It's hard to underscore just how many Oscar-ready narratives A Star Is Born had in its corner when it debuted to beaucoup bucks back in October. Bradley Cooper was an actor-turned-director who pulled off a passion project that languished for years in development. Lady Gaga was the ingenue singer-turned-actress who had delivered the performance so many knew she could in the right project. The film had a Very Important(tm) message about mental health. And, to boot, it featured the smash hit "Shallow," which became one of the year's biggest earworms.
The only thing bigger than Star's own sense of grandeur was its buzz. Debuting at least a month before other major awards contenders, Star enjoyed its own cushy news cycle. Every publication ran stories dissecting the film's every frame, including several pieces about "Why Did You Do That?" which became known online as the film's "butt song" because of the lyric, "Why'd you come around me with an ass like that?"
And yet, if most predictions come true, A Star Is Born will walk away with only one Oscar, best song for the anthemic "Shallow," come February 24, when the Academy doles out its awards.
All this begs the question: What happened?
Well, for one thing, it's hard to sustain a frontrunner status for a full five months after a film's release. If A Star Is Born was a huge wall blocking other film's avenue to the Oscar stage, no one film had to have the power to knock it down completely. Instead, together, the other leading films (including Roma, Green Book, and Bohemian Rhapsody) wore the barrier down over time. A Star Is Born may have had made headlines in October, but come January and February, it missed valuable airtime as other actors, actresses, and directors snatched up prize after prize. Cooper has now lost to Rami Malek and Alfonso Cuaron several times. And though Gaga has tied with Glenn Close once at the Critic's Choice Awards, Close has gotten way more time on stage to deliver speeches. Even Olivia Colman got more airtime when she won the best actress trophy at the Golden Globes, the highest-profile pre-Oscar awards show.
Over time, Lady Gaga's over-the-top earnestness seems to have pushed voters away rather than endear them. In a New York Times piece detailing voter attitudes toward each best picture nominee, the Times noted that several voters faulted Lady Gaga "for giving speeches on the awards trail that struck them as cloying." Gaga ended up receiving a similar treatment in the meme-verse. Lady Gaga's "100 people in a room" anecdote evolved from a sound bite to something worthy of parody. First came the supercut, then comedian Julia Finkelstein's parody of the supercut. The most devastating blow to the go-to Gagaism was when Golden Globes host Sandra Oh roasted the oft-repeated line during the Globes telecast.
The memeing got worse by the time Gaga and Cooper performed "Shallow" live for the first time at one of her Enigma dates. When Gaga held Cooper's hand and looked up at him, tears welling in her eyes, a new meme was born.
Cooper, also, has not done the best campaigning. A New York Times profile titled "Bradley Cooper Is Not Really Into This Profile" portrayed Cooper as the anti-Gaga. Where she over-emoted, Cooper reserved far too much. He didn't want to talk about the movie. He said the same set of facts about it to the New York Times that he gave every other reporter.
"I wanted to talk about Mr. Cooper's own sobriety, and how it was reflected in Jackson's drug and alcohol addiction," Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in the Times. "I wanted to talk about fatherhood -- how Mr. Cooper has both lost his father and become a father in the last few years -- since fathers haunt the movie. I wanted to talk about love. But he wasn't having it." That reputation followed Cooper around like Jackson Maine's dog. He had to explain himself to IndieWire.
On top of that, several people have noted that Cooper's snub has made him seem a little more insufferable. New York Times writer Caity Weaver, while sharing the IndieWire article, tweeted, "It's so weird to me that Bradley Cooper is apparently SHOCKED he was not declared one of the 5 best directors in the entire world by one organization's metric, and can't stop trying to process that fate in public."
It's easy now, as a writer and critic, to play Monday morning quarterback and to wonder what might have been. A Star Is Born should have resonated with anyone who cares about mental health, depression and the modern celebrity era. There's another world where the film's campaign focused on the film's darker, relevant themes. But though the film may walk away with very little Oscar gold, that doesn't mean a lot of people won't ask it to stop and turn around because, hey, we just wanted to take another look at it.