2019 Oscar nominations: 5 key storylines ahead of Tuesday's announcements

A legendary auteur and a heavy-hitting streaming service could notch milestones.
Spike Lee, Lady Gaga in 'A Star Is Born', and Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa in "Black Panther."
Spike Lee, Lady Gaga in 'A Star Is Born', and Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa in "Black Panther."Jon Kopaloff, Clay Enos / Getty Images, Warner Bros., Marvel Studios

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By Daniel Arkin

The suspense is nearly over, Oscar obsessives: This year's pack of nominations will be announced bright and early Tuesday (8:20 a.m. ET!), the final pit stop on the road to the Feb. 24 ceremony. The nods could include a few milestones, plus the usual mix of surprises and snubs. Here's a look at some of the major storylines before Tracee Ellis Ross ("black-ish") and Kumail Nanjiani ("The Big Sick") reveal the contenders.

THE GREAT DISRUPTER

In recent years, streaming services have steadily made inroads on the awards circuit. Netflix won last year’s best documentary prize for the Russian doping exposé “Icarus.” Amazon’s “Manchester by the Sea” scored a pair of Oscars two years ago. “Roma,” however, could prove to be the real game-changer.

Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white portrait of a domestic worker in 1970s Mexico City — a favorite among critics and tastemakers — is poised to become Netflix’s first best picture nominee, an achievement that could help cement its muscle and influence in Hollywood, an industry that remains deeply anxious about the streaming giant’s threat to theatrical moviegoing.

Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical passion project might make history on other fronts, too. “Roma” could become just the 11th foreign-language film to be nominated for the academy’s top honor — and, if it wins, the first to do so in Oscar history.

SPIKE’S MOMENT?

In the 33 years since Spike Lee made his feature debut, the prolific and uncompromising filmmaker has scooped up two Peabodys, two Emmys, the Cannes Grand Prix and a 2015 honorary Oscar. But he has never been nominated for the best director prize at the Academy Awards.

The academy could change that Tuesday if it recognizes his work on “BlacKkKlansman,” the explosive, slightly exaggerated true-life tale of a black Colorado cop who infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The film, injected with Lee’s trademark political fury and stylistic verve, earned him some of the most best reviews of his recent career.

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Lee has scored Oscar nods for the “Do the Right Thing” screenplay and the 1998 documentary “4 Little Girls.” (He also got his career started with a student Oscar for his New York University thesis film.) But a best director nomination might help make up for past snubs — even if, as Lee told GQ last summer, he is far more focused on his body of work than Oscar glory.

#BACKLASH

“Green Book” has collected a handful of accolades, including best picture (musical or comedy) at the Golden Globes and the top honor at the Producers Guild of America Awards. But the feel-good road trip movie has been trailed by a string of controversies.

The film, starring Mahershala Ali as real-life black pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as the white bodyguard who drives him across the Jim Crow South, was slammed by some critics as a crude and simplistic take on race relations. Shirley’s family sharply criticized the movie, too. Two days after Oscar nominations voting began, director Peter Farrelly apologized for exposing himself on a set more than 20 years ago. The next day, co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga apologized for a now-deleted 2015 tweet in which he apparently endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that New Jersey Muslims cheered 9/11.

In the wake of backlash, will Oscar voters go in a different direction?

WHITHER WAKANDA?

Marvel’s “Black Panther” is a certifiable cultural phenomenon. It’s one of the most critically celebrated films of the decade. It’s the third-highest-grossing movie in American box-office history. It’s a landmark for racial representation in mainstream studio projects. But will Oscar voters anoint King T’Challa on Tuesday?

The academy has never handed a best picture nomination to a superhero movie. “The Dark Knight” arguably came closest a decade ago — and its best picture snub helped spur the academy brass to expand the number of possible contenders. Ryan Coogler’s “Panther,” riding on a wave of rhapsodic reviews and popular enthusiasm, seems poised to do what brooding Batman couldn’t — but it's not a sure thing.

No matter what happens, “Panther” is widely expected to dominate technical categories such as visual effects, production design and costume design.

ANYBODY’S BALLGAME

"Roma" and "Green Book" have been on streaks. But no clear-cut front-runner has conquered awards season from start to finish, and at least half a dozen other contenders could conceivably finish Tuesday with fresh momentum.

It could be Bradley Cooper’s musical melodrama “A Star Is Born.” It could be the Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the surprise winner of best picture (drama) at the Globes. It could be Adam McKay’s “Vice,” a gonzo takedown of former Vice President Dick Cheney. It could be the royalty farce "The Favourite" or "BlacKkKlansman" or "Black Panther."

If the upsets at the Globes were any indication, all bets are off before Tuesday.