Yesterday on Twitter I was asked by Clayton Davis of Awards Circuit and a few others why I wouldn’t call A Star is Born “The Frontrunner” right now. Seems crazy, right? Buzz is off the charts, Grade A Cinemascore, earned $42 million at the box office, on top of which a packed Academy screening where members were turned away because there weren’t enough seats. No standing ovation, but those are rare at Academy screenings, but enthusiastic applause. I have a few friends on Facebook who attended the screening and they came out of it gushing. One had already been predicting it to win Best Picture before even seeing it but after seeing it was even more convinced.
Warner Bros. has done an expert, award worthy roll-out of the movie – holding it back, buzz spilled out from an early screening in July, then bringing it Venice where Lady Gaga made an appearance, as she often does, in spectacular finery. Peter Bradshaw raved, gave it the highest possible review of five stars. Critics who saw it could not stop talking about how great it was. It skipped over Telluride and hit Toronto like a thunderbolt, which many declaring on Twitter, “it’s the real deal!” “A Star is Born in Bradley Cooper as a directorial star.” Some even said it could win all of the top Oscars – Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and a boatload of techs. As it is, many are predicting it comes in with a whopping 10 nominations.
So they were asking me, why are you calling this a frontrunner? Isn’t it a frontrunner if there ever was one? Have you gone mad, woman? Are you old and out of touch? I mean, look, folks, maybe. Maybe I’ve come to the point where I can’t see things other people can see plainly. Let’s make room for that possibility for the moment.
I feel like in this case I’m Richard Dreyfuss trying to explain to Chief Brody and Mayor Vaughn why the Tiger Shark that was caught wasn’t their shark. The one that killed Chrissy Watkins. The one that killed Alex Kitner. “It probably IS, Martin! It probably is!” Hooper pleads. When Brody says “there are no other sharks like that in these waters,” Hooper is quick to correct him, “It’s 100 to 1. 100 to 1.” He also says there is no way to prove it’s THE shark unless they cut that son of a bitch open and watch that little Kintner boy spill out all over the dock. But to Hooper, there is a problem in the rush to judgment. And that’s the bite radius. “What’s this bite radius crap?” It doesn’t match the wounds on the victim.
What’s my “bite radius crap” for A Star is Born? Why didn’t it win in Toronto. Why didn’t it win first or second or third place? If it’s the juggernaut everyone says it is, shouldn’t it have done at least that? Sure, it doesn’t always mean everything – like The Shape of Water didn’t place, neither did Moonlight. I would argue that those movies weren’t blow-the-roof-off-the-joint juggernauts. The ones that were? Like Argo? Second place. The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire were first place winners and they could not lose.
Remember, no one thought Birdman was going to be the big winner until it won the PGA. It was not called the frontrunner in October. No one even saw Moonlight coming. Spotlight did place in Toronto. So that’s my question. That’s my bite radius crap. That is the thing that holds me back from declaring it the defacto frontrunner. Green Book, Roma and If Beale Street Could Talk all bested it in Toronto. It got a standing ovation there. Gaga was there. Critics and festival goers were buzzing. Everyone was predicting it would win. One thing I know from covering this race all of these years is that if something doesn’t win where it should you have to think about that. Sure, maybe everyone thought it was going to win easily so they voted for something else. Maybe it means nothing. But it’s enough for me to hit the pause button on it and see how it all plays out.
Meanwhile, it is easier to call other races in terms of frontrunners because they don’t work the way the preferential ballot does. They snowball. They gain momentum as they go along. They don’t depend on peculiarities to win. Someone can start their acting campaign as early as March and keep it going to the end, building on their momentum. But Best Picture, unless we’re talking about a juggernaut like Slumdog or The King’s Speech? You have to hedge a bit.
I will say that word after last night’s Academy screening did more to convince me than anything anyone else has said about its chances. If it is the moment to celebrate Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga you do indeed have your winner. I figure it will have to be a PGA/DGA/SAG winner to do that – but it’s still too early. I do worry that the Lady Gaga fans are going to go after the other films in the race pretty hard. So watch out for that too.
All in all, it’s an exciting race to watch and it’s far from over. I promise you the second I’m convinced A Star is Born is indeed the frontrunner you will be the first to know.