In a previous life, I worked in auto racing where the phrase “on the bubble” referred to drivers whose qualifying times for the Indianapolis 500 had them at the bottom or below the field of 33 cars that would be in the race. Failing to make the field would end the year’s dream for that driver, or “burst his bubble.”
From there, the phrase entered the culture to single out anyone or team in such straits and before the academy expanded its Best Picture Oscar line-up to 10, movies on the bubble for that fifth spot were fun to talk about.
Fifth is as solid as one these days, but there are plenty of films that have dim hopes of winning the Oscar but whose participants are hanging their hopes on just getting into the final field. When it’s all over next month and a winner has been declared, no one will ever know where the other nine finished.
Seven pictures seem ordained at this moment to making the Best Picture line-up: “Roma,” “A Star is Born,” “Green Book,” “The Favourite,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Vice” and “Black Panther.” At least eight others are vying for the last three spots. Here’s rating their chances.
Bad publicity surrounding director Bryan Singer, fired during production for absenteeism, and mostly negative reviews have not stopped the Freddie Mercury biopic from finding an audience and guild support. It has key nominations from SAG and the PGA, two leading indicators for an Oscar nomination.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Melissa McCarthy, playing letters forger Lee Israel, and Richard E. Grant, as her partner in crime, both received SAG, Globe and BAFTA nominations, and SAG members in the academy are its biggest block of voters.
“A Quiet Place”
John Krasinski’s second feature, starring himself and wife Emily Blunt as parents trying to protect their family from alien creatures who hunt by sound, was the class of a good field of 2018 horror movies (check out “Hereditary”) and has guild nominations for Blunt, as supporting actress, its screenplay and art direction. Oh, yeah, and it’s one of the 10 films on the Producers Guild list.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Man, it sure seems like Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel should make the cut. It is a tight, well-acted and emotionally draining drama about the impact of a white cop’s prejudice on a black family in 1970s New York. But its only guild nomination is for Jenkins’ script. Regina King won the Globe for supporting actress but was not nominated by SAG.
“Crazy Rich Asians”
The class comedy about wedding worries for a wealthy Hong Kong bachelor and a Chinese-American college professor received a SAG ensemble nomination, plus a spot on the Producer’s Guild ballot. A call-out from Sandra Oh at the Globes, reminding everyone of Hollywood’s poor record with Asian actors, did not hurt.
The Neil Armstrong biopic was the first early Oscar favorite to tumble down projections and land on the bubble. With its epic sweep and a moon landing, it figured to be a contender in all categories, but its three guild nominations are for cinematography, art direction, and editing.
“Mary Poppins Returns”
The sequel to the lovable 1964 family hit has a throwback quality going for it, along with fantasy set pieces with plenty of flash and pizzazz. But most importantly, it has Globe and SAG nominations for popular star Emily Blunt.
Elsie Fisher got the film’s lone Globe nomination for her portrayal of an awkward teenager struggling through her last year of middle school, but writer-director Bo Burnham was nominated by both the Writers Guild, for his original screenplay, and the Directors Guild for achievement by a first-time feature film director.
This is a “scratch my head” longshot. It’s a wonderful movie with great acting – hell, it’s got Viola Davis in the lead – and the recipient of ecstatic reviews, yet it has been ignored by every guild. Chicks as crooks, I guess it doesn’t work. I kept it among my Gold Derby top 10 until it no longer seemed likely but a couple of my colleagues — Alicia Malone and Claudia Puig — have stuck with it and I hope they’re rewarded.
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.