Here’s a phrase you should get used to hearing: Best Actor front-runner Rami Malek. With his win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night, Malek’s performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody is now the substantial favorite to win the Oscar next month. Actors make up the Academy’s largest voting bloc, and the winner of the SAG Award for Best Actor has gone on to win the Oscar in 14 of the last 15 years. The SAGs are less predictive when it comes to Best Actress, although they’re on a seven-year streak of aligning with the Oscars, but Glenn Close seems to have that nailed down even more securely on the heels of her SAG win and her speech at the Golden Globes, which framed her performance in The Wife as a tribute to the unpaid labor of generations of women, including her own mother.
You might look at this near-inevitability and be a tad disheartened. Even taking into account the Academy’s predilection for showy transformations, Christian Bale in Vice and even Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born are right there, and either choice would allow the Oscars to skip past a joyless, dead-eyed performance that by a conservative estimate is 85 percent false teeth. Glenn Close, who is currently the living actor with the most Oscar nominations and no wins, is certainly overdue, but Close can do The Wife’s imperious woundedness in her sleep, and she deserves better than a movie that has her demonstrate her character’s emotional distress by pulling books off a shelf and throwing them to the floor. In a year packed with great leading actresses—The Favourite’s Olivia Colman, Support the Girls’ Regina Hall, Cold War’s Joanna Kulig, Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio, Mary Poppins Returns’ Emily Blunt, and Hereditary’s Toni Collette, to name only a few—the Academy can and should do better than bestowing a career-achievement award for some of its recipient’s least interesting work.
The likelihood of Malek’s win is even worse when you consider that it’s premised on the self-serving lie that neither Malek nor the rest of the production’s cast and crew were aware of the allegations that director Bryan Singer had an alleged history of sexually assaulting teenage boys until the publication of the Atlantic’s exposé last week. (Even setting the assault allegations aside, it’s baffling that a director with a history of disappearing from the set should have been awarded the job in the first place, with the caveat, “Don’t break the law, and show up for work.”) But the narrative that’s been successfully propagated through awards season is that Bohemian Rhapsody is a triumph not in spite of Singer’s absence, but because of it. Malek, replacement director Dexter Fletcher (who took over after Singer was fired for failing to show up to work), and the rest rose to the challenge and produced a global hit with over $800 million in box office. Awarding Malek would be a way of cementing that narrative, and realizing every actor’s dream of winning an award without having to share the credit with their director.
But with the Academy reportedly planning to banish awards like Best Cinematography to the commercial breaks and excluding three-fifths of the Best Original Song nominees altogether, this year’s broadcast is shaping up to be the Oscars for people who hate the Oscars—an impending train wreck of such proportions that they can’t even find anyone to host it. Malek and Close would be the ideal winners for a ceremony that is so poised to become an insult and a disgrace. The only thing more perfect would be if, after a year in which the Academy attempted to correct for its recent habit of awarding niche favorites by introducing an award for Best Popular Film, Best Picture ended going to Green Book, a movie which is neither an art-house favorite nor a box-office hit.
The movie-industry site Deadline, whose nasty conservative streak often comes to the fore during awards season, is already laying the groundwork for the idea that if Roma wins Best Picture, it will be because the Academy’s voters wanted to “signal virtue” and spite the Trump administration by awarding a movie about an indigenous Mexican domestic worker. Awarding Malek and Close would be a way to signal the reverse: that as much as the Academy’s membership has grown and diversified in the last few years, it’s still capable of misjudgments on a par with the epic fails of decades past. Let’s all lean back and watch it burn.