It came as no surprise to our AwardsDaily readers who accurately predicted Sam Mendes to win the DGA in our poll. We followed the stats and the stats prevailed. The stats said no director has ever won the DGA without having first won some combination of Globe Picture, Director, or PGA. Mendes had won all three. But the love for Parasite online that most of us share is intense, and the loudest voices on the internet can cloud reality. Thus, if you spend a lot of time on Twitter you might have assumed that Bong and his masterful film were the runaway frontrunners. Its win at SAG ensemble and at ACE felt like major thrust of momentum. But remember, Parasite was beating every other movie while rarely going head to head with 1917 until the PGA went for an equally masterful film by Sam Mendes. When these two favorites finally faced off, 1917 prevailed. Granted, that only happened twice: when Mendes won Best Director at the Globes and when 1917 won the PGA. With last night’s victory for Mendes at the DGA, now it’s happened three times.
1917 won on a preferential ballot with 8,000 voters at PGA and now it’s won a plurality ballot with 20,000 DGA members. The race is not over yet. Oscar ballots have not yet gone out. In the recent past, war epics like this film do not typically win Best Picture. In fact, the more epic in scope, the less chance a movie has to win. The last war movie to win was The Hurt Locker, which is not unlike 1917 in that it is about the futility and hollowed-out madness of war — but it’s an intimate epic, deliberately almost claustrophobic in scope, and does not sprawl across a grand canvas as 1917 does. But since then, most of the large-scale films like Gravity, like Life of Pi, like Mad Max: Fury Road, like La La Land, like The Revenant — no matter how beloved they are, vast logistical achievements like these movies do well with the tech and craft categories, but have been unable to nail the landing for Oscars top honor on a preferential ballot. Can 1917 overcome that trend? That’s the question.
Another longstanding trend would have to be broken. Based on that, I would not predict anyone but Mendes to win Best Director:
2009: Bigelow — DGA/Oscar
2010: Hooper — DGA/Oscar
2011: Hazanivicius — DGA/Oscar
2012: Affleck — DGA, Ang Lee — Oscar (Affleck was not nominated)
2013: Cuaron — DGA/Oscar
2014: Inarritu — DGA/Oscar
2015: Inarritu — DGA/Oscar
2016: Chazelle — DGA/Oscar
2017: Del Toro — DGA/Oscar
2018: Cuaron — DGA/Oscar
If a film doesn’t in the first round with the preferential ballot, then the redistribution rounds of counting kick in. I believe that 1917 beat Parasite at the PGAs because it landed in the top three slots on thousands of ballots and continued to pick up votes with each round of voting, even if it wasn’t always number one.
But heed the words of Zelda Rubenstein in Poltergeist, “Hold onto yourselves”:
“There’s one more thing – a terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage. So much betrayal. I’ve never sensed anything like it.”
This is the moment when 1917 becomes a target.
To the industry at large and to the Globe voters, 1917 obviously represents a stunning cinematic achievement worthy of their top awards. A entirely different challenge for filmmaker Sam Mendes — who just twenty years ago won Best Picture and Best Director for a domestic drama, American Beauty — 1917 is deeply moving. It resonates with our desire to see determined heroes succeed, and more than that, it’s a movie almost anyone can at least “get” if not love. And that’s usually a reliable way to define Best Picture, mostly in the era of the preferential ballot, but before that too. Sure, films like The Departed and No Country for Old Men have occasionally broken the mold and win. But when there were only five Best Picture nominees, it was easier to find at least 20% + 1 of the voters drawn to bleak, dark movies that could win with a plurality vote than it is now when a preferential ballot is in use.
Of the films in the running for Best Picture this year, 1917 is the one you can sit anyone down in front of and they don’t need to be a film critic or a film analyst to understand why it’s great. Like Green Book last year, like Moonlight, like Spotlight, like 12 Years a Slave, like Argo — it is easy to see why anyone you put in front of it will understand the narrative and the message it’s telling you. That doesn’t mean these movies are the most beloved, with the most passionate fans. It just means that these films are broadly liked, loved, and appreciated. But now, because Mendes just beat Bong for Best Director at the DGA, 1917 will start to feel some heat.
Since many of the most vocal internet film aficionados are invested in a different movie winning — and that movie appears to be Parasite _ the knives are about to come out big time for 1917. I’m not sure whether it will reach Green Book level of vitriol, where the filmmakers and even the lead actors were vetted and questioned and called out as racists, sex offenders, sell-outs, etc. Will they try to dig up dirt on Sam Mendes and his brilliant co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who stand accused of being a World War I geek and writing a lovely, affecting story? Or is their unforgivable crime that they beat a movie the internet is very passionate about, much the same way they were with Roma last year.
Now that 1917 has won the Globe, the PGA, and the DGA it will have two possible hurdles on the last leg of the journey, and if it can navigate these obstacles with agility then its momentum will only increase. The first is that this year’s abbreviated race is happening so fast there isn’t time to pay attention to the fury that is about to burn online, and enough voters will put 1917 at #1 so that it gathers 50% of the ballots in round one with no recount.
The second and more likely path is that no film will reach 50% on the first round of counting, especially in a year with four brilliant films leading the pack (although realistically, it’s now down to three). When redistribution rounds come into play, outcomes in close races between two frontrunners are already hard enough to parse. We’ve all lived through the unpredictably when there’s a three-way split of allegiance. If a film can be undermined and made more polarizing by the attacks and hack-jobs that are about to happen online, then the stats we depend on will lose some of their firmness.
In general, if you win the Globe, the PGA, and the DGA, you are locked and loaded for a win. You can even take out the Globe and just go with PGA and DGA, or clinch it with a Globe and PGA combo:
2009: The Hurt Locker — PGA/DGA
2010: The King’s Speech — PGA/DGA/SAG
2011: The Artist — Globe/PGA/DGA
2012: Argo — Globe/PGA/DGA/SAG
2014: Birdman — PGA/DGA/SAG
2017: The Shape of Water — PGA/DGA
Then there are the split years:
2013: 12 Years a Slave — Globe/PGA (Gravity: DGA)
2015: Spotlight — SAG (Big Short:PGA, Revenant: DGA)
2016: Moonlight — WGA (La La Land: Globe/PGA/DGA)
2018: Green Book — Globe/PGA (Roma: DGA)
Right now we’re looking at:
1917 — Globe/PGA/DGA
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Globe
Parasite — SAG
Neither Parasite nor 1917 have any acting nominees. While all Best Picture winners in the era of the preferential ballot have had acting nominations (sans Grand Hotel), that would seem to put both 1917 and Parasite at a greater disadvantage than they ordinarily would have been. But there are mitigating circumstances for both. The first is that George MacKay is not yet a well-known star and the Best Actor race is extraordinarily packed with name brand actors, so much so that only three of them are in Best Picture contenders:
Leonardo DiCaprio — Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver — Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix — Joker
Likewise, none of Parasite’s cast is well-known enough among the Academy’s American electorate, so as great as these actors are, they were unable to make the cut in a competitive race that traditionally builds a lion’s share of its consensus by appealing to the all-important actors branch. The acting categories are so packed, as it turned out, even their fame didn’t help Jennifer Lopez and Lupita Nyong’o get included.
But let’s look at what films won Best Picture with at least one acting winner:
2010: The King’s Speech — Colin Firth
2011: The Artist — Jean DuJardin
2013: 12 Years a Slave — Lupita Nyong’o
2016: Moonlight — Mahershala Ali
2018: Green Book — Mahershala Ali
Again, given all that, a Best Picture upset, stats-wise, would seem to leave a door open to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, since the films listed above — almost all of them — won the Globe too (except King’s Speech). There doesn’t seem to be much precedent for Parasite winning based on its sole wins with SAG and ACE, except for Spotlight.
These three frontrunners — 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite — are all vying for Original Screenplay too. Does that mean whichever film wins there wins Best Picture? It might. Or it might not. In the past, we know that screenplay or director, usually not both, goes with Best Picture — with the caveat that when the screenwriter is the same person as the director, the voters often seem to think one trophy per person is enough, two is alright, and three is too many:
2009: The Hurt Locker (Picture + Director + Screenplay)
2010: The King’s Speech (Picture + Director + Screenplay)
2011: The Artist (Picture + Director)
2012: Argo (Picture + Screenplay)
2013: 12 Years a Slave ((Picture + Screenplay)
2014: Birdman (Picture + Director + Screenplay) <— the only exception for anyone who was both writer and director to win all three)
2015: Spotlight (Picture + Screenplay)
2016: Moonlight (Picture + Screenplay)
2017: The Shape of Water (Picture + Director)
2018: Green Book (Picture + Screenplay)
1917 can easily win just Best Picture and Best Director, since Sam Mendes is one of the producers, and be in keeping with the stats. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can win Best Picture and Original Screenplay and be in keeping with the stats. Parasite could win Best Picture and Original Screenplay and break the stats rule that no film has ever won both International Feature and Best Picture. But of course just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
1917 is a trial case for an end-of-the-year release that can come in at the last minute and win the whole shebang. Once the Academy pushed the date up from late March to late February, it seemed to take the likelihood of a late-breaking winner off the table. Every winner since the date change had premiered somewhere earlier in the year, either at a festival or with a straight theatrical release.
Back to one of our qualms: it’s ironic that the artful and lovely 1917 will have now a target on its back while the final clock is ticking, since that’s sort of what the movie is all about. I watched it for the third time the other day and it just grabbed my heart, especially at the end when you see the dedication to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes, the director’s own grandfather. This movie clearly means the world to Sam Mendes. It is a film about humanity beating back its own worst instincts. And sadly, a petty micro-enactment of that age-old battle is what’s going to happen to 1917 because it dared to become a frontrunner without anyone’s approval. It wasn’t the anointed one early on. It didn’t have anyone pushing it to the top. It didn’t win any major critics awards. It completely bypassed the awards circuit, outmaneuvered the dog and pony show, and just showed up as a movie movie and said, “take it or leave it.” Somehow, some way, a natural groundswell of voters responded to that, the old fashioned way: they watched it, they loved it, they voted for it.
You all know that the film I thought was going to dominate this race was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, not 1917. You all know that I’ve praised Parasite with boundless respect and enthusiasm. So I am as surprised as you are at turn things have taken. I love all of these films, and I’ve said so repeatedly. So much so that I’ve had a hard time choosing any one of them as “the best.” It would be a very tough decision for me, but I can understand why people are choosing 1917, because of the level of difficulty in pulling it off, and the level of grace and artistry required to ever attempt it. A few people may say, “oh, it’s like a video game.” But uou know though, it isn’t. These are real actors, real effects, real cinematography, and they completely nail it. These are distinguished filmmakers operating at the peak of their skills, talented actors digging deep to deliver impeccable note-perfect performances.
If I had a ballot, filling out that top slot would be a hard decision to make.
So fasten your seatbelts, friends. February 9th is going to be a bumpy night.