Now that Telluride is all the way over, Venice is almost over and Toronto is in full swing, the Oscar race is starting to come into clearer focus. Film Twitter is busy making its list of premature frontrunners as we speak. But it’s never easy putting those puzzle pieces together. Each Oscar contender brings with it a story. On Film Twitter that story is expanded outward to identify the tribes who are predicting those frontrunners. In other words, on Film Twitter, you are what you predict.
You’d be surprised how quickly these tribes form. And equally surprised at how serious it is already. That’s why you always have to step away from the Twitter when assessing the Oscar race, especially this far in advance. Oscar voters, even festival-goers, aren’t necessarily hunched over twitter looking for reactions. In a typical year, nominees and winners are decided in screening rooms with people in them reacting to what they see on screen. It is a communal experience. Sure, it is often also someone staring at their laptop watching a digital screener or watching something at home but in an ideal world, people are assembled to experience something together. That something’s success will depend more on what a lot of people think than just a few people.
That’s why attending the Telluride Film Festival can be so helpful. The majority of the people who attend are there because they want to be there. They want to watch good movies. They aren’t necessarily wearing their critics’ hats.
To really know how the Oscar race is going to go in a given year, one has to understand the various Oscar stories at play. The public has long since been removed from the process, although there is always the chance for that dynamic to reverse itself. If, say, a movie this year captivated the public as much as the critics it would be a slam dunk winner. Think: The King’s Speech. Think: Argo. On the other hand, sometimes the Oscar story is that the time has come to make history, as with last year’s winner, Nomadland. It didn’t matter who saw that movie. The winner was decided because of the Oscar story at play.
We don’t know what the various Oscar stories at play this year are going to be. We can’t know. Not until we see everything, we hear from the critics and then we put everything on the table and see where it lands.
But there are things to be considered. Like, no black actress has won in 93 years of Oscar history except Halle Berry, 20 years ago. Like, movie theaters are dying on the vine, is there a movie that can save them? Like, the Oscars are dying on the vine, is there a movie that can SAVE THEM? Like, we have come out of a terrible year, is there a movie that can unite us and make us feel whole again? Like, who is way overdue for recognition? Ridley Scott has never won. Jane Campion has never won. What of the BAFTA’s equity plan? Still in play? Will the Globes release their nominees and winners anyway? Will it be a “dark winter” or will our lives get back to normal by March of next year?
Either which way, it’s still very early. My first “Predictions Friday” from September last was focused on Best Actress. I got two out of three, bombed out on the third.
Frances McDormand in Nomadland. McDormand has already won two Oscars for Best Actress, which means it’s highly unlikely she will win again but she does seem like a slam dunk for a nod, especially considering she helped get Nomadland made as one of the producers (see video above). Regardless of any other names that land in Best Actress, McDormand seems like a fair bet.
Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of Woman – Netflix has picked up the film and will be repping Kirby this year. Her performance is centered on a now legendary 25-minute childbirth scene. Words like “harrowing” have been used to describe it. That alone seems to be something to consider in terms of her making it in.
Kate Winslet in Ammonite is less of a sure bet, even though it is among her most brilliant performances. The reactions so far have been somewhat mixed and if it’s a crowded year there might be no room. Of course it is too soon to tell but she is among the early standouts.
McDormand would eventually win — by default, I think, as the other, stronger performances canceled each other out (Carey Mulligan, Viola Davis, Andra Day). On paper, McDormand seemed like a lock but I think she would have lost had her competition been either Davis or Day, but not both. Also, McDormand and Mulligan had Best Picture nominees to back them up, which further split sentiment. In the end, McDormand had the edge coming out of BAFTA and the rest, as they say, is history.
Further down, I predict these five for Best Actress:
Jennifer Hudson was pushed and Michelle Pfeiffer was a non-starter. I missed Mulligan and Day. And so it goes.
I have been hoping Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel is a great movie. We’ll be finding out soon whether it hit in Venice or not.
Given everything I’ve seen and heard so far up to now – Toronto is just getting started and no doubt there will be more bursts here and there in the days to come — here is my preliminary list. Take it for what it’s worth, which is a really early snapshot based entirely on perception.
Best Picture is already competitive, with various tribes forming behind each movie. Which team do you want to be and why? Are you in the advocacy game or the predicting game? And is it possible to tell the difference anymore? I can say that the natural hits of Telluride were Belfast, King Richard and The Power of the Dog. The second tier films were Cyrano and Spencer. Behind those were films like Lost Daughter, C’Mon, C’Mon, which were liked but definitely a niche within a niche kind of thing.
There is no doubt that both Belfast and King Richard were crowd pleasers that gave weary audiences something to cheer for. The Power of the Dog is so good – but so bleak. People are cheering for Jane Campion’s success more than the story of the film, which is beautifully opaque.
My theory of the Oscars has almost always been, trust what you have already seen play in front a crowd vs. what you have not yet seen. For films not seen, you put a picture in your head of what you THINK that movie is going to be. But it is simply not possible to tell whether it’s going to actually be good or not. The Oscars used to not even be about this phase of the race. In fact, movies had to open for the public before even being considered Oscar-worthy. Prior to the early 2000s, what the public reception mattered.
Even still, considering our country is essentially on its knees, we will still be looking for movies to rescue us. And those movies – if they’re popular – can also rescue the Academy from total obscurity.
But no one knows where we’ll be by winter. There are quite a few movies left to be seen that will be considered “Oscar movies.” I heard someone say after Telluride, “I don’t think we’ve seen Best Picture yet.” Well if that’s the case you are looking at going back all the way to 2006 to find a year when the Best Picture winner hadn’t yet been seen by the end of festival season. The latest was Green Book, which showed at Toronto.
It’s possible the “winner” will emerge at Toronto, or even later in the year. History is really just things that have already happened. That doesn’t mean something else might happen.
Frontrunners – Using the Anne Thompson credo: How do you build Best Picture? Branch by branch.
Seen-Belfast – Pic, Directing, Acting, Writing, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Song
Seen-The Power of the Dog – Pic, Directing, Acting, Writing, Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes, Score, Editing
Seen-King Richard – Picture, Acting, Writing, maybe Directing, Song
Seen-Cyrano – Picture, Acting, Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design, Maybe Directing, Maybe Writing
Unseen-Nightmare Alley – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Writing, Editing, Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes
Unseen-The Last Duel – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Writing, Editing, Production Design, Costumes, Visual Effects
Unseen-House of Gucci – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Writing, Costumes, Production Design
Unseen-West Side Story – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Editing, Cinematography, Costumes
Unseen-Paul Thomas Anderson movie – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Cinematography, Costumes
Unseen-Tragedy of Macbeth – MAYBE Picture, Directing, Acting, Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design
These are the alts:
Seen-In the Heights
Seen-Jane Campion, Power of the Dog
Seen-Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Seen-Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard
Unseen-Guillermo Del Toro, Nightmare Alley
Unseen-Ridley Scott, The Last Duel
Unseen-Paul Thomas Anderson Untitled
Unseen-Denis Villenueve, Dune
Unseen-Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Unseen-Pablo Larrain, Spencer
Unseen-Joel Coen, Tragedy of Macbeth
Seen-Jon Chu, In the Heights
Seen-Will Smith, King Richard
Unseen-Denzel Washington, Tragedy of Macbeth
Seen-Peter Dinklage, Cyrano
Seen-Benedict Cumberbatch, Power of the Dog
Unseen-Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley
Unseen: Andrew Garfield – for Tick Tick Boom OR Tammy Faye
Unseen: Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Unseen: Adam Driver, House of Gucci
Seen-Jennifer Hudson, Respect
Seen-Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Unseen: Jodie Comer, The Last Duel
Unseen-Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
Unseen-Frances McDormand, Tragedy of Macbeth
Seen-Caitriona Balfe, Belfast
Seen-Haley Bennett, Cyrano
Unseen: Jessica Chastain, Eyes of Tammy Faye
Unseen: Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Unseen: Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley
Unseen: Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Seen: Ciaran Hinds, Belfast
Unseen: Jared Leto, House of Gucci
Unseen: Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley
Seen: Jesse Plemons, Power of the Dog
Seen: Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Cyrano
Unseen: Richard Jenkins, Humans
Seen: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Power of the Dog
Unseen: Al Pacino, House of Gucci
Seen: Ann Dowd, Mass
Seen: Aunanue Ellis, King Richard
Seen: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Unseen: Marlee Matlin, CODA
Seen: Judi Dench, Belfast
Seen: Martha Plimpton, Mass
Unseen: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Seen: Olga Merediz, In the Heights
Seen: Sally Hawkins, Spencer
Unseen: Rooney Mara, Nightmare Alley
Seen: The Power of the Dog
Unseen: Nightmare Alley
Unseen: The Last Duel
Unseen: Tragedy of Macbeth
Seen: Lost Daughter
Unseen: West Side Story
Unseen: House of Gucci
Unseen: Cry Macho
Seen: King Richard
Unseen: PTA Movie
Unseen: Parallel Mothers
Unseen: Card Counter
Unseen: Don’t Look Up
We’ll catch back up next week!