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Why Lady Bird Might Win Best Picture, and Why it Might Not

This is the first of an analysis of films that are in the conversation for Best Picture of the Year.

Why Lady Bird Might Win Best Picture

Lady Bird enters the awards race from the sweet spot of Telluride. It is repped by the same team behind Moonlight and already has a clear and distinctive brand that separates it from the rest of the pack. You know you are looking at Lady Bird materials when you see anything by them, whether it’s a press release, a poster, a trailer, or an ad. This is a serious campaign with serious PR behind it. If it won, it would only be the second film in Oscar history directed by a woman to win Best Picture. And it would be the first film since 2004 that won with a female at its center. It should earn a SAG ensemble nomination and a Producers Guild nomination with ease.

It is a film that everyone loves — men and women alike. Middle-aged men seem to really take to it, which is the Oscar demographic, for the most part, even with the influx of new, diverse membership. It is vibrantly alive, fresh, and funny about a specific moment in time, but it is also about Greta Gerwig, its writer and director. Not literally about (so she says), but the whole idea of it, the concept of it, the execution of it. It’s so rare to have a person emerge in the Oscar race whose profile rises significantly in just the course of a few months, cashing in the checks of many years of potential. Suddenly it’s time to celebrate an artist who has been consistently delivering as a writer, as an actress, and now, as a director.

It is not a difficult sit for your average male. After all, the nicest person in the film is Tracy Letts as the father, not unlike the nicest person in The Florida Project being Willem Dafoe. The women are complicated, complex, confused, angry, and lost, while the men take on the more traditionally female roles of centering the protagonists. If the film is not confrontational to men it will always do better with Oscar voters.

It is a film people seem to be rooting for — even if it isn’t their favorite film of the year, they want Lady Bird to do well partly because they think it is well-intentioned. They like her and they want to see her do well, or they see it as a more worthy film than the others in the mix. That could mean they push it atop their ballots even if their number one film is something totally different. The key is that no one hates it. Hate is a bad thing for the preferential ballot.

As we keep saying, we don’t know what kind of year we’re in yet. We don’t know if it’s a Hurt Locker/The Artist/The King’s Speech/Birdman year or a topsy turvy one, like Moonlight/Spotlight/12 Years a Slave, etc. We know nothing yet. We just have to wait and see how the votes are cast, but I would not be surprised to see Lady Bird pick up a few key early critics awards (I’m betting on New York or LA) and that will help build the momentum. Greta Gerwig is great at the mic, so if she wins anything and she gets up there it will be one of those things you will want to see happen again, so she could just keep winning things. But if it’s a topsy turvy year, Lady Bird, if it gets the SAG ensemble/DGA/PGA trifecta has a legit shot at winning the top prize.

For that to be the case, Greta Gerwig is likely your original screenplay winner.

Why it Might Not

To win Best Picture, Greta Gerwig would need a DGA nomination. All it will take is enough DGA members to like the movie for it to be one of the five. If she gets that, it’s time to take the film much more seriously as a potential winner.

Coming of age films rarely win Best Picture. While Moonlight could be considered a coming of age film, it really was more about the emerging sexual identity of its lead. Strictly coming of age films haven’t really won. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t – it just means that it’s not typical. Even Oliver! was about poverty more so than coming of age. Can we count Slumdog Millionaire as a coming of age story? Ordinary People?

The advertising so far is following the Moonlight trajectory, meaning they don’t seem to be spending on advertising — as far as I can tell. That is a clear strategy that can sometimes work. In an era where films are attacked for being frontrunners, it’s an understandable strategy. After a few years in a row where there was a surprise Best Picture winner, perhaps Lady Bird’s team feels like this is their best play for Oscars. And it might be. Traditionally, that hasn’t been the case, but perhaps we’re entering a new phase of the Oscar race.

The Conclusion

Lady Bird definitely seems to have more going for it than going against in terms of winning something at the Oscars, whether it’s screenplay or picture or actress or the whole thing. It certainly has emerged one of the stronger contenders in the last month as it lights the box office on fire in limited release. Of all of the films directed by women this year (And there have been many), most have favored it over the MORE “important” stories – like Bigelow’s trauma at the Algiers Motel, or Dee Rees’ Mudbound or Dayton and Faris’ Battle of the Sexes. Perhaps there is nothing more important right now than the confidence and courage of a young teenage girl to strike out and see the world. Or maybe people just want to laugh and let go for a while after all we’ve been through these past two years.