscar nominations.

Winner: Roma (and Netflix)

Where should you see Roma?
Roma is a gorgeous depiction of 1970s Mexico City.

Roma came away from the nominations as one of the big winners, tying The Favourite with 10 nominations. It picked up two nominations for its actresses (lead actress Yalitza Aparicio and supporting actress Marina de Tavira), three for Alfonso Cuarón (Directing, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography), three technical nominations (Production Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing), Best Foreign Feature (which goes to Mexico), and Best Picture.

That’s a lot of nominations for any movie. (The record for most nominations is 14, held by 1950’s All About Eve, 1997’s Titanic and 2016’s La La Land.) But it’s especially exciting for Cuarón — who is the first filmmaker to be nominated for directing and cinematography in the same year — and for Netflix, which picked up the film late in the production process, poured money into its For Your Consideration campaign, and turned it into the streaming giant’s first Best Picture nomination. And for a slow, black-and-white, foreign-language film with no bankable names, that’s especially impressive.

And it capped off a successful day for Netflix: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs also picked up three nominations (Adapted Screenplay for the Coen brothers, Original Song, and Costume Design). So no matter what happens in a month at the ceremony, Netflix has proven it can draw critical plaudits and Academy attention to a film — and an unlikely one, at that.

Winner: Spike Lee

Before the 2019 Oscars, Spike Lee was an Oscar nominee. Of course he was an Oscar nominee; he’s one of the most significant directors in American film history, the guy who made Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X and Inside Man and 25th Hour, and, honestly, insert your Spike Lee favorite of choice here. (Shoutout to the little-seen 2000 movie Bamboozled!)

But despite his tremendous career, Lee has been nominated just twice — in 1990 for his Do the Right Thing screenplay and in 1999 for his documentary 4 Little Girls. (He received an honorary award in 2016.) You might notice that neither of those nominations is in the Directing category, nor have any of his films been nominated for Best Picture. Despite Lee’s storied career, he has been one of the foremost victims of the Academy’s lack of diversity over the past several decades.

Until now, that is. With BlacKkKlansman, Lee added three more nominations to his shelf, for Adapted Screenplay, Directing, and Picture, and the movie managed three other nominations as well (for its score, its editing, and supporting actor Adam Driver). The movie is very loosely based on the true story of a 1970s Colorado policeman who went undercover with the Ku Klux Klan by calling its members on the phone to win their trust, then undertaking an elaborate sting with a white man in the department (Driver’s character) who starts attending in-person Klan meetups.

The movie was critically acclaimed and a mild box office hit, and its ending, which ties the racism of the past to the racism of the present, gives what can be an otherwise fun genre story an added level of oomph.

But even within the confines of the cop movie, Lee is asking questions about onscreen representation, the relationship between black people and the police, and the roles of racism within all American institutions. BlacKkKlansman has its flaws, and it might not be Lee’s best movie ever, but a lot of people win long-overdue Oscars for what isn’t their best movie ever.

Winner: Black Panther

Black Panther already won 2018: It was the highest-grossing film of the year, widely beloved and critically praised, and it’s had a discernible cultural impact.

But its Oscar nominations solidify its legacy because it’s the now first superhero film to ever be nominated for Best Picture (something even The Dark Knight couldn’t pull off, despite its eight nominations in 2009).

Black Panther netted seven nominations total including technical and musical nominations. That’s a game changer for the Academy, and if it wins Best Picture, it will broaden the definition of what an “Oscar movie” could be, yet again.

Loser: Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt is the new Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns.
Someday it will happen, Emily Blunt!
Walt Disney Pictures

Poor Emily Blunt! Despite coming close numerous times (especially for 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, 2014’s Into the Woods, and 2015’s The Girl on the Train), and despite always being a damn delight every time she appears onscreen, and despite being one half of Hollywood’s new favorite couple (along with her husband, actor and director John Krasinski), she’s still not an Oscar nominee.

This was supposed to be her year, too! Not only was she Mary Poppins in the Christmastime hit Mary Poppins Returns, but she garnered unexpected heat for her badass work in the spring horror hit A Quiet Place, a movie in which she somehow makes it plausible that she could give birth without making a peep (the better to hide from the ultra-sensitive-to-sound monsters that stalk the movie’s setting). In fact, in December, she received two nominations from the Screen Actors Guild — lead for Mary Poppins and supporting for A Quiet Place. Surely one of those would translate to her first Oscar nod.

Nope! Instead, Blunt missed both categories, probably narrowly, given her previous success at the SAG awards and Golden Globes. But that meant yet another Oscar nominations morning that left her once again on the outside looking in. We could speculate as to whether Blunt ended up being her own worst competition, since many Oscar voters may have voted for her performance in A Quiet Place in the Lead Actress category as well, and that would be appropriate in a weird way. It’s very Oscar-y to not be nominated because you’re just too good.

Winner: The Favourite

Tied for the title of the 2019 Oscars’ most-nominated film (both it and Roma have 10 nominations), The Favourite has been the arthouse, um, favorite all season. It’s a kooky, wicked comedy of manners set in a version of Queen Anne’s 18th-century court that devolves into tragedy by the end, and it’s led by a trio of terrific performances, all of which were nominated: Olivia Colman for Best Actress, and both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for Best Supporting Actress.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos picked up a nomination too, as did the movie’s screenwriters, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, and its cinematographer Robbie Ryan. It also nabbed berths for Production Design, Film Editing, and Costume Design (which is no shocker, if you’ve seen the film’s sumptuous looks). And it earned the all-important Best Picture nomination as well.

All these nominations for a movie as off-kilter as The Favourite could be surprising, but it suggests there’s some unexpected momentum behind the film. And who knows? Maybe it’s finally time for Colman to take home her Oscar — just in time for her to star as a different queen in the next season of Netflix’s The Crown.

Loser: A Star Is Born

Between its huge success at the box office ($400 million worldwide, with $200 million of it coming from the US and Canada alone), its Oscar-beloved director and star (three-time nominee Bradley Cooper), its critical acclaim, and its lineage as the fifth telling of an almost elemental Hollywood myth, A Star Is Born initially felt like the movie to beat on this year’s awards circuit.

Except ... it hasn’t been. Despite landing a nomination from 11 of the 12 assorted industry guild awards that tend to predict the final Oscar lineup — a showing better than any other movie — A Star Is Born missed a few categories at the Oscars where it was considered a surefire nominee in the final tally. Particularly surprising are its shutouts in Best Film Editing and Best Directing, where Cooper was considered a lock but was presumably pushed out by Cold War’s Pawel Pawlikowski. (Reminder: There are no locks.) Yes, it still received eight nominations, including Best Picture, but the movie’s ceiling was 12 or 13.

This follows up a disappointing performance for A Star Is Born at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the fact that neither of its stars (Cooper and Lady Gaga) has yet won a major acting prize. It could still win a bunch of Oscars, and both Cooper and Lady Gaga are nominated for acting trophies, but it increasingly seems like A Star Is Born will win just song (for the lovely “Shallow”). It’s perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire Oscar season, relative to expected performance.

Winner: Vice

A scene from Vice.
Vice received eight nominations, surprising even those who like the film.
Annapurna Pictures

Despite receiving decidedly mixed reviews and a middling box office take (at least so far), Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic received eight total nominations, tied for the second most of any film in the 2019 Oscars slate. It even nabbed a couple of nominations that seemed slightly shaky in recent weeks, especially for supporting actor Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of George W. Bush (he’s barely in the movie!) and the movie’s editing, direction, and screenplay.

Say what you will about the Oscars: They enjoy self-congratulatory liberal agitprop!

Loser: Won’t You Be My Neighbor

The past year was a great one for documentaries breaking out of the arthouse circuit and into the wider conversation. But Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a biodoc about Fred Rogers, a.k.a. the Mister Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, outdid every other film in that regard, making more than $21 million at the box office and seeming like a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature category — and maybe even a win.

The Oscars, after all, can rarely resist a documentary that makes money (as evidenced by the thoroughly bland but largely agreeable March of the Penguins winning in 2006), and Neville is a previous winner in this category, for his 2014 film 20 Feet From Stardom. Plus, Won’t You Be My Neighbor also boasted strong reviews, a beloved American figure at its center, and a hefty dose of nostalgia.

It didn’t matter. Won’t You Be My Neighbor missed its expected Documentary Feature nomination, and Neville and his team will just have to content themselves with their millions of dollars and the adoration of their weeping fans. (If you haven’t seen the film yet, it makes its HBO debut on February 9.)

Winner: populism

For just under a month in 2018, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences focused its attention on a terrible idea: It would hand out an Oscar for “popular film.” At no time were criteria for the category established, meaning no one could really figure out what a “popular” movie was supposed to be, and many commentators feared that the category was meant as a sop to superhero movie fans who had never seen a film in that genre nominated for Best Picture. After the outcry, the Academy nixed the idea for 2019, though it said the category may return at a later date.

And yet the Best Picture category this year has a credible claim at being a “Popular Film” category, containing three nominees that have been massively successful at the domestic box office — Black Panther (just over $700 million), A Star Is Born (just under $205 million), and Bohemian Rhapsody (just over $202 million).

The combined box office tally of the seven nominees we have data for (excluding Roma, which streams on Netflix and doesn’t have box office receipts) stands at $1,260,625,731, the most since 2011 and the first time the Best Picture lineup has cracked $1 billion since 2013.

What’s more, the average box office take of those seven movies is $180,089,390 each, a number that’s actually the highest average since the Academy switched to a Best Picture lineup with more than five nominees in 2010. And both of those numbers should increase, as many of these films continue to play in theaters and make more and more money.

Yes, the 2019 Best Picture race still contains nominees that have proved to be niche players at the box office. But even then, the lowest box office total among the nominees belongs to The Favourite, which has earned just over $23 million. And the film’s total is already higher than the final totals for 2018’s two lowest-grossing Best Picture nominees, Call Me by Your Name ($18 million) and Phantom Thread ($21 million). Maybe 2019 isn’t the complete and total populist triumph the Academy might have hoped for — but it’s still the best the Oscars have done in that regard in ages.

Loser: diversity, even as the Academy diversifies

The Academy has been haunted by the #OscarsSoWhite shadow since 2015, when it nominated an all-white slate of performers — then pulled a repeat performance in 2016. Hoping to kick-start the effort to make the Academy more inclusive, it’s been inviting record numbers of new members to join, particularly women and people of color. (The LA Times found in 2016 that the Academy was 91 percent white and 76 percent male.)

The organization escaped the #OscarsSoWhite shadow this year; about 25 percent of the 2019 acting nominees are nonwhite (Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira for Roma, Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody, Mahershala Ali for Green Book, and Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk).

That’s undoubtedly a relief to the Academy. But it’s worth remembering that many of the year’s most talked-about films were helmed by largely nonwhite casts. Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan; If Beale Street Could Talk’s KiKi Layne, Stephan James, and Brian Tyree Henry; Support the Girls’ Regina Hall, Burning’s Steven Yeun, and BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington all popped up in awards conversations. (Some other films, like Widows, also had diverse casts but fizzled with voters.)

And the rest of the numbers round out the portrait. Once again, no women are nominated for Best Cinematography — even though the only woman to ever be nominated in that category, Rachel Morrison (in 2018, for Mudbound), also shot the much-nominated Black Panther. Two women total — Nicole Holofcener (for Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Deborah Davis (The Favourite) — are nominated for screenwriting awards, but each share that credit with a male co-writer. And no women are nominated for directing, either; the last woman to be nominated for that slot was Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird last year, and she was only the fifth in history. Spike Lee, whose directing nomination is his first(!) in the category, is also only the sixth black director to be nominated in history; the fifth was just last year, when Jordan Peele earned a nomination for Get Out.

These numbers are likely more reflective of the state of the film industry — and where studios think it’s worth spending their money — than the Academy itself. (There were a number of terrific films directed by women this year, including Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, but none of them entered into the conversation.) If the Academy wants to reflect America in its choices, the industry on the whole has a long way to go.

Winner: foreign films

Joanna Kulig in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War.
Have you seen Cold War? You should!
Amazon Studios

Until 2019, the year which saw the most nominations given to the films nominated in the foreign language category was 2001, when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon pulled in 10 nominations. Add to that the one nomination apiece for every other movie in the category that year, and you get to 14.

Well, 2019 fairly blows that away, with 10 nominations for Mexico’s Roma, as well as three nominations for the Polish film Cold War and two for Germany’s Never Look Away. (Lebanon’s Capernaum and Japan’s Shoplifters each received just the Foreign Language Film nomination.)

That’s 17 total nominations for the movies in the category. Add in the Swedish film Border, which didn’t receive a Foreign Language nomination but did receive a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination for its many inventively designed fairy tale creatures, and you could bump the total to 18 if you really wanted to.

And the extra nominations are in major categories, too! Cold War cracked the lineups in Directing and Cinematography, while Never Look Away made the Cinematography list as well. (The nominations for Roma, Cold War, and Never Look Away in cinematography make 2019 the first year that the foreign language nominees have overlapped with any other category three times ever.)

The Academy’s efforts to diversify have also included adding film luminaries from outside of the American and British industries. If the 2019 Oscar nominations are any indication, that particular effort is paying dividends.

Losers: If Beale Street Could Talk and First Man

Early on, I (Alissa) thought for sure that the 2019 Oscars would yield a repeat performance of the La La Land versus Moonlight wars of 2017, a battle that was largely cooked up in the press between two films whose directors, Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins, seem to genuinely love and respect one another. That the ceremony ended with Chazelle winning Best Director and Moonlight winning Best Picture — and with an infamous snafu — seemed very appropriate.

This year, Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man and Jenkins’s James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk seemed poised to repeat the feat. But First Man got partly hampered by a conspiracy theory cooked up by right-wing media, and Beale Street seemed to have run aground on a late release date and, possibly, on the feeling among some voters that there were enough “black films” in the running. (The latter is purely speculative, but it wouldn’t surprise me, given the kind of sentiments sometimes expressed in the “brutally honest Oscar voter” surveys the Hollywood Reporter publishes each year.)

In the end, First Man earned four nominations, all in technical categories. If Beale Street Could Talk earned three: one for Barry Jenkins’s adapted screenplay, one for the film’s score, and one for supporting actress Regina King.

So there will be no repeat performance of 2017’s battle. And that’s probably fine. When we pit great movies against each other, nobody really wins, anyhow.