Three households, both alike in dignity,
(In fair Hollywood, where we lay our scene),
From ancient studio system to new mutiny with Netflix and Marvel,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these three foes
A pair of opposing paths force voters to choose;
Is now the three weeks before we traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Old Hollywood vs. New Hollywood. What we know versus that to which we must adapt. What we know was an Oscar system that stayed relatively the same for about 87 years. Members were invited in or were nominated by other members. Their preferences were easier to predict because their basic demographics didn’t change, so we could watch patterns emerge. They were by and large traditionalists whose tastes did tend to favor the new wave of 1970s maverick directors like Scorsese, Coppola, Friedkin, De Palma, Polanski, and those directors, in turn, were influenced by prior traditionalists, like John Ford, or visionaries like Hitchcock or Welles. We are living through a time right now — and this weekend’s Sundance prizes have really put the exclamation point on the end of that sentence — where representation has become a primary motivator in Hollywood and on the cultural Left. It’s a factor that often seems to override, or at least shift, the simple questions of whether voters like the movie or whether voters believe the movie is good.
Thus, a movie like Roma appears poised as the perfect film for this moment in Oscar and Hollywood and American history. It satisfies on almost every level possible: a visionary director who has at last made his most personal masterpiece in his own language. Inarritu, del Toro and Cuarón have all previously won Oscars making movies starring American actors speaking English. But with Roma, Cuarón took a risk and made a movie starring mostly unknowns (great work by the publicity making sure the stars became very well-known by the time nominations were due), speaking Spanish, and recreating Cuarón’s life in Mexico. It’s breathtaking.
But beyond it being a masterpiece, it also scratches the itch of representation. It is a film about women holding up the sky. Not just any women, but particularly women of color. It has proven to be Teflon when it comes to being called out for any reason. No one would dare touch it. That makes it a really strong contender for Best Picture. Even if it isn’t every voter’s number one choice, most are likely to push it to the top of the ballot because doing so makes them feel like they are doing something good for humanity and for the resistance. Even if some voters don’t love it, they respect it. While this would probably not be enough to win in a race between five nominees on a plurality vote, where you need passionate support with the most number one votes (although it might even win that way too), Roma is an enviable position most suited to winning on the preferential ballot because everyone respects and appreciates what Cuarón has done here.
But it is, make no mistake, a Netflix Trojan horse. Netflix just got a big seat at the Oscar table where they were previously shut out; even when SAG nominated Beasts of No Nation for ensemble and then gave Idris Elba a win in supporting actor, the Academy shunned the film completely. No more. Roma is nominated across the board, done and done, with Cuarón himself nominated in five categories. This opens so many doors for filmmakers and relieves so much of the pressure on filmmakers, American or foreign born, who now have another distinguished option where they can pursue their visions without having to be undone by box office, by Rotten Tomatoes, or Twitter. It is a new path, an opportunity for a way to keep art alive amid changing times, when so much of the major studio cinema will be moving, more and more, towards CGI spectacle.
The Academy, and now the DGA, have welcomed Netflix with open arms because Netflix made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: an unequivocal masterpiece. Next year, Martin Scorsese will be on deck with The Irishman. You can’t stop what’s coming. I’m still not seeing how any of this is a bad thing for anyone. Everyone wins. People who can’t get to New York or LA can see movies without waiting weeks or months, during the peak heat of premiere conversations. Artists will have freedom to do what they want to do. And besides, the future has taken flight. Catch a ride or be left behind.
Meanwhile, Black Panther is another film that has shown its Teflon armor to Twitter, and represents a different kind of future. This is the Disney way: inclusion + franchise = box office gold and public acceptance and praise across the board. If inclusion is what people want in their blockbusters, they’re now going to get it. Does that make it Oscar worthy? I suppose it could, depending on your definition. Netflix can make genre movies popular in ways Hollywood never could — take Bird Box, for example. Did anyone notice how fast that movie became popular? Now imagine if it had been released by a studio first and then, months later, dropped on Netflix. “Popular” only means: movies lots of people have seen and liked.
Finally, Green Book probably could have swept the whole season, but I’ve never seen any single movie attacked so viciously, from so many angles, as this one has been. You had people literally vetting the filmmakers by scouring old interviews, old tweets, trying to dig up dirt to make it the HATED ENEMY, a persona non grata. Yes, it’s a movie, folks. It’s only a movie. Meanwhile, Syria. Meanwhile, the vanishing ice sheets. Meanwhile, prisoners freezing to death.
With three different films winning each of the three major guilds, we are thrust once again into a year similar to 2015. The only difference is that Black Panther is not Spotlight because Spotlight had writing and directing and acting nominations and Black Panther doesn’t. However, it’s worth noting that Black Panther is also a “popular” movie. It’s a superhero movie, sure, but it’s also a movie that many have already been championing to “save” the Oscars (or at least the Oscar telecast) from obscurity. You all remember the so-called controversy when the Academy announced a new popular film category, and how quickly they were called, in so many words, “racist” for doing it to somehow screw over Black Panther? That movie somehow became the center of a larger debate. Would the Academy “screw over” Black Panther, a film so many believed deserved to be nominated along with the big boys? Well, they didn’t disrespect Black Panther after all, because it earned a Best Picture nomination — although without directing or writing or acting nods, it does seem like a long shot to win.
However, there are still reasons it might. The first, once again, is the preferential ballot. Is Black Panther a number one movie for enough voters, or a movie that lands further down the ballot? Is it divisive in ways that we’re not seeing? Maybe. But remember, Black Panther beat BlacKkKlansman, A Star Is Born, and Bohemian Rhapsody at SAG.
Similarly, Green Book is a film that, from a stats perspective, has a better chance of winning Best Picture after having beaten Roma and A Star is Born at Toronto for the audience award, and more importantly, it beat Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, Black Panther, and BlacKkKlansman on a preferential vote at the PGA.
Finally, in spite of this, do all roads lead to Roma, which has so far mainly only won for Alfonso Cuarón at the Globes and DGA for Best Director, beating Spike Lee, Peter Farrelly, Bradley Cooper, and Adam McKay. That makes Cuarón the automatic Best Director winner at the Oscars, and perhaps cinematography, deservedly so. Roma should easily win Best Foreign Language film (unless people look at way their ballots have shaken out, and see Roma’s dominance has left room for Cold War). Can Roma also win an acting category? Can it win Best Picture? Sure it can. But none of that is as automatic as it seems, at least not from a stats perspective.
We’re still locked into an odd year, stats wise. No single film seems to have everything necessary. Every film comes with, “Yes, except for…”
We usually need to see nominations in Best Director, writing, acting, and preferably editing to head for a win.
Films with Directing, Writing, Acting, Editing:
Films with Directing, Writing, Acting, Editing, plus SAG ensemble nomination:
Films with Directing, Writing, Acting, Editing, plus DGA nomination:
Green Book (PGA)
Of these films, only Green Book has won anything major. BlacKkKlansman, while sitting pretty in the stats right now, is only likely to win, at the very least, adapted screenplay. It needs a very strong last minute gust of wind if it is to win anything else.
We can look at the race from a stats perspective, and when you’ve been doing this as long as I have that is the only way it is interesting at all. Or you can look at it from a thematic perspective. Here is how I see that one playing out, as most of you readers already know.
The question is: Will Roma win both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language film. I do not believe it will, and will have to see it with my own eyes. I think it certain can win on a preferential ballot. But voters checking boxes down their ballot are going to have a choice, as they always do, which is why the foreign language film category was invented in the first place – this movie (Crouching Tiger, Amour) for foreign language and also this movie for Best Picture (which so far has gone to English language films for 90 years)? Or will they check Roma for foreign language and pick another movie for Best Picture — a movie that perhaps more voters saw or a movie they simply liked more. Hard to say right now. We still have a few more awards to wait for, like BAFTA this weekend and the WGA. Roma scoring in at one of the Best Picture categories is a safe prediction at the moment, as safe as anything else you might predict.
A lot of people are too afraid to champion Green Book, even as its box office numbers climb, even as people out there secretly like it and appreciate the message that it’s more fulfilling to love they neighbor than to hate thy neighbor. But however they feel about Green Book, most people are keeping their feelings to to themselves. I don’t think anyone wants to publicly put on a hazmat suit and endure the polar vortex of shit if it should win. But if voters vote with their hearts, in the privacy of their own gated communities, they just might.
Can another movie win even though it hasn’t won anything major yet, like Moonlight did? Recall that Moonlight only won the WGA (in a bit of a surprise twist). Yes, in a year like this, absolutely anything is possible, and if there’s an upset that movie most likely is your stats champ — BlacKkKlansman. While that still won’t patch the shameful gap of having no black director win in 90 years of Oscar history, it at least makes solid sense from a stats perspective. Also, it’s a film that takes direct aim at Donald Trump, at a moment when so many of us crave to see him slapped. BlacKkKlansman has a powerful, unforgettable ending and remains, to its last breath, a classic Spike Lee joint.
Either way, my friends, it’s almost over. Three more weeks.