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A Star Is Born Is No Longer the Best Picture Front-Runner. What Is?

This year’s Oscar nominations leave us with no clear favorite. Not even The Favourite!

A collage of stills from the Best Picture nominees with ??? over them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Disney/Marvel Studios, Focus Features LLC, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Fox Searchlight, Universal Studios, Netflix, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc., and Annapurna Pictures.

After Tuesday morning’s Oscar nominations, it seems clear that after its initial meteoric rise, A Star Is Born is going through the rocky-decline segment of its trajectory, awards-wise. Once a presumptive front-runner, the film lost at the Golden Globes and then lost again at the Producers Guild, two awards-giving bodies seemingly perfectly situated to recognize ASIB’s particular showbizzy grandeur. And then, Tuesday, two real shockers: no Best Director nomination for Bradley Cooper and no nomination for Best Editing. Sure, A Star Is Born could win Best Picture, but if it did, it would make history as the first movie ever to win while being snubbed for nominations in both those bellwether categories. (Even Driving Miss Daisy got an editing nom!)

So if A Star Is Born is no longer the Oscar front-runner, what is? The movies that beat ASIB at the Globes and the PGA, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, have their own troubles. But this year, so does everything. Let’s start with the reasons why each possible front-runner can’t win.

Roma (10 nominations). No foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture. No Netflix movie has ever been nominated before now. And it’s a thorny art film without a clear resolution—although that’s become less an impediment in recent years than it once was. Finally, it wasn’t nominated for either a Best Editing Oscar or the best ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild, the organization whose voting membership perhaps overlaps best with the academy’s.

The Favourite (10 nominations). Leave aside whether its cold, sadistic tone can be embraced by the warmth-loving academy. (If No Country for Old Men can win, so can The Favourite.) The real impediment for The Favourite is, simply, that it’s about women. No movie with women in the lead—without any substantial hetero romance or prominent male co-star—has won Best Picture since All About Eve in 1950. (And even that had a Best Supporting Actor nominee.)

A Star Is Born (8 nominations). No Best Director, no Best Editing.

Vice (8 nominations). A straight-up bad movie, currently at 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It also failed to receive a SAG nomination for best ensemble.

Black Panther (7 nominations). No Best Director, no Best Editing. No acting nominations at all. Also, it’s a superhero movie.

Green Book (5 nominations). No directing nomination or SAG nomination for best ensemble; various controversies. The Golden Globe doesn’t matter.

Bohemian Rhapsody (5 nominations). No nomination for Best Director, in fact, seemingly, no director at all! The Golden Globe doesn’t matter. Also, it’s the only Best Picture nominee with a worse Rotten Tomatoes score than Vice.

The Front Runner (0 nominations). Still The Front Runner; not the front-runner.

Look: Just because you can find reasons a movie shouldn’t win Best Picture doesn’t mean it won’t win Best Picture. (No movie about fish fucking had ever won Best Picture until just last year.) But there was one movie I left out of that list above, one movie against which I couldn’t really find any good argument. It’s a movie that got a Best Picture nomination as well as Best Director and Best Editing, and it’s the only Best Picture nominee to be nominated for those two awards plus best ensemble at the SAGs. It’s a critically acclaimed crowd-pleaser that was its director’s biggest hit in 12 years. That beloved director has never won an Oscar, despite decades of critically acclaimed, cinematically important filmmaking.

It’s Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. The only knocks I can come up with against BlacKkKlansman are that six nominations aren’t very many nominations, and it hasn’t won anything yet. But I can’t help thinking of another recent movie, one that got only five nominations and lost nearly every award in precursor season. It lost the Golden Globe to Babel. It lost the PGA and SAG awards to Little Miss Sunshine. But as Oscar night approached, the momentum swung this movie’s way, due in great part to affection for its beloved director, who had never won an Oscar, despite decades of critically acclaimed, cinematically important filmmaking. And at the Academy Awards, this movie surprised everyone by winning not only Best Director for its auteur but Best Picture as well.

So: Is it the front-runner? We’ll know better after the Directors Guild Awards on Feb. 2. But BlacKkKlansman could absolutely pull it out on Oscar night, and Spike Lee could get to climb on that stage and deliver an all-timer of an acceptance speech. If anyone tells you that BlacKkKlansman can’t win Best Picture, you remind them: The Departed sure did.

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