It’s only September. I know that folks are chomping at the bit to know what direction the Oscar race is headed. Thing is, in September, nobody knows. Why, because the Oscar race is fluid, not static. It doesn’t matter if Jeff Schneider or Jeff Wells or anyone who writes about the Oscars sees a movie and thinks “hey, that’s gonna win Best Picture!” The best hope you have is “that COULD win Best Picture,” not “that WILL.” There is a world of difference between those two statement. For one thing, once a movie becomes a frontrunner, a big bulls-eye is slapped on its back. For another thing, no one can possibly know for sure what will win coming off several years of big surprises in the Best Picture race.
Over at Hollywood-Elsewhere, there are two conversations going on about what studios SHOULD do based on what they think voters WILL DO.
One is that The Favourite’s Olivia Colman should “go supporting,” not lead, According to Kyle Buchanan. Can she really “collect statues” if she goes into supporting other than lead? I don’t know. Maybe. But maybe Margot Robbie swoops in and takes the whole season. Maybe Regina King wins for If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s hard to know. Putting Colman in supporting bumps Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, who are also supporting. I don’t know how any of that works out but I do know that it’s a good bet for a SAG ensemble nod.
Colman is brilliant in the film, of course, and I’ll bet she wracks up critics awards too. But keep in mind that these things are not just about the work. They’re also about everything else — who the star is, how big the star is, how liked the star is, how much publicity they do. All of that matters just as much. They don’t call it an Oscar campaign for nothing. I hope either way Colman is recognized at least for a nomination, whatever category they decide to run her in.
And the other is that Universal should put their chips behind Green Book, not First Man because one “will only win techs” and the other is a “crowdpleaser people love.”
Quick raise of hands — when was the last time a “crowdpleaser” actually won Best Picture on a preferential ballot? Of course it depends on how you define it, but how they’re defining it here means — lots of people love it and it will be successful across the board.
The last of those would be 2012 with Argo. Maybe it’s an Argo year — maybe it isn’t. No one knows how this story is going to play out because, despite how films are now grown in a hothouse, the race is tightly controlled by publicists and bloggers who think they know where it’s headed — they don’t have a clue. Why, because these awards — almost all of them — are down to what thousands and thousands of people will do.
Even the Producers Guild, which also uses a preferential ballot with an even ten nominees, has a recent spotty record with the Academy:
2017 – Shape of Water – PGA + Oscar
2016 – La La Land – PGA/DGA Moonlight – Oscar
2015 – The Big Short – PGA, The Revenant – DGA, Spotlight – Oscar
2014 – Birdman PGA + Oscar
2013 – Gravity/12 Years PGA, 12 Years – Oscar
2012 – Argo PGA + Oscar
Things have been shaking and quaking lately, making it pretty hard to know how the plane will land — no one would have been able to call any of the unpredictable years. Sure, you can call Green Book now. But people who do are imagining the way the Oscars used to go — five nominees, the most votes win. It doesn’t work like that anymore. There are a bunch of wild cards to factor in. The first is potential hive mind shitstorms as hit Three Billboards and Moonlight. On Twitter, everyone has a hammer so every movie that wins stuff looks like a nail. We don’t yet know which film the hive mind will come for but you have to accept that the potential for that could be there. Movies exist as they are until they start to win stuff. Once that happens, what they are threat, then they become fodder for a take-down. The best hope any movie has is to fly under the radar as much as possible, and not be a film that people want to attack for whatever reason.
Already we saw a smear in the press about Jon Peters and A Star is Born. A non-story if there ever was one. And when some of us wondered if a rival studio had spread the story, it turned out that it was actually Madonna fans doing it, angry that Lady Ga Ga got the part.
The rules of Best Picture change every year. The new membership brings in 25% of an unknown factor in how the votes will go down. Already we saw some strange things happening two years ago, when many of the awards were unpredictable because new voters were actually voting in every category, like Sound and Costume, where the old timers often skip the ones they don’t care as much about.
Some things still hold true:
The bigger the cast, the better. Actors rule the Academy and films with large casts often win Best Picture, as opposed to films with smaller casts. If it’s one actor or two actors, it’s not as popular as films with lots of actors. Moonlight had more actors than La La Land, as it turns out, more actors acting, where La La Land was really just the two main characters. Actors dominate because the acting branch is around 1,200 or so — other branches are a third as large, like 400 at the most. Actors rule. Take it to the bank.
Good people doing good things is still a big one — hasn’t seemed to fail yet. Even in Birdman the lead character was a martyr for the cause of real actors everywhere. Dark themes aren’t something voters much like on a preferential ballot. Although in the era of Trump this could shift.
The kicking a puppy rule still mostly applies. If you feel like you’re kicking a puppy when you criticize a movie that’s a good bet it will be teflon to angry think pieces and take-downs. Also, people push those movies to the top of their ballot because they feel good about doing it.
When you predict Best Picture, make sure you also think about PGA + DGA + SAG. While The Shape of Water crushed the SAG stat, it’s still always a good thing to have that ensemble nod. Not a deal breaker, but … DGA is the big one for a movie like Green Book. Peter Farrelly has to crack the secret club of directors — both at the DGA and the Academy. Of course, again, not a deal breaker, Ben Affleck did it (but he’s a famous actor ….need I remind). If you’re predicting a split — like Roma for Best Director, putting Cuaron in the company of Ang Lee, and Green Book for Best Picture — that’s probably right. But who knows, maybe Peter Farrelly CAN win Best Director too.
The point here is that you have to roll with the punches. And the story of Oscars 2019 has barely begun to be told. Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore if one blurts out one’s opinion early. Maybe no one cares if they’re wrong by the end of it. But being a good Oscar predictor means not shooting your wad too early.