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Has Roma become the Academy Award favorite? After receiving 10 Academy Award nominations, including at least one surprise nomination, Roma heads toward the Academy Awards presentation in February as the presumptive favorite to take home Best Picture. Yes, Alfonso Cuaron’s true from his life story still has obstacles to overcome, but if you’re betting the favorite for this year’s awards, well… The Favourite may not be the actual favorite.
Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio, a first-time actress, in the role of Cleo, a maid in an upper-middle class household in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Cleo gets pregnant and assumes that she may lose her job because of this, and so, she sets out initially to get the man who impregnated her to take responsibility. He does not do that, but Cleo finds herself lucky when her employer, Sofia (Marina De Tavira), not only doesn’t fire her, but embraces her pregnancy and affirms Cleo’s place as a member of the family and as an employee.
Roma is a wonderful story of compassion, empathy, and loyalty. It’s a life-affirming story—aside from the boyfriend character and Sofia’s loutish husband—about the joy of finding acceptance and an unlikely family. Cleo’s anxiety reflects the kind of anxiety we all feel at one time or another in our lives when we are searching for where we belong and battling the uncertainty and fear of not knowing where we belong.
Why is Roma now the frontrunner? The biggest indication is the first major nomination for Marina de Tavira for Best Supporting Actress. It’s not that no one has recognized de Tavira’s excellent work, but most of the attention on the cast of Roma had fallen squarely on the newcomer Aparicio. Tavira is the only experienced actor in the cast of Roma and her performance has been somewhat overlooked, perhaps because her acting stands out against the non-actors around her.
That the Academy members saw fit to include Tavira as a nominee shows the strength the film is building heading towards Oscar night. The film has developed the kind of coattails that the frontrunners tend to develop as the race takes shape. But the sudden inclusion of Tavira isn’t the only good indicator. Indeed, there are other reasons to jump on the Roma as the frontrunner bandwagon.
Aside from the surprise Supporting Actress nomination for Tavira, the next big indicator of frontrunner status is in the Best Director category where Alfonso Cuaron, Spike Lee for BlacKKKlansman, and Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite were the only three director nominees whose films were also nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director. BlacKKKlansman suffered a blow when John David Washington did not receive a Best Actor nomination, demonstrating that film’s lack of coattails.
That leaves just Roma and The Favourite, which are also the only movies with 10 nominations this year—the most among all of the nominees. Perception might indicate that this would be where theatrical release types take a swing at Roma and its place as a Netflix feature, but that type of pettiness is more in the mind of journalists than it is among voters. Among voters, Netflix has fast become just another place to find steady and consistent work.
So why Roma over The Favourite? It’s all about "The Feels." Roma has "The Feels" and The Favourite does not. By any stretch, no matter how handsome or exceptional The Favourite is, the film lacks the kind of emotional connection to audiences that led to Moonlight upsetting La La Land, or The Shape of Water’s strange love story overcoming Dunkirk’s immense technical prowess and Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster credibility.
Roma has "The Feels" and an already Academy beloved director on its side. Yorgos Lanthimos has earned a lot of respect in his short time in Hollywood, but the limited emotional depth of his work kept both of his previous features—the austere and the strange of The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer—from connecting with audiences and critics. Cuaron has already earned the full respect of the Academy for his austere production of Gravity, and now with the emotional connective tissue of Roma, he has turned himself into a perennial Oscar favorite.
In a year where familiarity has come into play in nominating familiar names like Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close for movies that very few people have thus far seen, having a name that the Academy recognizes can be a key factor and Cuaron’s Gravity win gives him just that kind of name recognition. That, plus "The Feels," and the demonstrated coattails nomination in one of the major categories, gives me complete faith that Roma is the Oscar frontrunner.