“Bohemian Rhapsody” has generated Oscar buzz for Rami Malek‘s performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, and the film had a big opening weekend box office haul with $50 million in domestic receipts. It has all the hallmarks of a major awards player … except for the reviews. Critics have been decidedly mixed on the film, but does that necessarily doom it with the motion picture academy? Not necessarily.
As of this writing “Rhapsody” has a MetaCritic score of 49 based on 45 reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, which rates movies on just a pass-fail scale, the film is 60% fresh based on 246 reviews. Those numbers aren’t great in general, and especially for a film fighting to be considered the best of the best at year-end kudos. But the critical establishment doesn’t always line up with Oscar voters.
A decade ago “The Reader” (2008) scored 58 on MC and 62% on RT, but it still earned a Best Picture nomination above far more acclaimed films “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E.” It likely got a boost from widespread appreciation for Kate Winslet, who won Best Actress for her performance on her sixth nomination. Voters wanted her to finally win so badly that her support buoyed the entire film.
“The Iron Lady” (2011) didn’t get much love from critics either: 54 on MC and 51% on RT. But it had been decades since Oscar queen Meryl Streep had won, and she underwent a drastic physical transformation to play British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, so the film ended up winning both of its bids: Best Actress for Streep and Best Makeup.
That same year the widely derided literary adaptation “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (46 on MC, 46% on RT) had been snubbed by the BAFTAs, SAG Awards and Golden Globes (though it ironically earned four noms from the Critics’ Choice Awards). It wasn’t expected to factor into the Oscar nominations, but it managed a couple of shocking bids: Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow).
Perhaps the closest analog to “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the 2009 film “The Blind Side” (53 on MC, 66% on RT). Both films told true stories. Both were big hits at the box office. And both featured lead performances that had more goodwill than their films as a whole. “Blind Side” won Best Actress for Sandra Bullock and even earned a Best Picture nom to go along with it. And “Rhapsody” has Rami Malek.
Even the less enthusiastic reviews of “Rhapsody” are appreciative of Malek’s performance. Stephanie Zacharek (Time) thinks the film “is a bit of a mess,” but Malek brings “restless, electric intensity” to his role. Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times) says it stirs to life thanks to “Malek’s droll, mischievous and wholly committed star turn” even though as a whole it’s “jumbled and disappointingly airbrushed.” And David Ehrlich (IndieWire) commends Malek’s “spirited performance” while criticizing the film for being too “sanitized” and “formulaic.”
And Malek may get extra credit for the film’s behind-the-scenes drama. Bryan Singer is the sole credited director of the film, but his behavior on set led him to be fired and replaced by Dexter Fletcher with two weeks of shooting left. I’m sure many members of the academy’s actors branch, the Screen Actors Guild, and other industry groups will be able to relate to such difficult working conditions.
So despite the significant criticisms of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” audiences and academy members might have no trouble finding “Somebody to Love.”
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.