To understand the Oscars, imagine a white man in his 60s who works in entertainment and goes to the movies three times a week. He’s affluent and has ample leisure time and can’t relate to people who aren’t and don’t. His movie choices seem driven by a baffling algorithm. He likes actors, not directors, except for Clint Eastwood, who he loves, Quentin Tarantino, of whom he disapproves and the Coen Brothers, who he finds to be “a little much.” He doesn’t like fast, violent or depressing movies. He avoids science fiction and horror movies but hates “all those superhero movies” but will see anything with Reese Witherspoon.
Once you have a bead on that guy, you’ll understand how the Oscars work.
About 8,000 filmmaking professionals are voting members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars. Academy membership is a closely-guarded secret. A 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation offered some insight into its demographic makeup. The LA Times found that Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male and that blacks and Latinos account for less than five percent of total membership. The median age is 62, with only 14 percent of members under 50.
This week, the Academy nominated eight movies for the Best Picture Oscar. To predict who’ll win, you’ve got to get into the head of an old white man with a professional and personal stake in the glamorous world of Hollywood.
Black Panther 100:1
Black Panther won’t win. It really only got nominated so Academy members can avoid looking like snobs about superhero movies and a vaguely defined sense of civil rights and representation. Still, voters are too self-important about Hollywood to make a superhero movie a winner. They’re too proud. They think they’re above that sort of juvenile nonsense and expect the trend to blow over any day now.
BlacKkKlansman is probably too edgy for Academy voters no matter the director but we can reasonably guess that Hollywood elites aren’t big into Spike Lee, a guy who gleefully and habitually badmouths Hollywood’s legends and sacred cows. Lee’s been in the game since the ’80s but it’s the first time he’s been nominated for an Oscar, which is bizarre considering that he directed Malcolm X, an epic-length, self-important biopic that would’ve swept the Oscars if directed by just about anyone else.
Despite being a genuine masterpiece, Vice is too edgy and real for old white dudes who only started questioning their support for the Iraq War in late 2007 to get behind.
Green Book 50:1
Bohemian Rhapsody 40:1
The Favourite 25:1
If not for Green Book’s tepid critical reception and Viggo Mortensen’s n-word slip-up, the movie’s Pollyannaish message of overcoming racism through friendship would appeal to rich California liberals to make it a surprise Best Picture winner. With that baggage, it’s unlikely but not impossible. They’re probably also tempted to praise director Peter Farrelly’s transition away from movies like Dumb and Dumber, so it’s a little alive still.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a crowd-pleasing box office champ, a flattering love letter to misfits in the entertainment industry, a period piece and a biopic about a charismatic British celebrity with bad teeth. So it checks off a lot of marks for old white dudes who need to believe high-profit corporate products can also be great art. But entertainment professionals might know that giving accused sex predator Bryan Singer best picture honors a year after #metoo would be a disaster. They could be oblivious, too, so this one barely stays in play.
As a period piece about palace intrigue starring movie stars Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, The Favourite should sleepwalk to a best picture win like so many rightly forgotten Merchant-Ivory productions from years gone by. But while it’s set in a time and place usually exploited for glamorous stories about lush lives, The Favourite focuses on unglamorous grime and pettiness and drags its marquee stars through the muck.
A Star is Born 3:1
A Star is Born should be the favorite to win. It not only stars the movie star Bradley Cooper but was also directed by movie star Bradley Cooper. It’s a remake of a story cherished by Hollywood that celebrates the redemptive power of the entertainment industry. It’s a well-liked, modest hit and it’s by all accounts a good but unspectacular movie so nobody’s sensibilities will be challenged. It seems like a movie old rich white guys would like but not love.
Roma’s a visually striking critical darling about poor, foreign people, none of whom are portrayed by movie stars. The closest thing to a movie star is director Alfonso Cuarón, a rare director able to make ambitious movies that connect with mass audiences like Gravity and Children of Men. Academy voters will feel like they’re doing something virtuous by voting for it even though they only watched a movie and answered a survey. Moreover, in their mind movies like Roma reify their self-flattering world view that making movies helps the world.