Mank is better than awards season thus far has declared it to be, which should tell you everything you need to know about awards season. Great films are like human relationships. It takes a long time to get to know someone before you really know them well. The more people who get to know movies well, the more those movies resonate over time. A movie like David Fincher’s Mank is like the mysterious party guest who wanders in as someone that some people might write off as distant, opaque, even snooty. It just takes a conversation, the right questions and a little patience and suddenly she’s the only person you remember from the party. Of course, this year’s Oscar race has many interesting guests you’ll remember.
Mank won the ASC prize for Cinematography yesterday at the last of the virtual award ceremonies before final voting closes tomorrow. I imagine most voters have long since made up their minds about what films they will vote for and in which categories. Decades ago, the Oscar race used to roll out slowly like it has this year, and that gave people time to really think about their choices. Of course, how a movie “played” mattered then. How the public thought of the movie, whether there was enough time for a whisper campaign to take hold. When the Academy pushed their date back by one month (roughly 2003 or thereabouts) from March to February, it became a more frantic race to the finish line, with no time to think, no time to care what the public thought – just a speedy process that was practically over before it began. Most people I know who cover the Oscars only know this way to race. They only know a sprint, not the long slow walk.
Still, no one was prepared for the slow race. The machine is still attuned to the fast one. Thus, it isn’t likely for things to really shift as they might have otherwise. There are still categories that feel “open” – and now we know Cinematography is one of those. If only the cinematographers branch alone were voting in that category, Mank might win it. But they don’t. Everyone voters in that category, even actors. Especially actors. Actors love the magic hour and sunset shots, which is why those kinds of films often – but not always – win. It still seems likely, maybe, that Nomadland will win that prize. In 1941 Citizen Kane did not win for Cinematography , How Green Was My Valley did.
It seems fitting that in 2000 I started my website to answer the question as to why How Green Was My Valley (a good film in its own right) beat Citizen Kane (maybe the greatest film ever made). We’re living through a year that answers that question, at least partly. Hearst tried to destroy good will towards Mank and Welles, and the film community continually punishes Netflix for its embarrassment of riches. In other words, does it even have to do with the movies themselves? But also, Kane is a movie that takes years to get to know and appreciate. I can promise you Mank is the same way. That Mank was not nominated for Screenplay and Screenplay was the only Oscar that Kane won is perhaps the biggest irony of all.
Does Mank “deserve” to win Cinematography? Well put it this way. Every frame of the movie is good enough to hang in a gallery. Every. Single. Frame. Does that mean it will win? Well, if you’ve been reading this site for 20 years you already know the answer to that.
Is the race set or wide open?
Best Actress remains a question mark. Viola Davis? Andra Day? Carey Mulligan? Frances McDormand? Given that they might split the vote, maybe Vanessa Kirby will shock everyone with a surprise win.
Editing appears to be open but the ACE gave their prize to The Trial of the Chicago 7, which might be winning Best Picture too in a different kind of year. There are some who believe Trial will pick up a last minute surprise win in the top category based on the amount of guild wins so far. It has won the ACE and the SAG – if it also had the WGA it would be in Parasite/Crash/Shakespeare in Love territory and could win indeed. But it didn’t win the WGA. Promising Young Woman did. So might that movie surprise in the Best Picture category? It might. Without a SAG nom it would have to be Green Book without the PGA.
All points, to my mind anyway, lead back to Nomadland. The reason being that it’s a preferential ballot type of film. Even if it doesn’t win on the first round, it picks up steam on number 2 and 3 votes. No other film in the race will do that. Films are pushed to the top when people want to reward them even if they aren’t their personal favorite. Knowing it’s the frontrunner, they might say — Judas and the Black Messiah was my favorite but Nomadland is great too. That is how the preferential ballot works. Ranked voting means that your second favorite or even third favorite is often your vote that will count. That generally means the more divisive films don’t survive the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
It’s also hard or impossible to assess buzz right now. There is simply no way to really gauge it. Should Nomadland have won the ASC yesterday? Should Promising Young Woman have won the ACE? Are we seeing a shift in mood? Will that impact voting? These are questions we just don’t know yet.
A few people at Gold Derby are predicting The Trial of the Chicago 7 to upset – including Tariq Kahn, Thelma Adams, Tom O’Neil, and Jazz Tangcay. Some even have Minari. It is by no means a massive consensus for Nomadland. I guess that’s because it does not have a SAG nomination. If it does win, it will be the first film since Chicago that really is just about the narrative arc of a female character. The Shape of Water is closer to that but really it is a love story about a captured creature whom we can assume is male. Nomadland, though, is straight up about a woman – a woman who doesn’t need nor want a man. I was talking to my friend about my “kick in the balls” theory about Oscar voters. They don’t like movies that are a “kick in the balls.” I guess we have to ask whether Nomadland is a “kick in the balls.”
You must remember that forgotten Pink Floyd song, “all in all it’s just another kick in the balls”?
There are no more signs to help us out with this. No more awards shows. No clues anywhere. We’ll be building our Big Bad Predictions chart soon and then we can all try to figure it out.
Let’s run a poll, shall we? Who is going to win Best Actress?