We weigh in on which movie should win and which ones don't stand a chance.
Will win/should win
The story: Alfonso Cuarón’s fictionalized paean to the woman who raised him in Mexico City.
In its favor: A stunning achievement, with a soulful story and luminous cinematography, told largely with amateur actors. Both intimate and epic, at times it echoes the best of Fellini and Bergman.
Then again: Black-and-white. Subtitles. It might have to settle for foreign film honors.
The story: A warrior prince from an ancient, noble nation faces a life-or-death challenge to his birthright.
In its favor: A rousing story led by a powerhouse cast, with dazzling visuals and cultural heft. And has there ever been a prince more regal than Chadwick Boseman?
Then again: Ryan Coogler may have re-imagined the superhero movie, but it’s still a superhero movie. Is the academy ready?.
The story: A black police officer finagles his way into the Ku Klux Klan in 1970s Colorado.
In its favor: A stranger-than-fiction tale that’s Spike Lee at his most entertaining and (literally) hair-raising. The daring undercover operation feels genuinely treacherous and subversive.
Then again: The modern-day Charlottesville coda is pure Lee — a sledgehammer that feels unnecessary.
The story: The story of Queen from its formation to its epochal 1985 Live Aid performance.
In its favor: The music! If you love this band, the songs — and the stories behind them — will send you out of the theater grinning. That Rami Malek guy makes a pretty good Freddie Mercury, too.
Then again: It’s a standard rock biopic that fudges the timeline and lays on the big moments pretty thick.
The story: Two headstrong courtiers vie for the favor — er, the favour — of Queen Anne.
In its favor: The blackest of black comedies, it’s a feverish funhouse of a movie — never boring, always bonkers. The shifting power dynamics are dizzying, and the barbs come at you like stilettos.
Then again: A lot of style over substance. Our loyalties are tested until we don’t really care anymore.
The story: A rough-edged casino worker and a high-minded musician break barriers on a road trip in a 1962 Cadillac.
In its favor: Precise period details and fine rapport between the actors, who wholly inhabit their roles. The plot offers a refreshing anti-“Driving Miss Daisy” twist.
Then again: It’s a rather simplistic, retrograde movie about race relations that has drawn backlash from relatives of the real Don Shirley.
A Star is Born
The story: The fourth go-round for the classic story of a woman on the rise and a man on the decline.
In its favor: One of the most exhilarating first acts of any movie you’ll see this year, with the powerful chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga on full display. We’re invested in their story from the first frame.
Then again: Given its dismal showing at the Globes, we wonder if voters are tired of this tale.
The story: How Dick Cheney rose to the rank of political mastermind.
In its favor: The actors are clearly having a hell of a good time. The scenery chewing can be overlooked when you’ve got Christian Bale as the conniving title character and a campy Sam Rockwell as Bush 43.
Then again: The cheeky, scattershot tone, which director Adam McKay employed to better effect in “The Big Short,” feels all wrong.
Christian Bale, “Vice”
Role: Political operative/ veep Dick Cheney.
In his favor: At last, Bale’s upper lip has found the role it was born for. Much has been made of his physical transformation, but this portrayal goes far beyond extra weight and prosthetics. The voice and posture are scarily spot-on. (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: Gary Oldman just won for a latex-enhanced performance (as Winston Churchill) last year.
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Role: Jackson Maine, rocker on a downward trajectory.
In his favor: In his favor: Cooper went all in on the debauchery; this is a performance utterly without conceit. The director (who happens to be Bradley Cooper) knew that the story hinges on Jackson’s pitiable downfall, and Cooper the actor delivers. (G/S/B)
Then again: His role may indeed be vital, but who are we kidding? It’s Lady Gaga’s movie.
Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity’s Gate”
Role: Artist Vincent Van Gogh, during his self-imposed exile in Arles.
In his favor: Dafoe’s face is its own canvas, a self-portrait come to life. With his visceral physicality, he embodies the painter’s famous lust for life and art. He even learned to paint credibly for the role, lending an authenticity that can’t be faked. (G)
Then again: At 63, Dafoe is a generation too old to play the 30-something artist.
Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Role: Iconic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
In his favor: Malek, as lithe and sinewy as the real deal, brings a touching sadness to the role of a consummate outsider. He rocks the bedazzled harlequin jumpsuits, and how he wrangles those choppers! They’re practically their own character. (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: “Rhapsody” is an oddly sanitized portrait of a gay icon.
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”
Role: “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, driver/protector for a black musician in the 1960s South.
In his favor: Mortensen is compelling as a Noo Yawk casino enforcer who finds his worldview shaken up. The 30 pounds he piled on speaks to his deep commitment. He also might have created a whole new way to eat pizza. (G/S/B)
Then again: The “Sopranos” act is just this side of cartoonish, and Tony’s change of heart feels facile.
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Role: Joan Castleman, spouse and muse to a Nobel Prize-winning author.
In her favor: Close attacks this juicy role, letting us in on her indignation, her pain and, finally, her rage. You can almost imagine her declaring, "I'm not gonna be ignored!" (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: The film is predictable and pedestrian, and all but shamelessly begs "Just give Glenn Close her Oscar already."
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Role: Ally Campana, a singer/songwriter with big dreams.
In her favor: We knew Gaga could sing; who could predict she would light up the screen in every scene? When Ally first turns her face to the camera in that drag club, Bradley Cooper's Jackson is smitten, and so are we. (G/S/B)
Then again: Too much, too soon? A best song award for her bringing-down-the-house "Shallow" might be considered enough.
Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Role: Cleo, housemaid to a family in 1970s Mexico City.
In her favor: You don't even need subtitles: Aparicio's lovely, serene countenance contains multitudes about this family's life, and her own. Practice spelling her name; she's a true find.
Then again: A first-time actor who has been otherwise ignored during awards season, Aparicio might be the epitome of "just happy to be nominated."
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Role: Gout-ridden, stroke-addled Queen Anne, presiding over an 18th-century court.
In her favor: She's petulant and childlike, yet slyly manipulative and fully in command. You never doubt where the real power in this power struggle lies. And Colman isn't afraid to look batty and bloated. (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: She's really first among equals in a troika of formidable females.
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Role: Lee Israel, real-life author and forger.
In her favor: McCarthy brings her trademark irreverence to a rare serious role, infusing this misanthrope with a pathos that is as tangible as the layer of grime in her early '90s New York City apartment. And Oscar loves to reward actors playing against type. (G/S/B)
Then again: It's a small, literary-minded movie that not enough people saw.
Best supporting actor
Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Role: Real-life jazz pianist Don Shirley, who embarks on a risky concert tour of the South.
In his favor: This is Ali at his most urbane, but not far under that sophisticated shell he reveals a painful awareness of his character’s place in pre-Civil Rights Act Dixie. (G/S/B, Globes winner)
Then again: He won this award just two years ago; the Academy might want to spread the spoils around.
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Role: Jack Hock, an outcast’s partner in crime and booze.
In his favor: This is a guy you’d love to hang out with, and Grant plays him with unbridled mirth. Swooping in and out of Lee Israel’s orbit, he puts a manic veneer on the loneliness that binds them. His AIDS diagnosis lands as a gut punch to Lee, and to us. (G/S/B)
Then again: Is the jolly gay best friend stereotype played out?
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Role: Flip Zimmerman, who covers for his black colleague in a perilous ruse.
In his favor: Driver’s earnest deadpan serves him well, both as an empathetic co-worker who has his own skin in the game, and in his role-within-a-role as an unrepentant racist. An impressive twofer. (G/S/B)
Then again: It might be tone-deaf to honor the white man in a film called “BlacKkKlansman.”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Role: Bobby Maine, brother and manager to a rock star.
In his favor: That voice, a growl so iconic that Bradley Cooper strove to emulate it. Elliott plays Bobby as a stoic punching bag who tells the truths that need to be told. And he’s an old-school actor’s actor of the type the Academy loves to honor. (S)
Then again: He’s eclipsed by the power of the two lead performances.
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”
Role: George W. Bush, president of the United States.
In his favor: In a word, he’s a hoot. With his faux-sincere squint and meandering drawl, he gives Bush a good ol’ boy’s air of genial cluelessness — but also political shrewdness, even with pork rinds hanging from his lip. (G/B)
Then again: Could he pull off back-to-back victories? It’s a feat almost as rare as a father and son becoming president.
Best supporting actress
Will win/should win
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Role: Sharon Rivers, a mother fighting for justice.
In her favor: King straddles the delicate line between ferocity and tenderness, sometimes in the same sentence. She taps into a primal instinct while maintaining an extraordinary dignity; this is a woman you want in your corner. (Globes winner)
Then again: Nothing — it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which King doesn’t win.
Amy Adams, “Vice”
Role: Lynne Cheney, the culture warrior behind a rising politician.
In her favor: Lady Macbeth in a perfect Republican helmet of hair, Adams unleashes a ruthless resolve to whip her dissolute husband into shape and goad him to power. (G/S/B)
Then again: Nominated five previous times, Adams has been passed over for better work, including a similar role in “The Master.”
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Role: Sofia, the overwhelmed matriarch of a boisterous Mexican family.
In her favor: She manages to be both maddeningly neglectful and achingly sympathetic. We can feel that, somewhere beneath that caustic exterior, a loving mother is struggling to emerge.
Then again: Foreign-language performances are a tough sell, as evidenced by her omission from rival award contests.
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Role: Abigail Hill, an impoverished woman who worms her way into the royal household.
In her favor: Stone uses her big blue eyes to splendid “who, me?” effect, as she artfully schemes to stay one step ahead of those who would cross her. And she has the advantage of serving as the story’s catalyst. (G/S/B)
Then again: No one’s very likable here, but Abigail might rank last.
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”
Role: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, longtime attendant to the queen..
In her favor: Weisz brings a survival-of-the-most-ruthless attitude to every scene, her steely intelligence and will undimmed by the increasingly unhinged goings-on. Even when she’s one-eyed, her gaze will level you. (G/S/B)
Then again: Her character isn’t as flamboyant as Stone’s, or as triumphant.