The time has come to humbly admit that some of us may have been wrong about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. First, by not seeing how fast it would overtake the record-breaking top spot at the box office, passing Titanic and then Avatar with no signs of slowing down. Second, by thinking it wasn’t good enough to get into the Best Picture race. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough as long as people like it enough. The AFI Top Ten mention, along with the ACE Eddie nomination this morning (which knocked out Spotlight and Carol, among others) proves that it’s plenty good enough to plenty of important people, especially with groups now weighing whose voters number in the thousands as opposed to hundreds.
In terms of The Force Awakens’ trajectory, we have to flip backwards to the post we made about the Academy looking at a record-breaking year for ratings if Star Wars gets in — as well as if The Martian, another wildly popular movie, gets in. Not to mention the suspense over whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio might finally win the Oscar. These factors will help propel the Oscar race into the public consciousness in a way not seen since …
The thing about Star Wars is that so far no one has been able to really calculate or predict where it’s going. It is an unpredictable culture quake that combines 40 years of deeply embedded branding with a generation who know nothing but branding — and doesn’t seem willing or interested in fighting it — you have at last the perfect formula for the perfect hit for 2016 audiences. Women included. People of color included. Old people included. Young people included. Branding? All the way. This is the same philosophy behind the success of fast food. In fact, people really don’t want to be challenged, and neither do they want too many choices. Life is hard and confusing. There is too much information flying at us from all directions at all times. Movies with mass appeal are TOO EXPENSIVE to make. Getting what you want and what you paid for is the name of the game at the movies now. Just give me my money’s worth. Star Wars not only fulfills that requirement, it makes movie goers feel like they’re coming home to something familiar. An old way of life, perhaps, in another reality where life is far from complex and terrible.
It’s time to seriously factor IN The Force Awakens as a Best Picture contender and not as a number 10, but as a number 9. Expecting it to fill the “last slot” that has never yet been occupied under the current system means the movie probably doesn’t get in, unless this is a freak first year where there are 10 nominees. Don’t make me explain it again. Don’t be surprised if JJ Abrams name shows up on the DGA nominations on January 12. All’s I’m saying.
Now, onto Spotlight’s editing problem. There have been films from way back in the 1980s that won Best Picture without an ACE Eddie nomination. Films that really fit the model for what Spotlight is: a small, probing, intimate character drama about something important. Films like Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Midnight Cowboy, Kramer vs. Kramer, and a few more. There are some instances where the editing of a movie is less crucial to its impact, and Spotlight’s omission from ACE’s list is likely only because other films had more impressive editing that stood out (i.e., more noticeable). What matters more to movies like Spotlight are the actors and the writers and the directors. That is the theory, anyway.
You have to ask, though, why hasn’t there been a film to win Best Picture without an ACE nod since Driving Miss Daisy did it in 1989? Well, for one thing, there is more heat and discussion around the Oscar race. A consensus now tends to build among the big guilds as the various groups mirror one another. Even in a year like this one, with so many tech-heavy films in the race, that Sicario beat Spotlight for a nomination in editing is something to pay very close attention to. This is the same something that should have been noted when Spotlight did not win the audience award at Toronto and Room did. While Spotlight has barely squeaked by in tightly contentious rivalries at the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics, it isn’t really sweeping the critics the way Mad Max or Carol have. Thus, it has long been expected to be a favorite with the industry. That is why the ACE omission is a big deal. It has to be one or the other.
When people say, “it didn’t matter when Birdman missed an editing nomination,” they forget that the Academy’s editing branch is only a few hundred. The ACE membership is 6,000. That is the biggest block of voters Spotlight has faced thus far. The SAG Awards nominating committee was only 2,000. Ditto Ben Affleck missing out on a nomination from the Academy’s director branch comprising around 400, versus if he had missed a DGA nomination chosen by 14,500.
The other thing hurting Spotlight is that its director, Tom McCarthy, isn’t landing critics wins with any regularity at all. While this might not seem like much on its own, when you add in the ACE omission and the audience award loss in Toronto, you start to wonder. No film so far has ever won Best Picture after winning both at the LA Film Critics and National Society yet also losing Best Director with both groups. That means Spotlight now has to make history twice, which it can do, provided voters have a strong reason to vote for it.
Again, that doesn’t mean Spotlight can’t win — it just means there HAS to be a good reason to vote for it. It can’t be a winner by default. There has to be a reason that unites people to say “YES, this is the ONE,” as they did with Birdman and The King’s Speech, and The Hurt Locker and on and on it goes. I’m not seeing that with Spotlight the way one ordinarily does. Two things need to happen. The first: voters need a good reason to choose Spotlight over all of the other magnificent films in the game this year. They need a reason to vote for it over Mad Max, over The Martian, over The Big Short, over Star Wars, over Carol. What is the motivation to chose Spotlight beyond “Nobody hates it?” Whatever that reason is could propel the film towards a win.
The second thing that needs to happen is that Spotlight needs to win the Producers Guild. That’s the tough one. It can lose the DGA and still win Best Picture. But it can’t lose the PGA because that is a preferential ballot with ten nominees that most closely aligns with the Academy’s ballot. The Producers Guild is the one to watch. Can it win there? It might. But so far we’re not seeing broad guild support voting it in as a winner yet. With so many good movies in the race, votes could be split up all over the place with Spotlight STILL the only film anyone can agree upon is best.
Meanwhile, I am the only one, as far I can tell, touting the chances of The Big Short. “They call me Chicken Little. They call me Bubble Boy.” It’s probably too good to win Best Picture, let’s face it, BUT it is the film that has both the SAG Awards Ensemble and ACE nods — the two biggest guild votes by far have chosen to nominate The Big Short. In my eyes, that puts it slightly ahead of Spotlight in terms of frontrunner status, though I’m not quite ready to push it to the top of my list just yet. It has to get a DGA nomination for Adam McKay, which will be essential to its win. The Big Short’s only drawback, in terms of precedent and stats, is that it’s a late breaker. No film since Million Dollar Baby has won BP when it skipped the top festivals and debuted after October. Then again, it was seen by many industry people in early November, which isn’t that late of a breaker.
As far as stats goes, that one is the least threatening.
Late breaker stat: 11 years running.
SAG Awards Ensemble stat: One film in 20 years has won Best Picture without a SAG Awards Ensemble nomination
ACE Eddie stat: 26 years — not since 1989 has a film won Best Picture without an ACE nomination
These factors seem to give The Big Short a slight edge. The other thing it has in its favor is that it’s timely in an election year when there is so much anger being reignited toward the Wall Street meltdown. It’s also a flourish of dynamic directing and features very showy acting. I don’t know if The Big Short wins and Spotlight doesn’t. I don’t know anything about anything. I’m just noting for the record my observations as we go through this year. It’s also important to remember that this is such a good year there isn’t a stinker in the bunch. They’re all great great movies and any one of them winning is a good thing.
Fun fact: The last time Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture, Annie Hall, a comedy, won. It was also a year that was strong on films featuring pivotal roles for women. The Big Short is being categorized by every guild as a Comedy.
Before the Producers Guild announcement tomorrow, let’s take a look at our charts:
The Producers Guild has about 4,500 members. They have a ten nominee ballot and use the preferential system. They are the only big guild to use the preferential ballot. Last year, three of the darkest films that made PGA didn’t make Oscar – Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher and Gone Girl. That matters when predicting the Oscars, but not the PGA.
Here are the ten films I predict will be on their list:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
Alts. Sicario, Brooklyn, Inside Out
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