Sat. Aug 8th, 2020

Frontrunner Friday: Is This Where Critics and the Oscars Will Divide?

It’s the last Frontrunner Friday of 2018 and I’m closing it out with predictions, of course, but also a deep look into what could be a great divide between critics and the Academy this year.

It’s often griped that the Oscars don’t, or shouldn’t, align with critics because critics don’t vote on the Oscars. Fair enough, as critics have their own awards bodies in the dozens. The Academy felt so strongly about this they tried to create a ‘Popular Film’ Oscar at the end of summer but instant backlash (and a total lack of preparation) shot that down. When it comes down to it, the lineup of Best Picture Oscar nominees is often very close to critics’ top 10 lists, save a few foreign language films that never get the shot they should. Even when the Academy chooses middlebrow winners they do often recognize, at least in the form of nominations, critically lauded work. This year there are a host of major studio hits in the running right alongside the stealthiest of indies. Some of those hits, like Black Panther and A Star Is Born, are also hits with critics, showing that the Academy’s misguided announcement didn’t take that into account.

The website exhaustively compiles top 10 lists from nearly 300 critics to come up with the ranking of the best reviewed films of the year. Since the expansion of the Best Picture category in 2009, there hasn’t been a year where less than 5 of the films nominated were on the top 10 critics’ list. That’s a pretty good crossover and in the years where films below that top 10 came in, they largely came in with many other nominations and even some high-level wins (Dallas Buyers Club, Life of Pi, The Theory of Everything).

Three of those years saw the best reviewed film of the year also win Best Picture (Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave, and The Hurt Locker). 2010 was a crazy year, the second year of expansion and the last full 10-picture list, that the two aligned perfectly. Interestingly enough, it’s also the lowest ranked Best Picture winner (The King’s Speech) of the decade.

Let’s take a dive into how the Critics’ Top 10 lists, since the Best Picture expansion in 2009, have matched up with Oscar, with the BP winner in bold.

1. Get Out
2. Lady Bird
3. Dunkirk
5. Call Me by Your Name
6. The Shape of Water
7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
8. Phantom Thread

16. The Post
46. Darkest Hour (won Best Actor)

1. Moonlight
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. La La Land
4. Arrival
5. Hell or High Water

31. Fences
43. Hacksaw Ridge

not on the list: Hidden Figures, Lion

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Spotlight
6. Brooklyn
7. The Martian
8. Room

14. The Big Short (won Best Adapted Screenplay)
16. The Revenant
24. Bridge of Spies

1. Boyhood
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Birdman
4. Whiplash
9. Selma

21. The Imitation Game (won Best Adapted Screenplay)
30. The Theory of Everything (won Best Actor)
44. American Sniper (won Best Sound Editing)

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
4. Her
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. American Hustle

11. Nebraska
16. Captain Phillips
25. Dallas Buyers Club (won Best Actor, Supporting Actor)
43. Philomena

1. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Argo
5. Lincoln
6. Django Unchained
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
9. Amour
10. Silver Linings Playbook

13. Life of Pi (won Best Director)
20. Les Misérables (won Supporting Actress, Sound Mixing, Makeup & Hairstyling)

1. The Tree of Life
3. Hugo
4. The Artist
5. The Descendants
7. Midnight in Paris
8. Moneyball

27. War Horse
28. The Help (won Supporting Actress)

not on the list: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

1. The Social Network
2. Inception
3. Black Swan
4. Toy Story 3
5. Winter’s Bone
6. True Grit
7. The King’s Speech
8. 127 Hours
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. The Fighter

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Inglourious Basterds
3. Up
4. Up in the Air
5. A Serious Man
7. District 9
8. Avatar
9. Precious
10. An Education

not on the list: The Blind Side (won Best Actress)

The current breakdown of the top films of 2018 as of this writing, based on critics’ lists, looks like this:

1. Roma
2. First Reformed
3. The Favourite
4. Eighth Grade
5. Black Panther
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
7. BlacKkKlansman
8. Burning
9. A Star Is Born
10. Sorry to Bother You

This year though feels like 2014 or 2015 with quite a few films that fall below the critics’ top 10 that still have a good shot at a Best Picture nomination. Some faaar below. Four films angling for a spot this season are Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, Mary Poppins Returns and Vice.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a massive box office hit but has been the ire of most critics. The film doesn’t even place in the top 50. Its star, Rami Malek, is assured a Best Actor nomination and the film earned a Screen Actors Guild Cast nom and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama. It hit the Oscar shortlist for Makeup & Hairstyling and I’m betting it will play well with other guilds as well, like costume and sound designers.

Green Book was pegged an early frontrunner to win after its surprise triumph at the Toronto International Film Festival where is won the People’s Choice Audience Award. It went on to win several more after that. Its box office is chugging along but middle of the road reviews, backlash over Viggo Mortensen’s n-word foolishness, the film’s point of view and lack of involvement of one of the Don Shirley’s family (who have slammed the film), all could be hampering the film’s chances. Green Book has five Golden Globe nominations and seven from Critics’ Choice. The film is at #29 for the year.

Mary Poppins Returns stumbled a bit in its box office opening last week but rebounded on Christmas and is looking stronger every day. It has respectable reviews but will end up way outside of the top 10, 20 or even 30 for the year. It’s currently not even in the top 50. Mary Poppins Returns has nine Critics’ Choice nominations and four from the Golden Globes. It’s likely to earn below the line Oscar nominations like Original Song, Score, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Emily Blunt is in the running for her first Oscar nomination in a very tough race.

Vice is probably the biggest question mark of the season. There isn’t a more divisive film of the year, hands down. With some critics calling the best film of the year (The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy) and others calling it the worst (yours truly), the Adam McKay-directed Dick Cheney biopic sits at #39 for the year. To complicate matters, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave the film a field-best six Golden Globe nominations. The Broadcast Film Critics Association gave it nine, including Best Picture and Director. The Screen Actors Guild give gave the film two nominations, Actor and Supporting Actress but curiously it missed out on a Cast nomination.

Alternately, two of the year’s biggest critical hits – First Reformed (#2) and Eighth Grade (#4) have and will struggle for a spot in the Best Picture Oscar lineup. Ethan Hawke has earned more Best Actor wins from critics than any lead actor yet failed to earn a Screen Actors Guild or a Golden Globe nomination. Elsie Fisher grabbed a Golden Globe nom and leads critics’ wins for Breakthrough but her film has yet to really break through. A side note from this, both films are A24 releases, which just got Lady Bird five Oscar nominations last year including Best Picture, Director and Actress, and won Best Picture two years ago with Moonlight. They are struggling to translate their critics’ hits this year, which also includes Hereditary, with critics’ Best Actress fave Toni Collette.

The upcoming Producers Guild of America (PGA) nominations on January 4th and it’s one of the last chances for films to break. The PGA loves its hits, which is good news for something like Bohemian Rhapsody but we could also see other audience favorites like Crazy Rich Asians and A Quiet Place come in to stake a claim. The Golden Globes will be just two days after that and then we’ll have an avalanche with the Writers Guild (7th), Directors Guild (8th) and BAFTA (9th) all announcing nominations the same week. That should start to give us a strong sense of where Oscar voters may lean.

Here are my Frontrunner Friday picks for December 28, 2018. See you next year!


2. BlacKkKlansman (AFI, BFCA, GG, SAG)
3. Black Panther (AFI, BFCA, GG, NBR, SAG)
4. A Star is Born (AFI, BFCA, GG, NBR, SAG)
5. The Favourite (AFI, BFCA, GG)
6. If Beale Street Could Talk (AFI, BFCA, GG, NBR, Spirit)
7. Green Book (AFI, BFCA, GG, NBR winner)
8. Vice (BFCA, GG)
9. Bohemian Rhapsody (GG, SAG)
10. Leave No Trace (Spirit)

*special award
**Foreign Language Film nominee


1. Alfonso Cuarón – ROMA (BFCA, GG)
2. Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born (BFCA, GG)
3. Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman (BFCA, GG)
4. Ryan Coogler – Black Panther
5. Debra Granik – Leave No Trace (Spirit)


1. Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born (BFCA, GG, SAG)
2. Christian Bale – Vice (BFCA, GG, SAG)
3. Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody (BFCA, GG, SAG)
4. John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman (GG, SAG)
5. Ethan Hawke – First Reformed (BFCA, Spirit)


1. Glenn Close – The Wife (BFCA, GG, SAG, Spirit)
2. Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born (BFCA, GG, SAG)
3. Olivia Colman – The Favourite (BFCA, GG, SAG)
4. Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? (BFCA, GG, SAG)
5. Yalitza Aparicio – ROMA (BFCA)


1. Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me? (BFCA, GG, SAG, Spirit)
2. Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman (BFCA, GG, SAG, Spirit)
3. Mahershala Ali – Green Book (BFCA, GG, SAG)
4. Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther (BFCA)
5. Timothée Chalamet – Beautiful Boy (BFCA, GG, SAG)


1. Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk (BFCA, GG, Spirit)
2. Amy Adams – Vice (BFCA, GG, SAG)
3. Rachel Weisz – The Favourite (BFCA, GG, SAG)
4. Emma Stone – The Favourite (BFCA, GG, SAG)
5. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie – Leave No Trace (Spirit)


1. BlacKkKlansman (BFCA)
2. If Beale Street Could Talk (BFCA, GG)
3. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (BFCA, Spirit)
4. Black Panther (BFCA)
5. Leave No Trace


1. The Favourite (BFCA, GG)
2. First Reformed (BFCA, Spirit)
4. Vice (BFCA, GG)
5. Eighth Grade (BFCA)


2. A Star is Born (BFCA)
3. First Man (BFCA)
4. Vice (BFCA)
5. Black Panther


2. If Beale Street Could Talk (BFCA)
3. First Man (BFCA)
4. A Star is Born (BFCA)
5. Cold War


1. The Favourite (BFCA)
2. First Man (BFCA)
3. Mary Poppins Returns (BFCA)
4. Black Panther (BFCA)


1. The Favourite (BFCA)
2. Mary Poppins Returns (BFCA)
3. Black Panther (BFCA)
4. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
5. Mary Queen of Scots (BFCA)


1. If Beale Street Could Talk (BFCA)
2. First Man (BFCA, GG)
3. Mary Poppins Returns (BFCA, GG)
4. Black Panther (BFCA, GG)
5. Isle of Dogs (BFCA, GG)


1. A Star Is Born, “Shallow” (BFCA, GG)
2. Black Panther, “All the Stars” (BFCA, GG)
3. Mary Poppins Returns, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (BFCA)
4. RBG, “I’ll Fight” (BFCA)
5. Boy Erased, “Revelation” (GG)


1. First Man
3. Black Panther
4. Ready Player One
5. A Quiet Place


1. A Star Is Born
2. First Man
3. Black Panther
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


1. Black Panther (BFCA)
2. Vice (BFCA)
3. Mary Queen of Scots (BFCA)


1. Black Panther (BFCA)
2. Mary Poppins Returns (BFCA)
3. Ready Player One (BFCA)
4. First Man (BFCA)
5. Solo: A Star Wars Story


1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Annie, BFCA, GG)
2. Incredibles 2 (Annie, BFCA, GG)
3. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Annie, BFCA, GG)
4. Isle of Dogs (Annie, BFCA, GG)
5. Mirai (Annie, BFCA, GG)


1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (BFCA winner, CYE, IDA, Spirit)
3. Three Identical Strangers (BFCA, CYE)
4. Minding the Gap (BFCA, CYE, Spirit)
5. Dark Money (BFCA, IDA)


1. Mexico – ROMA (BFCA, GG)
2. South Korea – Burning (BFCA)
3. Poland – Cold War (BFCA)
4. Germany – Never Look Away (GG)
5. Japan – Shoplifters (BFCA, GG)

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