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Who's going for the gongs in Hollywood?

This year's Oscar nominations bring to the fore a crop of films that celebrate the mavericks, writes Julia Molony


Clockwise from top left: ‘Black Panther’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’, ‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Star is Born’, and ‘Roma’

Clockwise from top left: ‘Black Panther’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’, ‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Star is Born’, and ‘Roma’

Clockwise from top left: ‘Black Panther’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’, ‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘A Star is Born’, and ‘Roma’

It's official. Change is afoot at the heart of the Hollywood establishment. This year's Academy Award nominations prove it. They bring to the fore a crop of films that celebrate the mavericks, the outsiders, and the mould-breakers.

OK, so once again, the list of Best Director nominees doesn't feature a single female director, a glaring oversight which demonstrates that, in the academy, old habits die hard. But instead, we have an eclectic and international all-male panel, featuring Yorgos Lanthimos, (The Favourite) figurehead of the Greek Weird wave, Spike Lee, (BlacKkKlansman) only the sixth black director ever to be nominated, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, (Cold War), Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), as well as American, Adam McKay (Vice).

Among the films nominated for Best Picture, a change in paradigm is clear; two are foreign language films in black and white, (Roma and Cold War). One of them is a made for Netflix movie (Roma). There's also a superhero franchise, featuring an entirely black cast (Black Panther) and a dark, eccentric period piece examining political and personal one-upmanship in the chaotic, female-led court of Queen Anne (The Favourite).

Roma and The Favourite (an Irish co-production with Element pictures) are both topping the nominations tally at the moment with 10 nods each. In both films, the narrative focuses almost entirely on the exploits of their female leads, of which Roma has two, and The Favourite three.

It's a delicious irony, too, that Rachel Weisz and co-star Emma Stone are pitched against each other for the best supporting actress gong, for their performances in The Favourite, a true art-meets-life twist, given that The Favourite follows two based-on-historical-events characters, Sarah Duchess of Marlborough and her cousin, Abigail, Baroness Masham, as they vie for the favours of a volatile Queen Anne.

The Best Actress list reveals a new generation of Hollywood royalty. Olivia Colman is shaping up to be the next Judi Dench. Rapidly becoming a national treasure in the UK, where she found fame playing Sophie Chapman in Peep Show, she's now received her first-ever Oscar nom for her portrayal of Queen Anne in The Favourite, marking her transition to Hollywood star.

It's a watershed moment, too, for fellow Best Actress nominee Melissa McCartney, previously best-known for performances in popcorn hits such as Bridesmaids and Identity Thief that, while capturing the heart of her millions of fans, failed to win the attentions of the Academy. That all changed this year thanks to her role in the indie flick, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, in which she plays a struggling writer who takes to forgery to pay her bills.

Lady Gaga's acting debut came in 2001, when she played Girl at Swimming Pool #2 in The Sopranos. Since then, other roles have included playing an Alien on TV Monitors in Men in Black 3 and an appearance in Sin City 3. It's quite a shift then, to go from walk-on parts and cameos to an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a leading role.

It's all thanks to her feted turn in A Star Is Born, the remake of the Hollywood classic film directed by her co-star Bradley Cooper. Also nominated for Best Original Song for Shallow, her duet with Bradley Cooper. The multi-hyphen artist makes history this year, becoming only the second person in the history of the awards to be nominated for both acting and song writing in the same year.

Mexican woman Yalitza Aparicio is also making history at the Oscars this year. She had no previous acting experience when cast in Roma by the renowned director Alfonso Cuaron. Now she's the first indigenous woman ever to receive a Best Actress nomination.

"People are knowing other faces of Mexico - it's something that makes me so happy and proud of my roots," she recently told Vogue Mexico.

Only one of the six women on the list, Glenn Close could be described as a film industry insider. This year marks her seventh Academy Award nomination. She took home the Golden Globe for her performance in The Wife, an adaptation of the novel by Meg Wolitzer and is widely tipped for the win.

It's a different picture on the Best Actor list. Like Glenn Close, Christian Bale has had plenty of time to perfect his gracious-loser face. This year marks his fourth outing at the Dolby theatre as a Best Actor nominee. He's taken home a gong for Best Supporting actor before, in the 2011 boxing flick The Fighter. This year, it seems like the ultimate prize is in his sights.

For one thing, Bale's portrayal of Dick Cheney in the witty political drama Vice has already won him a Golden Globe. And we all know how the academy judges love a dramatic physical transformation (see Nicole Kidman, The Hours, Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour and Charlize Theron, Monster) so it's firmly in his favour that the actor is almost completely unrecognisable as the paunchy, balding Vice President Dick Cheney. He's currently riding high as the bookies' favourite to win.

Bale will compete against a handful of Hollywood veterans, including Viggo Mortensen on his third nomination now for Green Book, in which he plays the driver and bodyguard of jazz pianist Don Shirley. Also in the mix are Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), who has been nominated in the category twice before, and Willem Dafoe, nominated for his portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in his later years in At Eternity's Gate.

Only Rami Malek, best known to date as the star of television series Mr Robot is a newbie, bursting out of apparent obscurity on to a global stage thanks to his magnetic portrayal of rock stadium god Freddie Mercury.

Best Picture and Best Actor nominations often go hand in hand. So it's no surprise this year to see Green Book mentioned in both categories, ditto Vice and Bohemian Rhapsody. There's a fair amount of controversy surrounding the Best Picture noms this year.

Both Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice have been mooted by The Daily Beast as "the worst best picture nominees ever".

Vice received decidedly mixed reviews, with the respected industry paper Variety calling it "brashly entertaining but not, in the end, as rich or deep as you want it to be. While Bohemian Rhapsody pulled in critic approval ratings of only 61pc on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian complaining that "it feels less a pioneering musical odyssey than a really good covers band". Still, these gripes don't seem to have hurt the film's fortunes. It won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and is now the highest-grossing music biopic ever made.

For Best Picture, though, my money is firmly on Roma, the majestic, elegiac family drama based on the early life experiences of its director Alfonso Cuaron.

From now, it's a waiting game, with the envelopes being opened on the night of February 24. Place your bets...

Sunday Independent