Oscar Predictions 2019: Look for ‘Roma’ and Rami to Triumph in a Close, Close Race

One of the most wide-open Oscar races ever has only gotten harder to predict as it gets closer to showtime — but here are our picks in all 24 (on-the-air!) categories

Last Updated: February 23, 2019 @ 4:06 PM

The Oscar races usually start out wide open and narrow as the season goes along, until as the show approaches we have a pretty good idea of who’s going to win what. But this year has been a completely anomaly, with races getting harder to call as the show got closer.

And the Hollywood guild awards, which usually make things clearer, were all over the map this year: “Green Book” won the Producers Guild, “Roma” the Directors Guild, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Eighth Grade” the Writers Guild, “Black Panther” the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award. That kind of spread had never happened before, and it makes this the most confounding Oscar race in memory.

Still, it’s time to take a stand. At the rate this season is spinning, I’ll probably want to change my mind half a dozen times between now and Sunday evening, but for now this is what I think is going to happen in all 24 categories.

All of which, of course, we’ll see live and on the air.

BEST PICTURE
Nominees:
“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

At one point, I figured this was likely to go either to “Roma,” which would be the first foreign-language film ever to win Best Picture, or “Green Book,” which would be only the third in the last 86 years to win without a Best Director nomination. Those two are still front runners of sorts — but they each have the kind of strong negatives that could hurt in the Oscars’ preferential system of vote-counting in this category, which could open the door for an upset from “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “The Favourite” or even, as astounding as it is to contemplate, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I suspect that “Roma” will come out of the initial count with the most No. 1 votes — and then it might be a case of whether it can pick up additional votes as the field is narrowed, or whether the never-Netflix contingent is big enough to seriously hurt it. “Green Book” might be more universally palatable, though it too has some strong negatives that could drag it down.

The questions I’m still struggling to answer: Will the large number of international voters admitted to the Academy over the last four years help “Roma” more than it’s hurt by the anti-Netflix sentiment in some corners (hello, Executives Branch!)? Will the bulk of the Academy even care that “Green Book” is another white person’s perspective on racial issues? Will the subtleties of “Roma” in sound and image be lost on the small screen more than the subtleties of “Green Book” or “Black Panther”? Will Donald Trump’s fixation on a wall on the Mexican border make “Roma” a message vote? Is “Bohemian Rhapsody” really popular enough to win?

I don’t know the answers. My gut says “Roma,” while my head says when in doubt go with the Producers Guild winner, which is “Green Book.” But in this case I’m going with my gut, because I think an increasingly international Academy will want to mark the year with the film that is a singular achievement.

Predicted winner: “Roma”

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Adam McKay, “Vice”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”

This one is easier than Best Picture. (Probably.) Even in the two years when they lost Best Picture, the self-described Three Amigos — Mexican-born friends Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón — have won four of the last five Best Director trophies; they set their sights high, give themselves big obstacles to overcome and are rewarded for it by the Academy.

But this isn’t quite a lock, because Spike Lee has never won a competitive Oscar and never before been nominated for Best Director. Focus Features has been pushing this as a de facto career achievement award (although Lee got one of those, an Honorary Oscar, in 2015), and if there’s enough sentiment to give the guy the Oscar he maybe shoulda won for “Do the Right Thing,” an upset is possible. But not likely.

Predicted winner: Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”

BEST ACTOR
Nominees:
Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

As I made the rounds of the parties after the Golden Globe Awards in early January, three different people said the same thing to me about Rami Malek, who had won the Globes’ Best Actor in a Drama award for “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “Well, he’s not going to beat Christian Bale at the Oscars by lip-syncing.” But six weeks later, it’s pretty clear that he is going to do exactly that — although it’s unfair to describe Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury in those reductive terms. (He only lip syncs in the concert scenes, after all.)

At any rate, Malek is the clear favorite here, maybe because nobody really wants to spend two hours with Dick Cheney, no matter how good Bale is at personifying the former vice president. The dark horse in the category is Bradley Cooper, who might get more points for also co-writing and directing “A Star Is Born” if voters liked his movie a little better.

Predicted winner: Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”

BEST ACTRESS
Nominees:
Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

The Golden Globes almost never have a profound influence on the Oscars, but they did this year when they gave the Best Actress in a Drama award to Glenn Close for the little-seen indie “The Wife.” Until then, everybody thought Lady Gaga had the Globe in the bag, but Close’s surprise win — and the impassioned speech she gave that night — instantly made Oscar voters realize that they wanted to see Close on the stage of the Dolby Theatre accepting her first-ever Oscar on Feb. 24.

There is, however, one person who can spoil this fairy-tale ending: “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman, whose delicious performance was in a different category at the Globes, and who went on to beat Close at the BAFTAs. Admittedly, the British actress had home-court advantage at that show, and Close is still the Oscar favorite — but the race has definitely tightened, and it might be a dead heat if Colman hadn’t been out of commission during most of Oscar season filming the new season of “The Crown.”

Predicted winner: Glenn Close, “The Wife”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees:
Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

If the Oscars gave out a Mr. Congeniality Award, there’s no question that this year’s winner would be Richard E. Grant, the veteran character actor whose unalloyed delight at being nominated for his first Oscar at the age of 61 has charmed everyone he’s encountered this season. But they don’t have that category, and Grant has the misfortune of being up against Mahershala Ali, whose grace and gravitas has remained unscathed even as “Green Book” has come under fire on various fronts.

When Ali beat Grant on the latter’s home turf of the BAFTAs, it became clear that Grant will probably have to settle for being thrilled just to be nominated. And so will Sam Elliott, another veteran who once seemed to be a real candidate to cash in his first nomination for a “sorry we ignored you for all these years” Oscar.

Oh, and if Adam Driver pulls off a big upset here, watch out for “BlacKkKlansman” when Best Picture comes around.

Predicted winner: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees:
Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

History says it’s almost impossible to win an acting Oscar if you weren’t nominated by BAFTA or SAG, although Marcia Gay Harden did it for “Pollock” 18 years ago. But 2019 doesn’t seem to care about history — and that’s good news for Regina King, who wasn’t nominated for those two awards but who’s won all the awards she has been nominated for.

Still, King’s edge in his category is razor-thin. While Amy Adams has slipped because people apparently don’t want to celebrate the Cheney family (she plays Dick’s wife, Lynne), Marina de Tavira is coming on strong for “Roma,” and the possibility of the two actresses from “The Favourite” splitting the vote has diminished as Rachel Weisz has become the clear choice from that film.

This is probably a very close race between King and Weisz, with de Tavira as a possible spoiler.

Predicted winner: Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees:
“The Favourite”
“First Reformed”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“Vice”

“The Favourite” wasn’t eligible for the Writers Guild Award in this category, which meant that everybody figured the WGA would give the prize to “Green Book,” “Vice” or “Roma.” Instead, the guild crossed everybody up and went with “Eighth Grade,” which wasn’t nominated for any Oscars.

That didn’t help at all in figuring out which way the Academy might go — except that if “Green Book” is weak with the WGA it might be weak with the Academy as well, which would give a boost to “The Favourite.” And in fact, “The Favourite” is the kind of thing the Academy likes in this category: smart and sassy with lots of words.

But there’s a real dark horse here in the person of Paul Schrader, who’s never before been nominated for an Oscar even though he wrote “Taxi Freakin’ Driver” and “Raging Freakin’ Bull.” So, you know, an AMPAS-wide sense of shame might just make him a winner. Or not.

By the way, “Green Book” really needs to win this one to remain on course for a Best Picture win.

Predicted winner: “The Favourite”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees:
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
“A Star Is Born”

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” won the Writers Guild Award. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is an exquisite adaptation that should have gotten lots more nominations than it did. “A Star Is Born” was once supposed to dominate this awards show. But if voters aren’t going to give Spike Lee the Best Director or Best Picture Oscars (and they probably aren’t), here’s an easy place to recognize the guy and salute a vital piece of work.

Predicted winner: “BlacKkKlansman”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
“Cold War”
“The Favourite”
“Never Look Away”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

“Cold War” won the American Society of Cinematographers Award — but you wouldn’t expect that group of professionals to give their top honor to a director who’d never before shot a feature, would you? Alfonso Cuarón ought to have better luck with the Academy, who’ll recognize the visual accomplishment of “Roma” regardless of the cinematographic résumé of the man behind the camera.

But this isn’t a slam dunk, to be sure: “Cold War” is a formidable achievement, while the sumptuous but strange look of “The Favourite” calls attention to itself in a way voters might respond to. The dark horse in the category could be “Never Look Away” cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, a legend who has six nominations but has never won — although the fact that the Oscar ballot just lists the film and doesn’t name the cinematographer could hurt him.

Predicted winner: “Roma”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“Black Panther”
“The Favourite”
“Mary Poppins Returns”
“Mary Queen of Scots”

The frilliest, laciest, most extravagant costumes don’t always win in this category, but sometimes it seems that way. This year, that would probably mean “The Favourite,” which is a very good bet for both costumes and production design — but watch out for “Black Panther,” with designs that create a vivid world with a much richer subtext than usual for a Marvel flick.

In the end, we figure old habits will die hard.

Predicted winner: “The Favourite”

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Vice”

All five nominees are also Best Picture nominees — but while you can’t rule out “The Favourite” or “Green Book,” this award usually goes to a movie with some real urgency to it. That could narrow it to “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Vice.” “Bohemian” won the American Cinema Editors’ ACE Eddie Award this year, while “Vice” won BAFTA’s editing award.

Overall, ACE has a slightly better record of predicting Oscar editing winners than BAFTA, although BAFTA has a small edge in the last decade. Still, it feels as if Academy members simply like “Bohemian Rhapsody” better than they like “Vice.”

Predicted winner: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Nominees:
“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule that if makeup artists transform an actor for an Oscar-nominated performance, those artists win an Oscar themselves – but it sure does seem to happen a lot. (“Frida,” “La Vie en Rose,” “The Iron Lady,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Darkest Hour” … ) The trolls in “Border” and the hairdos in “Mary Queen of Scots” are spectacular, but “Vice” turned Christian Bale into Dick Cheney, and that ought to be enough.

Predicted winner: “Vice”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mary Poppins Returns”

If Justin Hurwitz’s magnificent score to “First Man” had been nominated, it probably would have been the favorite. But it wasn’t (and what’s up with that, Music Branch?), so the race probably boils down to Nicholas Britell’s ravishingly beautiful music for “If Beale Street Could Talk” vs. Ludwig Goransson’s African-spiked “Black Panther” score vs. Marc Shaiman’s vibrant music to “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Shaiman, who only needs an Oscar to complete his EGOT, can take heart in the fact that musicals often won in this category in years past, and did so recently with “La La Land.” Goransson (and “BlacKkKlansman” composer Terence Blanchard, too) can point to the fact that only once in the last 15 years has a score from a Best Picture nominee lost to a score from a film that wasn’t nominated for the top prize. And Britell can find hope in the fact that people are already setting YouTube videos to his music, and that a few bars of his score will instantly summon up the world of the film.

Predicted winner: “If Beale Street Could Talk”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Nominees:
“All the Stars” from “Black Panther”
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG”
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

“All the Stars” is a big hit, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is a lovely highlight in “Mary Poppins Returns” and “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” a hilarious one in “Buster Scruggs.” But we all know who the front runner is here.

Still, I think back to the Oscars of three years ago, when Diane Warren was considered a near lock for her powerful song “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground” — until, in a shocking upset, she lost to Sam Smith’s tepid James Bond song. Warren’s co-writer on that song was none other than Lady Gaga, and I keep wondering if the fates could be engineering another big upset in which Gaga would lose to her old partner’s “RBG” anthem “I’ll Fight,” and Warren would finally win an Oscar on her 10th nomination.

But no, that’s silly. “Shallow” is the prohibitive front runner for a reason.

Predicted winner: “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nominees:
“Black Panther”
“The Favourite”
“First Man”
“Mary Poppins Returns”
“Roma”

If there’s a “Roma” sweep, the meticulously rendered world of Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood could be honored here. But there won’t be a “Roma” sweep – so this category, like costume design, probably comes down to the finery of “The Favourite” vs. the world-building of “Black Panther.”

It would not be a surprise to see a “Black Panther” win here, but once again we think old habits will die hard and extravagance will win out.

Predicted winner: “The Favourite”

BEST SOUND EDITING
Nominees:
“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“A Quiet Place”
“Roma”

More than half the time in recent years, both of the sound awards have gone to the same film. So the safe bet is to find one movie that is loud and intricate enough to win the award for sound effects (Best Sound Editing) and the one for overall textures (Best Sound Mixing). “Black Panther” is possibly that film, and so is “First Man,” but the likeliest dual winner is probably the big rock musical, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

But if you think voters are going to split the vote in the two categories, the way they’ve done in every odd-numbered year since 2013, this is probably the category to pick “First Man.”

Predicted winner: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

BEST SOUND MIXING
Nominees:
“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

The sound mixing Oscar often goes to musicals, and two of them are nominated this year, with “Bohemian Rhapsody” seeming to have the momentum over “A Star Is Born.” The sound mix of “Roma” is astoundingly detailed and complex, but have enough voters seen it in Dolby Atmos (as opposed to in their living rooms) to realize that?

Predicted winner: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

This is the Oscar category with the highest average gross (more than $234 million), but also the one whose nominees have the fewest nominations in other categories — of these five films, only “First Man” was nominated anywhere other than VFX.

The recent surprise win by “Ex Machina” over “The Martian,” “The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max” proves that voters can be unpredictable and can shy away from effects-laden behemoths in this category — and the smallest nominee, “Christopher Robin,” is said to have a very persuasive effects reel in the package sent to voters. It’s a real contender for an upset, although it may be that there’s just enough respect for “First Man” to give it a slight edge over “Christopher,” and over bigger films like the Visual Effects Society winner “Avengers.”

Predicted winner: “First Man”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
“Incredibles 2”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mirai”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Two-time winner Brad Bird seemed to be coasting to the finish line with his acclaimed Pixar sequel “Incredibles 2” until December, when “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” opened and began bowling over critics and awards voters. Its near-sweep at the Annie Awards showed that “Spider-Man” has all the momentum, so it’d be foolish to bet against it – except that a little voice keeps reminding me that voters in this category tend to be conservative and tend to go for Pixar and Disney every chance they get. (The last time Disney lost to anything other than Pixar, and vice versa, was 12 Oscars ago.)

Still, “Spider-Man” has the advantage of peaking at the right time.

Predicted winner: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Nominees:
“Capernaum”
“Cold War”
“Never Look Away”
“Roma”
“Shoplifters”

Only one of these nominees is also nominated for Best Picture, so history says “Roma” will win: Of the five previous films nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, only 1972’s “The Emigrants” failed to win in the latter category. (And through a quirk in the rules, it was nominated for Best Picture the year after it was nominated for foreign film.) But “Cold War” was also nominated for Best Director, so this race may well be closer than it seems — particularly if voters who pick “Roma” for Best Picture decide to spread the wealth and go elsewhere for foreign film.

The annual question in this category, though, is how many voters watch all five films before casting their ballots; that used to be a requirement, one that definitely helped the director of “Never Look Away,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, win for “The Lives of Others” over the favored “Pan’s Labyrinth” 13 years ago. This year, watching all the films could give a boost to the wrenching “Capernaum” — although it’s probably crazy to think that a film that is one of the legitimate front runners to win Best Picture won’t be victorious in this category.

Predicted winner: “Roma”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“RBG”

Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” would justifiably be the favorite if it had been nominated – but through an odd quirk of the voting or an odd bias in the Documentary Branch, it didn’t make the final five. Of the films that did make the cut, “Minding the Gap” has probably won the most accolades — but this feels like a race between the affectionate Ruth Bader Ginsburg portrait “RBG” and the spectacular and harrowing rock-climbing adventure “Free Solo.”

If Oscar voters want to send a political message, “RBG” will win; if they want to salute spectacular filmmaking, it’ll be “Free Solo.” Ginsburg’s return to the bench last week probably wasn’t newsworthy enough to give that film a boost — if only the president had gone on a Twitter spree against her, the “RBG” directors could be clearing some shelf space now.

Predicted winner: “Free Solo”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Nominees:
“Black Sheep”
“End Game”
“Lifeboat”
“A Night at the Garden”
“Period. End of Sentence”

In the strongest of the shorts categories, all of the nominees have a legitimate chance of winning — “Lifeboat” because the refugee crisis is a central issue of our times, “Black Sheep” because of its indelible character study of the insidious effects of racism, “End Game” because of its graceful, expansive look at an end-of-life facility, “A Night at the Garden” because footage of a 1939 Nazi-style rally in New York City could not be timelier, “Period. End of Sentence” because it leaves you with hope.

I’ve been going back and forth between “Black Sheep,” “End Game” and “Period. End of Sentence.” If the latter might have a slight edge, it’s because this is always a tough category filled with stories about serious issues, and the winner is often the film that offers a little light and a way forward.

Predicted winner: “Period. End of Sentence”

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Nominees:
“Animal Behavior”
“Bao”
“Late Afternoon”
“One Small Step”
“Weekends”

In recent years, the winners in this category have sometimes been highly personal stories (“Dear Basketball,” “Bear Story”), sometimes brief but punchy shorts from Disney and Pixar (“Piper,” “Feast”). This year, “Bao” is a personal story that happens to be the first Pixar short from a female director, which means it ticks both of the boxes that have registered with voters lately.

Of the other contenders, “Animal Behavior” is funny and “One Small Step” is touching — but if voters want to find an alternative to another Disney/Pixar winner, they could go for “Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez’s film based on his memories of being shuffled between divorced parents; or especially “Late Afternoon,” the imaginative and moving story of an elderly woman with dementia drifting in and out of memories. It’s the latest film from the Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon, whose three features have all been nominated for Oscars.

Predicted winner: “Bao”

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Nominees:
“Detainment”
“Fauve”
“Marguerite”
“Mother”
“Skin”

This is a dark and disturbing category, and watching all five of these nominees back-to-back is a grueling sit, especially for parents who may be turned off by the fact that four of the five shorts put children in extreme jeopardy. Of those four films, “Fauve” and “Skin” are the strongest contenders because of the quality of their filmmaking – but while “Fauve” ends with its most haunting scene, “Skin” takes a turn that alienates some viewers. And while “Detainment” is hard to shake, the fact that the filmmakers made a movie about the 1993 murder of 6-year-old James Bulger without contacting Bulger’s parents probably knocked it out of the running, unless voters are unaware of the controversy.

In the end, “Fauve” remains a possibility, but the movie that doesn’t deal with imperiled children will probably get a boost from the company it’s keeping. “Marguerite,” the touching story of a dying woman who shares a long-buried secret with her caregiver, has an edge because it’s the nominee that makes you feel something other than horror.

Predicted winner: “Marguerite”

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