Oscar 2019: Best Picture–Roma Should Win, But Would It?

The best film of the year is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and other awards.

(L to R) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Photo by Carlos Somonte

If I was an Oscar voter, I would certainly embrace Cuaron’s black-and-white intimate epic, a stylized art film with a big heart and soul at its center.

Essentially, it’s Cuaron personal, highly emotional tribute to the women who played a major role in his formative years as a boy.  The feature could have been titled, “All About My Housekeeper,” to borrow a title from Almodovar’s 1999 masterpiece, “All About My Mother.”

There is no doubt that Roma would win Best Director for Cuaron (his second, after Gravity), Best Cinematography (also for Cuaron), and Best Foreign Language Film.Cuaron, winner of 2019 Golden Globe for  Best Director

But will Roma win the Best Picture?

I think it stands a good chance to become a record-breaker, as no foreign-language film has ever won the Best Picture in the Academy’s 91 year history, though several have been nominated.

The last foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture was Michael Haneke’s French-speaking, Amour, in 2012.

Here is my reasoning for why Roma could win.

First, Cuaron is a known quantity in Hollywood, having directed several well-respected English-speaking films, and having won already the Best Director Oscar.

Second, the Academy’s membership has changed radically over the past five years, and it includes now many more foreign and/or foreign-born artists than ever before.

Third, Roma has won many critics awards, including the Critics Choice Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (of which I am an active member).

However, if Green Book walks out with the Best Picture, it would be, artistically, the weakest feature to win the Oscar since, well, Driving Miss Daisy, back in 1989.

A feel-good movie, Green Book is a movie with a positive message and an uplifting happy ending about co-existence of different sub-cultures in America.

I have pointed out elsewhere the thematic similarities (and reversals) between Green Book and Driving Miss Daisy.

Both are interracial serio-comedie set in the South, unfolding as road movies, with a large portion of the action taking place with the confines of a car, thus forcing the protagonists to interact and to get to know each other.

The driver in Green Book is white (Italian American), well played by Viggo Mortensen (nominated for Best Actor), and not a black chauffeur, who was well played by Morgan Freeman in the 1989 picture.

Green Book will score in other categories. I have no doubts that the Best Supporting Actor Oscar will go to Mahershala Ali, who had earned an Oscar in that very category two years ago, for Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

If Ali wins–and he will–he will become the first black performer in the Academy’s history to win two Academy Awards in the same category.  Denzel Washington, the most honored black actor, had won two Oscar, Supporting Actor in 1989 for Glory, and Best Actor for Training Day in 2001.

It’s not unusual for a white or foreign performer to win multiple Oscars in the same category over such a short period of time.

Case in point: Christoph Waltz, who won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, within three years, in both cases for a Tarantino picture.  Waltz first won for Inglorious Basterds in 2009, and then again for Django Unchained in 2012.

If I was an Academy member, my vote would have gone to Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Ultimately, the Best Picture race this year is between two films that occupy the two extreme poles of a continuum.  Green Book is a timely, populist, middlebrow message film, which will not endure the test of time.

In contrast, Roma is a personal (auteurist) art film for the ages, one to cherish and to revisit, a feature that justifies the raison d’etre of cinema as a unique and universal medium.