Let’s just get this out of the way: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are obviously going to be fine. Despite having a rough go of it at last night’s Academy Awards—where their film A Star Is Born went one-for-eight, winning only in the category of Best Song—the movie was nonetheless an unqualified success, and people may find that they can once again champion it as a great Hollywood underdog story after its faceplant during awards season.
This year’s Oscars captured pretty well the different factions of the general moviegoing public. It is true that typical, uninspired Hollywood schlock like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody won throughout the night, but moments like Regina King’s win for Supporting Actress, Spike Lee finally getting a long overdue Oscar, and the shocking win for Olivia Colman in the Best Actress category were particularly inspired choices. Still, you can’t help wondering how things ended up going so wrong for A Star Is Born after it received such early buzz as an Oscar favorite.
Part of the answer, of course, may lie in that previous statement: A Star Is Born did get a lot of early awards buzz. The general fascination with the movie and its attendant box office success generated a flood of articles way back in the fall proclaiming it the movie to beat come Oscar time. It would be hard for any film to maintain that level of hype over a lengthy period of time, especially in a year that, movie-wise, produced a good mix of successful and buzzy films. “You never want to get out front that early,” one anonymous awards consultant told the Los Angeles Times about the film. “When you set up expectations that soon, it can only go south. And it did.” Films like Roma, Green Book, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody started to peak at the right time within the self-contained world that is the film industry award circuit.”
Further, there is the issue of campaigning. We’d all like to pretend award shows are a meritocracy based solely on the thing that you did (Bradley Cooper probably wishes it were), but politicking matters. Much has been said about Cooper’s awkwardness and inability to force the kinds of niceties that awards voters value when deciding which movies to reward, and while you can watch any Bradley Cooper interview and realize that he’s just a naturally awkward guy, to the people who vote on these things, his disinterest may have also read as self-regard. It didn’t help that Gaga’s talking points when campaigning for the film were repeated and rehearsed so much that they became an industry joke. By the time the Golden Globes happened and A Star Is Born walked away mostly empty-handed (except for, again, Best Song), it was clear that the film was not going to the be the awards vacuum it was initially touted as.
Still, A Star Is Born also had an intractable problem. It is a remake, and remakes have historically never done well at the Oscars, with only 2002’s Infernal Affairs and 2006’s The Departed winning Best Picture as remakes. It’s also a remake of a story that’s almost as old as Hollywood itself. Despite garnering dozens of nominations, none of the previous iterations of A Star Is Born have ever done well at the Oscars, going only two-for-17 with a screenwriting win in 1937 and a Best Song win in 1976. In spite of the nominations, the story just doesn’t seem to be quite the Academy’s cup of tea, perhaps because, unlike traditional Oscar bait, its portrayal of fame and success in the arts is not ultimately uplifting or inspirational. There is also a number of valid reasons to be turned off by the film, from the questions around the agency of Lady Gaga’s character Ally Maine to what the movie has to say about rock music versus pop music. While it’s a little hard to understand how these quibbles with A Star Is Born could sink the film while all the problems with Green Book did nothing to hinder its support, it’s probably easier for an older Academy voter to lose themselves in a movie intended to make you feel good than a movie that critiques a system that you may benefit from.
As a fan of Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born, it is disappointing to see the way it flamed out in awards season. But Cooper’s career as a director is just getting started, and Gaga is likely to have her pick of roles moving forward. Once enough time has passed, A Star Is Born being snubbed at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards may only bolster its status as a cult crossover. But in the immediate aftermath, it is a prime example of a slow-motion collapse under Oscars hype.