What elevates a film to the level of “Best Picture”? Is it directing? Acting? Set design? Score? Popularity? Social relevance? Luck ? Craft? A really good marketing campaign? Casting Daniel Day-Lewis? Or, is it just the right combination of all of the above?
It’s a question that’s become especially meaningful as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences struggles to reconcile box-office hits and genre films with more the traditional dramatic fare it is used to rewarding. The short-lived decision to introduce a “Best Popular Film” category, has forced us all to reassess what we consider an Oscar-worthy movie.
It’s an issue that’s far from resolved. One only has to glance at the many earth-shatteringly good films of 2018 — many of them directed by or starring women — that do not appear on the Academy’s final list of contenders to see that. But 2019’s crop of eight Best Picture nominees (Black Panther, Vice, Green Book, A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Roma, The Favourite, and BlackKklansman) does reflect an industry in flux.
Half the fun of the Oscars is the guessing game that comes before, and without a host, good speeches, and many of the winners relegated to commercial breaks, it might be the only thing we have left to enjoy. But there’s also a more serious reason to take the Best Picture race seriously. As the only category that the whole of the Academy’s roughly 8,000 members are eligible to vote in, it represents the most comprehensive barometer of the industry as a whole.
With less than a month to go, the category remains fairly undecided. In a rare and weird upset, the most influential industry guilds have split in handing out their own Best Picture awards — only the fifth time that this has happened. The Producers Guild chose Green Book, Directors Guild went with Roma, and the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble Cast very memorably went to Black Panther.