Up until this week, I was predicting that “RBG,” the Oscar-nominated documentary tribute to the wonder woman who is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg would win, mostly because of its medicinal effect on our uncertain times. It gets many things right, like highlighting her nearly half-century love story with her devoted husband, Martin, her odd couple friendship with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia and her career-long dedication to fighting on behalf of women to be treated as equals in the eyes of the law.
But “RBG’ has one major flaw that is simply the fault of Ginsberg’s profession. We can’t eavesdrop on her arguments in the Supreme Court or witness her as she delivers those scathingly brilliant dissents in real time. Basically, we rummage through her closet and see her jazzy array of jabots that she wears with her robes. And we can hear her arguments for her landmark cases over the years. But we can’t really watch her on the job.
That, however, hasn’t stopped nine Experts from backing the title, including Claudia Puig (KPCC), Dave Karger (IMDB), Jack Mathews (Gold Derby), Keith Simanton (IMDB), Scott Mantz (Collider), Bonnie Fuller (Hollywood Life), Eric Deggans (NPR), Matthew Jacobs (HuffPo) and, our fearless leader, Tom O’Neil.
Look, I fell hard for Agnes Varda in “Faces Places” last year and it got me nowhere. Cute little old ladies who are forces of nature are great, but sentiment doesn’t go as far these days when it comes to docs. You know what does? Sports, especially when the doc in question centers on controversy or troubled men. This decade, “Undefeated,” about a struggling Memphis high-school football team, won the 2011 Oscar. “O.J.: Made in America” won the 2016 trophy. And, last year, “Icarus” — about the doping scandal in sports — crossed the finish line and grabbed the statuette.
“Free Solo,” however, is a step beyond most sport docs. This is one that offers a grand cinematic experience as we watch our obsessed thrill junkie subject, Alex Honnold, attempt to do a feat at high altitude that no one has ever done: Free climb the forbidding expanse 3,000-foot expanse of El Capitan, Yosemite’s nearly 3,ooo-foot granite wall without any equipment. Unlike “RBG,” this viewing experience gives us that “you are there” feeling. On the human side,we also see Honnold attempt his first real relationship with a woman, a struggle that is sometime the equal of his sky-high challenges. It also just won Best Documentary at BAFTA, which counts for something.
That is why I am joining 14 other Experts who are climbing aboard the “Free Solo” train. Those joining me are Peter Travers (Rolling Stone), Thelma Adams (Gold Derby), Edward Douglas (Weekend Warrior), Andrea Mandell (USA Today), Perri Nemiroff (Collider), Wilson Morales (BlackFilm), Tariq Khan (Fox TV), Erik Davis (Fandango), Michael Musto (NewNowNext), Brian Truitt (USA Today), Joyce Eng (Gold Derby), Christopher Rosen (TVGuide.com), Anne Thompson (Indiewire) and Kevin Polowy (Yahoo).
Then there are three brave souls predicting “Minding the Gap,” about three young men growing up in Rockford, Illinois, who are united by their love of skateboarding and how they define what it means to be a man these days and part of a community. Susan King (Gold Derby ), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily), Tim Gray (Variety) are backing this topical contender. Considering that “Gap” earned a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, I wouldn’t be too shocked if they all were right.
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 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.