Oscar season appears to remain on track, albeit following a long rattling agonizing season that won’t really become a real race until February of next year. All the same, old habits die hard and many of us are conditioned to think in the short term as well as the long term.
Still reeling from the highs of an Oscar Night that saw the first film to win Best International Film also won Best Picture and Best Director, mere moments later the world was hit with a global pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1918. Shut in for way too long, trying to get a handle on reality through the surreal netherworld of social media, we’re also facing a milestone cultural uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. In fact, there have been somany outcries, uprisings, and massive cultural shifts during Trump’s presidency that the past 3 years often feels like an inferno that never runs out of fuel. From the Women’s March, to the Me Too movement, and now to the Black Lives Matter movement – all these momentous social upheavals have made their way through every corner of our culture up to and including the Oscars.
The Academy continues to add more members than usual each year, in their ongoing effort to bring a more representative balance to their long-standing demographic disproportion of 70% white and male, adding upwards of 1500 to 2000 women and artists with diverse multiracial and multicultural backgrounds. It will be interesting to see how the new numbers factor out, but it’s probably now down to about 60% white, which is roughly comparable to the population breakdown in the United States overall. So the Academy is close to its goal of being a mirror image of America’s demographics — which is important for those who see this as a measure of integrity, even if the number of Americans who pay any attention to the Oscars has steadily diminished, especially since the GOP has demonized Hollywood and the Arts in general. Put another way, as the Academy membership has edged closer and closer to a ideal diorama for film critics, bloggers, and industry insiders, the large aim of the AMPAS board of directors to rebuild relevance among the moviegoing public remains elusive, if not futile.
As for the new rules established this year, with the exception of the shift to a solid ten Best Picture nominees instead of an ever-slippery five to ten, the changes being made are not likely to increase the Oscars appeal for the broader American public — though they might make the awards feel more relevant to people in other countries who still pay attention to serious cinema. Whatever the Oscars has become, there is no denying it is more insular and in some ways more stifling than it has ever been. When any individual artist is so closely scrutinized that it results in nobody at all being deemed suitable to be an Oscar host — it makes the whole initiative to embrace diversity seem all the more strange.
But be that as it may, Oscarwatchers, we have a job to do and we’re determined to soldier forth. Since the typical definitions of Summer Movie Events has been upended. first up on the list of anticipated must-see achievements will be when Hamilton streams on Disney Plus in two days. Here’s the thing about Hamilton, though: it’s also destined to be a movie movie. As much as we appreciate the gift Disney is giving us, there’s no denying that it’s a filmed version of the stage play. The original cast is also slated to appear in the movie movie, so I’m not sure how the Hamilton event will factor into the race, if at all.
However, one thing to consider is a near-essential element that I’ve been on the lookout to expect since way back before 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture: given the current cultural climate, one has to keep an eye on any film with a casting that emphasises racial diversity. That means, Hamilton, give or take a few other films, could earn special consideration among many voters, when it previously would not (after all, it’s a filmed version of the play intended exclusively for home viewers, which means it’s more Emmy friendly, than Oscar friendly). On the other hand, since movie theaters are no-man’s land this year, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is another a film exhibited exclusively on TV, with a diverse or inclusive cast. It’s been well-reviewed and is well-liked — especially for the performance of Delroy Lindo.
So many unfamiliar variables to consider this year, it’s hard to know where to begin sorting our options. A friend of mine sent me this list of rough predictions for Oscars 2020 — but remember we have a LONG LONG LONG LONG way to go yet.
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
The French Dispatch (Searchlight)
Mank (Netflix) Minari (A24) Nomadland (Searchlight) Stillwater (Focus)
Tenet (Warner Bros.)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
West Side Story (Fox/Disney)
So that’s three for Netflix — and last year two out of the four contenders from Netflix got in. Looking at this list you know people will not complain because it does satisfy the requirements for the “Great Awokening” — by being broadly inclusive. A film will either have to be broadly inclusive or balls-on-fire good to past muster.
A good strategy in coming up with Best Picture is to look at three elements: Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. That can’t fill in all the squares for you because there will always be movies that come out of nowhere and get nominated and even WIN (happens a lot), but for early predictions, you can usually look at what anchors this most significant contenders. Factoring in those considerations, the above list works out like this:
Anchored by director:
David Fincher, Mank – the most highly acclaimed living American director who has never won an Oscar
Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods – won for Screenplay but has never won for Director
Christopher Nolan, Tenet – also highly acclaimed and has never won Best Director
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story – won twice, remains a force to be reckoned with
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 – a name for screenplay but subject matter + prestige = possible contender
Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch – a quirky reliable director who delivers and has never won
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland – an up and comer who will get a big push
Minari is on the list probably because it’s A24 and will get a big push, though no one has seen the film. It sounds very Oscar-friendly at a time when the Oscars are looking to expand their focus in storytelling beyond the white American hero narrative, “A tender and sweeping story about what roots us, Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother.”
But if we look to anchor films based on performances we have to imagine what is coming next for any of the big stars.
Hillbilly Elegy (also Netflix) has Amy Adams and Glenn Close, both overdue for Oscars. Ordinarily I would add this movie to the list but since it’s Netflix, I’m not sure how voters will decide to ration nominations.
Bradley Cooper, “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)
Matt Damon, “Stillwater” (Focus – November 6)
Benicio del Toro, “The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures – October 16)
Tom Hanks, “News Of The World” (Universal – December 25)
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics – Fall)
Michael Keaton, “Trial of the Chicago 7” (Paramount – September 25)
Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix – June 12)
Gary Oldman, “Mank” (Netflix – Fall)
Joaquin Phoenix, “C’mon, C’mon” (A24 – Fall)
Chadwick Boseman, “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix – June 12)
George Clooney, “The Midnight Sky”/”Good Morning, Midnight” (Netflix – Fall)
Adam Driver, “Annette” (Amazon – Fall)
Ansel Elgort, “West Side Story” (20th Century – December 18)
Michael Fassbender, “Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)
Bill Murray, “On The Rocks” (A24 – Fall)
Liam Neeson, “Ordinary Love” (Focus – February 14)
John David Washington, “Tenet” (Warner Bros. – July 17)
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix – Fall)
Timothee Chalamet, “Dune” (Warner Bros. – December 18)
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Courier”/”Ironbark” (Lionsgate – Fall)
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Prisoner 760” (BBC – Fall)
Andrew Garfield, “The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)
Bryan Tyree Henry, “Red, White, and Water” (A24 – Fall)
Gary Oldman, “The Woman in the Window” (20th Century – May 15)
Eddie Redmayne, “Trial of the Chicago 7” (Paramount – September 25)
Of these, I will add Nightmare Alley to the list of possible Best Picture contenders – with Guillermo del Toro as the director and Matt Damon starring. I’m also going to pick up News of the World with Tom Hanks starring and Paul Greengrass directing. The Father starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman directed by Florian Zeller I will also pick up based on the Best Actor prospects of Hopkins.
So my preliminary list of ten for Best Picture — sure to be wildly off-the-charts wrong in a couple of months — would likely look like this in order of probability. These are “sight unseen,” so with a huge grain of salt:
West Side Story
News of the World
Trail of the Chicago 7
Da 5 Bloods
I’m less sure about: Hamilton (stage play on film), Minari and The French Dispatch. These are all just big “I HAVE NO IDEA” picks.
The one key thing to remember heading into Oscars 2021? Either Donald Trump will get re-elected or he won’t, and whichever seismic outcome we get is going to influence what is nominated and what wins.