February 17, 2019
Last September, Bradley Cooper returned to his hometown of Philadelphia for a special local premiere screening of his directorial debut, "A Star is Born."
In the works for many years, at one point Clint Eastwood was set to direct the re-make and Cooper was to star opposite Beyonce, but it was ultimately made with Lady Gaga as the female lead, and Cooper starring as well as directing.
The film, which had premiered to rapturous notices at the Toronto Film Festival days before, played like gangbusters in the room. In a post-movie audience Q&A, moderated by CBS 3 anchor Ukee Washington, participants vociferously praised the movie.
One woman shared that Cooper's past work had helped get her through personal tragedy, and predicted that Cooper - who has never won an Oscar - was bound for the Academy Awards glory that he failed to get for his Philly-shot 2012 film "Silver Linings Playbook."
Cooper, as a producer of "A Star is Born," would likely accept a Best Picture statue himself, in the event of a win. But back in September he also looked like a contender for a long list of Oscars: For acting, directing, co-writing, and even for Best Original Song, as Cooper had a hand in writing several of the film's tunes.
After all, "A Star Is Born" felt an awful lot like a Best Picture, the kind of film that screamed "old-fashioned Hollywood epic romance" even if it weren't the third remake of a film that was first produced in the 1930s.
Six months later, and with the Oscars less than a week away, "A Star is Born" has all but fallen off the Best Picture radar. How did that happen? That's a pretty complicated question.
After it came out in October, "A Star is Born" was a sizable hit, earning $420 million at the domestic box office and a 90 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While not everyone loved the film, very few people downright hated it. It hasn't drawn nearly the backlash of certain other Oscar-contenders this year, nor was it the subject of a noticeable critics/non-critics divide like, say, "Bohemian Rhapsody."
But over the course of the fall and winter, the film gradually began to lose awards momentum. While "A Star is Born" won Best Picture from a handful of regional critics groups, it got far fewer of those wins than "Roma" did, and the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle shut it out altogether (although I did include it on my ballot.)
"A Star is Born" was nominated for five Golden Globes, but won only for Best Original Song, as several members of the Globes-presenting Hollywood Foreign Press Association told the Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg that they "strongly disliked" the film, though knowing the HFPA that may very well have meant that the "A Star Is Born" goodie bag wasn't quite up to snuff.
Meanwhile, a pair of movies that have sparked much stronger hater's clubs than "A Star is Born," "Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," won the two Best Picture awards at the Globes.
When the Oscar nominations were announced last month, "A Star is Born" was nominated for eight awards. But Cooper, surprisingly, was passed over for Best Director. And while he was nominated for both acting and adapted screenplay, the film's Best Original Song nomination was for "Shallow," not one of the songs for which Cooper was a credited songwriter.
Gold Derby, the Oscar prediction site, currently lists "A Star is Born" with 8 to 1 odds of winning Best Picture, which puts it as the fifth-most likely winner after "Roma," "Green Book," "BlackkKlansman" and "The Favourite."
None of the reasons given for the movie's lost Oscar momentum make a whole lot of sense. Lady Gaga was assailed for using the same quote ("There can be 100 people in a room, of which 99 do not believe in you…") in multiple interviews, as if celebrities getting repetitive with the press hasn't been a problem for as long as there has been such a thing as media interviews.
Meanwhile, Cooper himself has been criticized for coming across as too "thirsty" for an Oscar, which feels like a repeat of that whole phenomenon a few years ago when everyone suddenly decided that they hated Anne Hathaway. The Oscars are an obsession, studios and producers spend millions on six months worth of campaigning for them, but an actor openly wanting to win one is somehow treated as worthy of contempt.
I'm not going to say that "A Star is Born" has run a flawless Oscar campaign. For one thing, I'm not sure whose idea it was for Sean Penn to write a rambling, incoherent, drivel-filled essay in support of Cooper and the film in a trade publication, but that he did.
But then again, there are at least ten things wrong with "Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" each that are worse than the worst thing about "A Star is Born." And that's before we get to the part about the "Green Book" screenwriter's racist tweet or the "Bohemian Rhapsody" director being credibly accused of serial child molestation. I'll take overly repeated platitudes from Lady Gaga over those anytime.
It's been an uncommonly tumultuous Oscar season, with the producers suggesting various innovations (a "popular film" award, awards during commercial breaks, Kevin Hart as host), which were all undone not long after they were announced, as it appears the Oscars are currently produced by people who don't particularly like the Oscars all that much.
But beyond all the bad headlines and bad ratings, the race for Best Picture looks wide open, and has a chance to spark some actual drama on Sunday night. Bradley Cooper may not have the glorious Oscar night he hoped for on that Center City night back in September, but "A Star Is Born" deserves more of a chance than at the big prize than the prognosticators say it has.
See Stephen Silver, and other members of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, talking the Oscars at the Philadelphia Film Center's Black Box Theater on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m., as part of an event presented by the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.