Oscars: Jack Mathews surveys the Best Picture field

A Star is Born” leads the pack in total guild nominations to date by a healthy margin of 11 to the eight for “BlackKlansman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with only the sound editors yet to be heard from. But its own star has been fading with the televised Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards. It won Best Song at both and Lady Gaga tied for Best Actress with Glenn Close (“The Wife”) at the Critics Choice. That’s it.

So, yeah, it’s had a lock on nominations with all of the major guilds, but it no longer feels like the movie to beat for a Best Picture Oscar and its director and co-star Bradley Cooper is a long shot in both categories.

Every movie on the leader board has issues that handicappers can use in making their arguments for and against, but the thing I believe is costing “A Star is Born” awards is it cannot sell itself as “something old is new again.”

Cooper’ fourth version of “A Star is Born” may be the best of them, but for all of its contemporary flare, it’s the same old chestnut about a star who falls in love with a discovered protégé whose career grows to outshine his into irrelevance, alcoholism and suicide.

Everything about it is well-done and Cooper and Lady Gaga have real chemistry as opposed to whatever that was between Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the last one. But in the midst of the current cultural tension created by President Trump, it’s an outlier among the front-runners.

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The period films “Roma,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Green Book,” and “The Favourite,” all feel more contemporary than “A Star is Born” and each of them has a fair shot at winning the Best Picture Oscar.

“Roma,” which was written, directed, filmed and edited by Alfonso Cuaron, is a poetic reminiscence about his childhood in Mexico City and it is a virtual anecdote to the poisonous slanders against Mexicans and their country being flung almost daily by President Trump. It has won both the Golden Globe for drama and the Critics Choice award for Best Picture.

“Green Book” is probably the most audience friendly movie in contention and though its story about a racist Italian strongman hired by a virtuoso black pianist to drive him on a tour through the segregationist South was seen by some critics as too touch-feely, it seems to touch everyone else just about right.

Spike Lee’s “BlackKlansman” is a real threat to win the best picture Oscar. It has all the major guild nominations and it has the most satisfying comeuppance for white supremacists, none of whom are the “very fine people” Trump said were marching with Nazis in Charlottesville.

“The Favourite” is a perverse comedy that could have been titled “Lesbians in Queen Anne’s Court.” It would be wrong to call it a step forward in the LBGTQ awareness movement, but same-sex cunnilingus does occur and it’s a major element in this period version of “All About Eve.”

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Much criticism has been leveled at Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for its lack of both subtlety and complexity, but an enduring love of its subject, Queen’s iconic front man Freddie Mercury, made it a major box office hit and earned it a slew of important guild nominations. Yeah, it’s loaded with musician biopic clichés, but it also deals directly with his sexuality and early death from AIDS.

“Black Panther” seems destined to land on the best picture ballot, but it isn’t going to be that first “popcorn” movie that wins the Oscar. Still, it is the best of the Marvel Universe, a superhero action film that is also a commentary on Africans’ place in the world and their dream of freedom.

I’ll add Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” to this argument. It doesn’t appear to have a chance at the Oscar, but its story about the impact of a vengeful white cop on an innocent black man and his girlfriend and he family in 1970s Harlem feels like it might happened last year.

These movies leave you with something more than an appreciation for the entertainment and that – call it substance – is what resonates most with academy voters.

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.

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