The Oscar race, like politics, relies on intel from just one year prior. So this year, where the Best Picture race is concerned, the predictions will bounce off of the Roma/Green Book shocker from last year. Every so often the pundits are proven wrong, but for the few who guess right. Only a few of us had Green Book, while the majority had Roma. They were bouncing off the year before where The Shape of Water won the DGA and then Best Picture and Director. They assumed Roma would follow suit. But many who thought they were in the know were unable to call the Best Picture race correctly because it, like politics again, has an insular feedback loop online that can be misleading. They weren’t really getting how well Green Book was playing and how angry the backlash to its backlash had become. We had doubts about Roma over here at Awards Daily because something didn’t quite add up.
Though Roma played favorably in Telluride, it didn’t win the audience award in Toronto. Nor did A Star Is Born. Green Book surprised and won. Ordinarily, winning at Toronto isn’t that big of a deal. But it beating those movies WAS a big deal, in particular A Star Is Born, which had the most hype of any movie heading in. When things didn’t go as expected in Toronto, it was an early signal that there was a problem. But the same could have been said about Roma.
The critics loved Roma, practically to exclusion of everything else. So at the end of the year when so many critics upended the card table because they didn’t like who won the game, it became clear that they’d put all of their chips behind only one movie. Others were blaming the Academy for not choosing Black Panther or BlacKkKlansman even when they themselves did not choose either of those movies to help build the kind of momentum you need for a Best Picture. But at the end of the day, Green Book was simply the one that most people liked best. It’s hard to remember that is what a consensus vote is — the one the greatest number of people like best.
When you fold in the math of the preferential ballot, it is even more important that the film that survives ballot redistribution is the one that most people like or even love. It’s hard to game the system with that kind of ballot. A movie has to build healthy stacks of ballots in 1st, 2nd, 3rd place, 4th, and even 5th place. It has to hit high on ballots or win on the first round.
Green Book was a very popular film outside the feedback loop of outrage. There was some intelligent, valid discussion to be had about the film. Instead, it was a year of extreme reactions, think pieces, Twitter swarms of outrage. And even now, the Green Book story is misread, with the film continuing to symbolize for many viewers some kind of racial injustice done to someone somewhere. How those attitudes will echo in this year’s race is not yet known, but there could be unpredictable leverage if films about race are in play.
Beyond that, there were other factors to consider last year that I wrote a lot about (you were here, readers, so you know it happened). Netflix vs. theatrical, an unprecedented year for black auteurs, the plea to recognize more women directors (while support for women was split up, making it impossible for one to gain any consensus). There was also “popular” movies vs. the kinds of insular festival darlings that populate the race but get mostly ignored by the public.
There is no getting around the continuing activism of the film and awards communities to offer fair representation across all spectrums. The idea that any film about a straight white male hero could still matter is in question. Everything seems to somehow be a comment on Donald Trump — so much so that, to a extent, we’ve all become a little confused as to what these awards are actually supposed to mean at all.
In general, Anne Thompson does not predict anything this early. Yet, for whatever reason she has her Oscar columns out fairly quickly this year. This is how she opens her piece on Best Picture column:
In order for a movie to wind up in the Best Picture race, everything has to go right. So it’s way too early to jump into real predicting. For now, let’s assess the likely players. And we will update as we see where the chips fall, from Cannes to the all-important gatekeepers, the fall film festivals.
She knows it’s way too early, and yet the pressure is always on to compete with other sites, shape the race, please advertisers, etc.
Either way, it sort of sets up how this year might go, with Netflix is now a major player with another highly-anticipated pony in the race, and a film like Roma having proven that it can get pretty close to winning Best Picture. The Green Book fight will rage on, no doubt, and the “woke factor” will remain ever present in how films are chosen. Popular movies will still be a thing — as in, will Avengers: Endgame, at around $800 mil, make it in for Best Picture? Can the sleeper hit Booksmart (overhyped by critics to an absurd degree but still a well-liked film and a sharp debut by Olivia Wilde) make it in? If not, why not?
This early, it’s hard to see how a movie might make it in. The sure bets that seem like sure bets (First Man) can falter, and the films people write off as genre movies can do quite well (Get Out, Bohemian Rhapsody). The trick is to keep your mind open to the possibilities and try to see into the future as to how things might go. I could never have seen the First Man shutout coming. I loved the movie. It was paced perfectly and remains Damien Chazelle’s best film. And yet, because it didn’t make as much money as expected and it didn’t deliver the emotional highs and visual thrills that space movies that land in the Oscar race often do, the Academy just didn’t go for it. First Man did win a single Oscar for visual effects, which was better than nothing.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood looks like a promising bet now that people have seen it at Cannes. Yes, it will be greeted with shitstorms and think pieces, and who knows how far those will go, but at the end of the day his films are so entertaining and I would guess audiences are so hungry for those kinds of movies, so it will make a lot of money and do very well with awards.
If the idea of Best Popular Film category were to be brought back (doubtful amid massive public blowback), Endgame would be an easy nominee there, as would Captain Marvel, Us, and whatever else shatters the box office this year. It’s tricky, though. Reading the tea leaves myself, I would guess that popular movies won’t be a thing this year as they were last year because there is no Black Panther to fight for — all that remains are franchise pics.
At any rate, I suspect that Anne is playing it very safe here(at least I hope) and that we will have many more than these titles to choose from. Her column is informative and definitely worth the read.
Here is her rundown, with the usual caveat that a film isn’t listed as a frontrunner unless she’s seen it.
As always, contenders are listed in alphabetical order; no film will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have seen it.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“Fair and Balanced”
“Ford v. Ferrari”
“Untitled Noah Baumbach”
“The Woman in the Window”
Here is how Erik Anderson at AwardsWatch sees the race unfolding:
The French Dispatch
The Last Thing He Wanted
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
Untitled Roger Ailes Project aka Fair and Balanced
If I were making a list, I would do it a little differently. The films on our radar are the same films on most everyone’s radar and films no one has seen. That can go either way. There are no guarantees. Hype can destroy even the best of films. In a sense, it’s foolish to even try to imagine whether the films will be good or not. If expectations fly too high, the film has nowhere to go but down.
Still, there are things you can look at: studio, producer, star, subject matter. These days, you want to always look more closely at films directed by women or women of color: films with political themes, epics, etc. We know that there is no knowing until the film is seen at last.
But, casually, these are the films that stand out most to me right now:
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
The Woman in the Window
The Good Liar
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Ford V Ferrari
Without a doubt, I’ll be looking at all of these movies, as we do every year, and at other movies that might not fit the Oscar cookie cutter mold but will nonetheless remain in the minds of voters by year’s end. It is a wide open year so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.