In just a few days, several prominent films will roll out at Venice and then at Telluride. Venice is getting a look at the new Pedro Almodovar on opening night, and will also screen both Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter and Pablo Larrain’s Spencer. Denis Villenueve’s Dune and Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho will be in Venice too. Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel will screen out of competition there. Venice, like Cannes, does have photo ops that make the rounds every time a celebrity is in attendance. This helps drive up interest in the awards overall, especially with popular stars like Kristen Stewart and Anya Taylor-Joy showing up, not to mention Jodie Comer, maybe Tiffany Haddish.
By the time Venice and Telluride are over, the awards race will have some sort of direction. It certainly doesn’t have that now, despite the confidence in some circles on Twitter. And in the past, it really didn’t clear until the Golden Globes announced their nominations. But as we know, that last goalpost won’t be happening this year. We’ll be mostly flying blind until the Producers Guild drops their 10. Then we’ll be 80% there.
I would feel slightly more optimistic for something better than last year if the Golden Globes were still happening. On the one hand, I understand that the network just didn’t want to headache. You really only have two choices during a mass hysteria/panic event – withstand it or endure it. Had the show gone on, they know, and every marketing executive, publicist, and celebrity by now knows, the story would become too big to manage. The idea is that you have to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible. Someone has to get fired. Something has to be canceled. Someone has to apologize. But the apology doesn’t work as well as the virtual ax. Someone must pay.
The good news is that at some point the whole thing will come apart as these things have in our history. The question is just how long it will last and how bad it will get. Some of it is long overdue “consequence culture” and for that Hollywood had it coming. But a lot of it isn’t that. A lot of it is punishing the wrong people, accusing those you know, crippling and destroying the creative spirit.
Why does this matter now? Because we are just beginning the season. People like me are looking not just at the movies themselves but the undercurrents that will impact their trajectories. What kinds of shit storms will bubble up. Whose background will be exposed? Whose reputation will be ruined? How are things going to look if, say, the five hottest directors heading into the season are all male:
Sir Ridley Scott
Paul Thomas Anderson
Guillermo del Toro
That’s probably why so many are prioritizing Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. Campion has a hell of an Oscar story. An early pioneer for female auteurs who was rendered mostly powerless in the film industry. They kind of chewed her up and spit her out as they did many talented female directors, while their male counterparts got more at-bats, even when they delivered failure after failure. Campion has the backing of Netflix, however, and thus, does not need the market to validate her place in cinema. So that puts her in pretty good stead with an Oscar story.
The next in line with a whopper of an Oscar story is Ridley Scott, who has never won an Oscar for directing. I’m going to write a separate piece about Spielberg and Scott, side by side masters of the form hitting the race at the same time but for now, let’s look at just Ridley Scott:
Best Picture win
Gladiator (Ridley Scott was not among the producers and so he did not win the Oscar)
Best Picture Nominations
Best Director Nominations
Thelma & Louise
Black Hawk Down
Looking at just these movies it’s hard not to notice the versatility of vision here. What they all have in common, I’d say, is that they are ruminations on loneliness, loss, and abandonment. In all of these, the subjects of these films were either abandoned or exiled from society at large. When you think about Ridley Scott starting his career way back in the 1960s in TV, then moving onto movies in the 1970s and hitting it out of the park early on with Alien and Blade Runner – most directors work their entire lives to deliver even one film on par with these masterpieces. But to then go on and stumble on through decade after decade with successes and failures and now, to deliver two movies in one year? This is shock and awe territory. But Ridley Scott will be competing against himself with The Last Duel to show at Venice and The House of Gucci.
This year is unique in that a good many films are simply skipping the festival season. And while there has been a temptation to do that, it has not yet produced a Best Picture winner since The Departed in 2006. Why? The preferential ballot, which rewards not last-minute sweeping passion, as ruled the Best Picture race from the mid-1940s through 2009, but general likability. Passion helps, without a doubt, but it can’t be everything like it used to be.
So let’s do a quickie predictions (pointless though they may be) ahead of Toronto.
West Side Story
House of Gucci
The Last Duel
In the Heights
The Power of the Dog
Soggy Bottom (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Also considering: Respect, Mass, CODA, Spencer, Cry Macho
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Ridley Scott, House of Gucci or The Last Duel
Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast or Denis Villenueve, Dune
Jennifer Hudson, Respect
Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
Jodie Comer, The Last Duel
Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Frances McDormand, Tragedy of Macbeth
Alt. Rachel Zegler, West Side Story
Will Smith, King Richard
Denzel Washington, Tragedy of Macbeth
Benedict Cumberbatch, Power of the Dog
Peter Dinklage, Cyrano
Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley
Ann Dowd, Mass
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Marlee Matlin, CODA
Martha Plimpton, Mass
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Jared Leto, House of Gucci
Richard Jenkins, Humans
Forest Whitaker, Respect
Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
Jason Isaacs, Mass
West Side Story
The Power of the Dog
The Last Duel
House of Gucci
Also: Dune, CODA, Tragedy of Macbeth
Don’t Look Up
No doubt these predictions will look rather foolish in about two weeks but hey, let’s just put it down for the record.