In the week before the 91st Academy Awards are handed out, Tom Beasley takes a look at each Best Picture nominee and its chances of Oscars victory. Next, the most divisive nominee as Queen hits the big screen in Bohemian Rhapsody…
This year, box office has made a big impression in the Best Picture shortlist. Black Panther made over a billion dollars and A Star is Born was a $400m worldwide hit. Perhaps most surprisingly, though, is the success of music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, which has achieved more than $850m globally to date – a total that is still climbing. The story of Freddie Mercury has resonated with audiences, despite dismissal from critics and a whirlwind of behind the scenes chaos.
This doesn’t seem to have bothered the Academy, though, which has duly nominated the movie in five categories, including the all-important Best Picture field. A slightly shoddy, but ultimately uplifting, music story is now a major Oscar contender, and it just might make it all the way to the top.
Let’s take a look at the film…
What’s this all about? And is it any good?
It’s quite simply the story of Queen, and more specifically its frontman Freddie Mercury, from their earliest formation as a group until their triumphant and iconic performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Rami Malek portrays Mercury, in a role that Sacha Baron Cohen was originally set to play in a gritty, R-rated take on Mercury’s story. He left the project way back in 2013 and was replaced, for a time, by Ben Whishaw, who himself left in 2015.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the chaos surrounding the making of this film, which saw director Bryan Singer replaced midway through shooting by Dexter Fletcher. Singer retains directorial credit, as per guild rules, and it’s his involvement that has positioned the film at the centre of a firestorm of controversy given long-running allegations about sexual abuse on the part of Singer. These allegations have come to the forefront again in the wake of a magazine investigation in which several alleged victims gave accounts of sexual violence they accuse Singer of committing. None of this stopped fans going to see the movie in their droves.
In terms of quality, that’s a trickier question. As a huge fan of Queen, I really enjoyed the film and spent most of the 20 climactic minutes at Live Aid weeping in my seat. But with that said, this certainly isn’t a great film. It might even be a bad one. Malek’s performance is very impressive, particularly in the concert scenes, and the supporting cast also does solid work. Gwilym Lee, especially, deserves real credit for his pitch-perfect evocation of lead guitarist Brian May.
It’s less sure-footed when it comes to depicting Mercury’s sexuality, conflating the scenes in which he comes out to long-term girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) with a decline in his career and a rupture in the band. Mercury’s relationships with men are pushed to one side and forced to sit at the outskirts of events, with his eventual AIDS diagnosis rather distastefully shifted around in time in order to amplify the rousing conclusion of the movie.
The movie does a lot right, but it also constantly seems to fall foul of poor creative decisions. When it leans into its status as a musical crowd-pleaser, though, it’s tough to deny how well it works.
Has it had a good season?
It’s fair to say there have been ups and downs in the Bohemian Rhapsody campaign. The Golden Globes got things off to a great start, with the movie nabbing the Best Picture in a Drama award, while Rami Malek was named Best Actor in a Drama. Malek has repeated the feat at multiple ceremonies, winning the BAFTA for Best Actor and the crucial Screen Actors Guild award in that category – a major indicator of upcoming Oscar success.
The film itself has failed to replicate Malek’s success, coming up short at the PGA Awards and failing to win nominations from major bodies including the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the Directors Guild of America. Since that initial Golden Globe victory, Bohemian Rhapsody has been edged out in favour of its star.
Can it win Best Picture?
There’s definitely half a chance. The Golden Globes win on its own doesn’t mean much, as the Globes have only matched up with the Best Picture Oscar on 11 occasions in the last 20 years, despite having two bites at the cherry thanks to their genre split. It does, however, put it in position as something of a contender, particularly as it looks set to walk away with a major acting prize.
Crucially, the film has also won a number of awards – perhaps slightly inexplicably – for its editing. If it repeats that feat at the Oscars, that could point to a potential Best Picture win. Only once in 20 years has the Best Picture winner not been nominated in this category and, crucially, a lot of the stiffest competition in this year’s race is not nominated against Bohemian Rhapsody here. It’s a bit of a grasp at straws for fans of this movie, but it has surprised us many times already.
Tomorrow: The royals have never been this rude before, but The Favourite is swearing its way into the Oscar race…
To read the previous articles in this series, click here.
The 91st Academy Awards will air live from the Dolby Theater on Sunday, 24th February.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.