Oscars 2019: Best Picture – ‘Black Panther’ Is Absolutely Oscar-Worthy

What makes a Best Picture? I ask this because I think a lot of us use the platform of the Oscars to represent our personal taste and opinions. That’s a little too singular for an organization comprised of 7,000 members. Think bigger than critics and Rotten Tomatoes scores. Think about the cultural moment we’re in. Think about what film as a medium can do, and how both the modern condition and today’s technology can push that.

The Oscars are more than anything a celebration. Of the medium, of the craft, of the dedication and passion of a collective body who will indubitably represent where and who we are in this moment in time. What makes this year’s Best Picture race so exciting is that the Academy seems more open to taking risks – awarding independent fare over studio-backed campaigns; recognizing that Best Director and Best Picture can be mutually exclusive, and, for once, acknowledging genre films as a legitimate mode of dramatic expression. Recent wins of Moonlight and The Shape of Water have increased the chances for films that, in prior years, wouldn’t have their foot in the door, let alone the consideration.

My prediction for Best Picture nominees:

Black Panther
The Favourite
A Star Is Born
Green Book
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk

In the mix: First Man, Leave No Trace, First Reformed, Widows, and, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody

The Golden Globes threw quite the monkey wrench when the HFPA bestowed Bohemian Rhapsody with Best Drama. That might be giving the Golden Globes too much credit.

Rami Malek is secured for a Best Actor nod, so as is the case with nominated lead roles, the films themselves are also in the running for Best Picture. (Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour, Casey Affleck – Manchester By the Sea) But Rhapsody has a particularly dark cloud over its head, and his name is Bryan Singer. It’s worth noting the efforts the cast and crew have taken to distance themselves from the director, pushing forth the names of Rami Malek and producers Graham King and Jim Beach for steering the production in the wake of Singer’s “exit.” But will it be enough? In any case, this leaves Beale Street and Can You Ever Forgive Me? on the chopping block IF the Academy sticks with 9 nominees.

Rhapsody, then, edges out First Man – a film that’s otherwise safely in the running should the Academy push for 10 slots. Which isn’t to say movies like Leave No Trace, First Reformed, or Widows don’t stand a chance. This prediction is based solely on awards chatter, and I’ve rarely seen First Man AND Beale Street together on these lists. Respectfully, any one of these films would be a better pick.

Green Book is poised to get acting nods for Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and, with the recent honors bestowed on the film, it’s effectively locked for Best Picture. Vice, too, for all of the divisiveness surrounding it (no surprise since it’s a political movie), the film will nab a Best Actor nomination for Christian Bale’s chameleon-prowess along with a take-your-pick of supporting performers.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? might seem like an oddity, but it’s a wonderfully staged dramedy that entertains. Bonus points for recreating a time period and for establishing an acute sense of mood in which the dramatic and comedic can exist in the same scene. (Think Birdman.) Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are serious contenders for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, meaning its Best Picture chances are solid.

Beale Street’s ensemble gives it a solid edge over the in-the-mix contenders. Director Barry Jenkins might’ve been given the cold shoulder, but the film seems destined to find success in Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Regina King.

And so we have our 5 frontrunners, the films that have been a mainstay in critics’ lists, predictions, and awards circles. Unless the Academy’s been playing the Bird Box challenge in theaters these past few months, A Star Is Born, BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Roma, and, yes, Black Panther will be announced as Best Picture candidates on Tuesday morning.

I know what you’re thinking. Wonder Woman didn’t get nominated, OR The Dark Knight. And Black Panther all of a sudden is a frontrunner?????

Please spare me the Marvel vs. DC conspiracies.

It’s silly to think Black Panther shouldn’t stand a chance just because prior comic book films didn’t make the cut. (In any case, that’s not Black Panther’s fault. It’s the Academy’s.) Remember what happened after The Dark Knight debacle? The Oscars doubled the amount of Best Picture nominees the following year as recompense – a decision they’ve been quietly pulling back ever since.

Snubs happen all the time, but past Academy errors shouldn’t discount other movies’ prospects, not when the Academy seems open more than ever to actually honoring a superhero movie. These films, so far, have been nominated for technical categories in the years past. (Remember when Suicide Squad won Best Hair and Makeup?)

Logan’s nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay last year was a HUGE push for the genre. It was the first time a comic book movie had ever been nominated for screenwriting. Patty Jenkins might’ve been snubbed, but I guarantee you she was in serious consideration as was Wonder Woman for Best Picture – same as The Dark Knight. The Academy is finally waking up to what these films can do, what they mean, and what they represent. You could say Black Panther was primed for this moment, and it comes undoubtedly off the efforts of its predecessors.

Some will say that Black Panther’s nomination is the collective dumbing down of the Academy. (Wilder accusations have been made.) Hell, you could even argue that the Oscars is just trying to steer towards trendy.

Black Panther’s candidacy isn’t a consolation. Anyone who’s seen the film knows that to simply call it a comic book movie is, well, a disservice. More than an adaptation, Black Panther is a powerful social commentary (and reaction) to an exceedingly privileged world, one that’s sealing its borders out of a hollow sense of nationalism. We are not as united as we think, and reassuringly, Black Panther suggests we are not as divided as we think either. In the movie, heroes, villains, disparate tribes and warring alliances all learn to meet in the middle and sort their shit out. The script has some poetic things to say about African-American identity, privilege, injustice, cultural neglect, responsibility, traditions and revolutions…AND THEN it’s a superhero movie, not the other way around.

Marvel Studios could’ve been selfish and self-indulgent; pursue their own comic book agenda and they would’ve safely added another superhero to their roster in time for Infinity War. Kevin Feige, instead, allowed Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole to imbue a fan-favorite superhero with an added and poignant cultural significance. Like T’Challa, Coogler and Cole rose up to the greater responsibility of the moment and what it can mean beyond their own backyard, beyond a pop-culture obsession. If Ben Parker’s famous adage started this whole superhero thing (“With great power comes great responsibility”) then Black Panther transcends the mantra for others to inherit.

I ask again: what makes a Best Picture? A billion dollars? Entertainment value? Artistic prestige? An emotional, universal story? Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes? Modern reflections and aspirations? Whatever your definition, there’s no reason to exclude. This thing matters to people, to whole communities who now get the chance to experience what it’s like to be seen, to be told that this whole superhero craze is now theirs truly.

Black Panther is absolutely Best Picture worthy. And by all rights, it should win.


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