This has been a strange Oscar year. All the unusual factors that were in play when it started remain in play. The crushingly short season, an extremely competitive year, the “woman factor,” the “#OscarsSoWhite factor,” the Twitter hive mind factor, the foreign language factor, the streaming factor, the box office/popular film factor — all of these elements play into this year’s Oscar race in a big way.
Three things have happened that have never happened before, or haven’t happened in a while. The first: Parasite became the first foreign language film to win the SAG-AFTRA ensemble vote. The second: 1917 became the first “late breaker” to win the PGA since the Academy pushed the date of the Oscars up by one month in 2004. That was the year The Aviator won the PGA and Million Dollar Baby won the DGA and the Oscar. Both films came in late, mid-December, but Clint Eastwood prevailed. Sam Mendes has now won both the PGA and DGA.
The third thing is that there has been a welcome increase in films directed by women, leading to many significant films by women released in 2019. Because none got in for Best Director, that may put pressure on the WGA and the Academy to “right” the “wrong,” which means that Greta Gerwig is likely to win for Little Women, even though the narrative structure is a bit, shall we say, confusing to some. But she’ll win for many reasons. The first is that many people are fine with the way she chopped up the straightforward plot of book and re-order it Gerwig style and even gave it a Lady Bird-esque ending — with Jo not really wanting to be married at all but doing it anyway to please the people who wanted her to. By the end, she is mostly lost, not found. So feminists love what Gerwig did to the traditional story which has Jo actually concede to being in love with her soul mate by the end. The second reason in favor of winning this year is that she did not win for Lady Bird. In the past, women who have been nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay and Best Picture at least won Screenplay: e.g., Jane Campion for The Piano and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation. Hence, Gerwig winning this year would effectively be a reward for for Little Women and Lady Bird both. The third reason is that a win for this film will go a long way towards — something; I don’t know what word to use — but it will help relieve some of the heat that no woman are in Best Director. A win for Gerwig can then be seen as a win for all women.
At WGA, Gerwig is competing in Adapted Screenplay against Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit, Steve Zaillion for The Irishman, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver for Joker, and Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Gerwig should take this easily, but if there is any heat at all from the others it’s probably Jojo Rabbit. Just a hunch.
Still, Gerwig should be able to win the big three writers awards: Scripter, WGA, and Oscar, I figure.
Original Screenplay is harder to figure out. Slightly. That’s because Quentin Tarantino, who won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, isn’t a member of the Writers Guild and thus is not nominated.
Here’s how little the WGA has mattered to Tarantino in the past: In 1994, Four Weddings and Funeral won the WGA, while Pulp Fiction won the Oscar. In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty won the WGA but Tarantino won the Oscar for Django Unchained.
The only time Tarantino was nominated for an Oscar and didn’t win it was in 2009, when The Hurt Locker beat Inglourious Basterds because The Hurt Locker was winning Best Picture and Best Picture puts a hard lock on Screenplay a lot of the time, though not always.
In the years Tarantino won Screenplay, the WGA winner was not a threat for Best Picture in any way. But now since Best Picture often tends to be in the Original Screenplay category, he has much stronger competition, namely from the two other frontrunners, Parasite and 1917, which both have WGA and Oscar nominations.
Tarantino having such a strong Best Picture contender up against two other really strong Best Picture contenders is a tough nut for us to crack, predictions-wise. Does a win here mean potentially a win at the Oscars? How many WGA winners have gone on to win Best Picture? How many WGA winners went on to become Best Picture winners?
The trend used to be that Best Picture heat resided in the Adapted Screenplay category, not Original — but that has now switched. Let’s look at Adapted and also note that if any film were to beat Little Women — like, say, Jojo Rabbit? Or even the Irishman? That might be a hint of some wiggle room in the Best Picture department. Not necessarily but maybe, because Best Picture is chosen with a preferential ballot and strange things can happen when people push various clusters of films to the tops of their lists.
WGA Adapted winner — Oscar Adapted Screenplay winner — Best Picture
2018: Can You Ever Forgive Me — BlacKkKlansman — Green Book
2017: Call Me By Your Name — Call Me By Your Name — The Shape of Water
2016: Arrival — Moonlight (put in Original at WGA) — Moonlight
2015: The Big Short — The Big Short — Spotlight
2014: The Imitation Game — The Imitation Game — Birdman
2013: Captain Phillips — 12 Years a Slave (WGA-ineligible) — 12 Years a Slave
2012: Argo — Argo — Argo
2011: The Descendants — The Descendants — The Artist
2010: The Social Network — The Social Network — The King’s Speech
2009: Up in the Air — Precious — The Hurt Locker
2008: Slumdog Millionaire — Slumdog Millionaire — Slumdog Millionaire
2007: No Country — No Country — No Country
2006: The Departed — The Departed — The Departed
2005: Brokeback Mountain — Brokeback Mountain — Crash
2004: Sideways — Sideways — Million Dollar Baby
2003: American Splendor — Return of the King — Return of the King
2002: The Hours — The Pianist — Chicago
2001: A Beautiful Mind — A Beautiful Mind — A Beautiful Mind
2000: Traffic — Traffic — Gladiator
WGA Original winner — Oscar Original Screenplay winner — Best Picture
2018: Eighth Grade — Green Book — Green Book
2017: Get Out — Get Out — The Shape of Water
2016: Moonlight (Adapted at Oscar) — Manchester by the Sea — Moonlight
2015: Spotlight — Spotlight — Spotlight
2014: Grand Budapest Hotel — Birdman (WGA-ineligible) — Birdman
2013: Her — Her — 12 Years a Slave
2012: Zero Dark Thirty — Django Unchained (WGA-ineligible) — Argo
2011: Midnight in Paris — Midnight in Paris — The Artist (WGA-ineligible)
2010: Inception — The King’s Speech (WGA-ineligible) — The King’s Speech
2009: The Hurt Locker — The Hurt Locker — The Hurt Locker
2008: Milk — Milk — Slumdog Millionaire
2007: Juno — Juno — No Country for Old Men
2006: Little Miss Sunshine — Little Miss Sunshine — The Departed
2005: Crash — Crash — Crash
2004: Eternal Sunshine — Eternal Sunshine — Million Dollar Baby
2003: Lost in Translation — Lost in Translation — Return of the King
2002: Bowling for Columbine — Talk to Her — Chicago
2001: Gosford Park — Gosford Park — A Beautiful Mind
2000: You Can Count on Me — Almost Famous — Gladiator
Now, just for the hell of it, let’s look at years where Best Picture winners didn’t win WGA but were nominated for WGA and won Best Picture anyway:
2017: The Shape of Water (lost WGA and Oscar to Get Out)
2018: Green Book (lost WGA to Eighth Grade)
2002: Chicago (lost WGA to The Hours)
2003: Return of the King (lost WGA to American Splendor)
2004: Million Dollar Baby (lost WGA and Oscar to Sideways)
When I look at this, I think it’s possible that 1917 can probably not win Screenplay in a competitive year, while Parasite winning Screenplay could theoretically push it to the top in Best Picture. But remember, we’ve never had a film win Best Picture when it had another prestige feature category to win in (Foreign Language, Animation, etc). If another movie wins besides either of those two, like Marriage Story (which would give us a Greta-Noah double win) or Knives Out, then Parasite is probably not winning Best Picture.
Whether Parasite or 1917 wins the WGA this weekend, that still won’t tell us if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will win the Oscar. In short, it’s all up in the air.
Speaking of Up in the Air, that is a great example of how a movie can win everything but lose the Oscar at the last minute — literally EVERYTHING. That is the difference when you get actors involved. But remember, just because Parasite won the SAG that doesn’t necessarily mean Academy actors are on board the same way, since 50,000 of those are AFTRA members, with a lot of them being on-air broadcast personalities.
That’s all I got. Who do you think is going to win?