This is the calm before the storm.
We are into a second Oscars in COVID times. I’ll never forget attending the Oscars in February 2020, which was the last time they filled the Dolby and we all sat elbow to elbow from all over the world. We had no idea what was coming in just a few weeks.
Now, we are stuck with another mostly flat line when it comes to Oscar buzz for the movies in play. That means (and you can feel it already) the same thing that happened last year will happen this year: movies will become a target. This also means there will be churn. Churn is lots of people discussing who should win the various categories. We still have a while to go before final voting. When that starts, the PGA, the DGA, and SAG will have rung in.
Stats only take you part of the way. The other part is less predictable, like measuring buzz shifts or hive mind narratives that might erupt. But stats is mostly what we have to work with right now.
We don’t seem to have any consistency, stats-wise. Some of the categories feel “locked,” at least right now. Some feel wide open. It used to be that the director drove the Best Picture race, so all you really had to do was follow the director. But this is no longer the case. Best Director and Best Picture have become more frequently decoupled for most of the current era of the expanded lineup.
Let’s take a quick look at the calendar again from AwardsWatch:
25th – Screen Actors Guild Winner Voting Ends 12pm PT (SAG)
26th – USC Scripter (Power of the Dog will win)
27th – Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
5th – American Cinema Editors (ACE)
7th – Oscar Nominees Luncheon (AMPAS)
12th – Directors Guild of America (DGA) (voting window – January 27-March 11)
13th – British Academy of Film and Television Arts Film Awards (BAFTA)
13th – Critics Choice Awards (CCA)
13th – Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE)
17th – Final Oscar Winner Voting Begins 9am PT (AMPAS)
19th – Producers Guild of America (PGA) (voting window – January 27-March 8)
20th – American Society of Cinematographers (ASC)
20th – Writers Guild of America (WGA)
22nd – Final Oscar Winner Voting Ends 5pm PT (AMPAS)
25th – Governors Ball – Honorary Oscars (AMPAS)
27th – 94th Academy Awards (AMPAS)
Oscar’s final voting happens from March 17 through March 22nd. All of the guild awards will have been announced by then and we’ll have a better idea of where the race is headed.
These categories feel mostly locked (although they also may not be):
Best Actor (Smith)
Best Director (Campion)
Supporting Actress (DeBose)
Adapted Screenplay (Power)
The rest feel open. Listen, they all could be open. We are dealing with an extended schedule, which is something we had last year but prior to that had not really experienced since around 2004. We’re not used to it. We’re used to everything happening at once. But we have time for the churn now. We have time for buzz and sentiments to shift in some categories. Maybe everything will go as expected but maybe it won’t. We just have to be aware of the possibilities.
Let’s go through them, shall we?
What we generally count on for the Best Picture winner 99% of the time is a DGA nomination. The most prominent example of a Best Picture winner that didn’t get one was Driving Miss Daisy: Bruce Beresford did not get a Globe, a DGA, or an Oscar nomination the year Driving Miss Daisy won. The reason for that is what I call an “agreed-upon split.” Usually, it isn’t so dramatic as the director missing out on that many nominations, but you see it a lot where one is winning Best Director and another winning Best Pic, like The Graduate vs. In the Heat of the Night, like Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. They like the work of the director, but like a different movie more.
I have never really understood why Beresford was not nominated, but I think it might have to do with Driving Miss Daisy having been a stage play and maybe they figured not a lot of directing was involved. I went digging through the NY Times’ archives for the fun of it and found a story covering the awards. Now keep in mind this was the same year Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was shut out of the Oscars and Kim Basinger said something about it on stage. The NY Times doesn’t even mention Do the Right Thing or Spike Lee or Basinger. Just shows you how times have changed:
”Driving Miss Daisy,” a sentimental film about the relationship between an elderly Southern Jewish widow and her black chauffeur, won four Oscars tonight, including best picture of 1989 and best actress, in an Academy Awards presentation that offered many surprises and odd contradictions but few clear clues to trends in film.
No single film dominated the 62d annual awards, as has often happened in past years. And the film considered one of the heavy favorites to win best picture, ”Born on the Fourth of July,” the story of a paraplegic Vietnam veteran’s passage into the antiwar movement, won only two Oscars, for best director for Oliver Stone and for film editing.
Bruce Beresford, the director of ”Miss Daisy,” was not even nominated. But the film gave Jessica Tandy, the 80-year-old stage actress, the chance to win her first Oscar in six decades as a performer. There was also an Oscar for Alfred Uhry for his screenplay for ”Miss Daisy,” which he adapted from his Pulitzer Prise-winning Off-Broadway play.
But in general, yes, you need a DGA nom. Of course, stats were meant to be broken. If they’re going to break any year it could be this one, but let’s just keep it at the DGA stat for now.
The DGA five:
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
The only film with both SAG ensemble and DGA:
The only film with DGA + editing nomination at the Oscars:
The Power of the Dog
The race has been between these two movies since the year began in Telluride and it still feels like its between these two movies. Why? Because they have staying power and across-the-board likability. The Power of the Dog has strength across the board with the Oscars, but it also has 12 nominations, which doesn’t usually mean a Best Picture winner in the era of the expanded ballot. Power is also a Netflix movie, which would mean a huge leap for the Academy. It also makes it a convenient target for the hammers looking for a nail. So does Belfast because it is written, directed, and about a white man. But Belfast has been mostly disregarded and under the radar. It kind of reminds me a little bit about Argo, minus the directing snub thing.
Best Picture is wide open. But if it’s going to be anything other than Belfast or Power of the Dog, it will be one of the DGA five. So Dune, Licorice Pizza, or West Side Story.
Frontrunners — Belfast and The Power of the Dog
Challengers — Dune, Licorice Pizza, or West Side Story
Frontrunner — Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Challengers — Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza; Steven Spielberg West Side Story; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
This is a tough one at the moment, given that the BAFTA for the first time as an Oscar precursor doesn’t include a single Oscar nominee. So we’ve got the Golden Globes and we’ve got the SAG. Nicole Kidman won the Golden Globe. Kristen Stewart is not nominated for the SAG. Our stats tell us she can’t win unless somehow she can overcome that. The problem of course is that whoever wins the SAG gains momentum and recognition.
I also think there is a slight chance Nicole Kidman and Jessica Chastain could pull votes and split, leaving Stewart with the momentum to win. Since none of them have a Best Picture nominee, they are coming in mostly equal, with Being the Ricardos having slightly more weight with the three acting nominations. From a stats perspective, that hands it to Kidman. People just have to feel excited about her winning. We already know they will feel excited about Stewart winning. That’s really the key.
Frontrunner: Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Challengers: Kristen Stewart, Spencer; Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter, Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Frontrunner — Will Smith, King Richard
Challenger — Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Best Original Screenplay
If Belfast is one of the BP frontrunners, then it also has to be the frontrunner for Original Screenplay.
Frontrunner — Belfast
Challenger — Licorice Pizza
Best Adapted Screenplay
Frontrunner — The Power of the Dog
Challenger — Drive My Car
Frontrunner — Dune
Challengers — The Power of the Dog, King Richard
Frontrunners — The Power of the Dog (Ari Wegner would be first woman to win), Dune
Challengers — Nightmare Alley, Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story
The rest of them I do not really think we have frontrunners for, with the possible exception of Dune, which seems like it could land Visual Effects, Production Design, and maybe Cinematography. The golden triad. What’s weird and unusual is that Dune could end up being the night’s big winner and would do so without a directing nomination.
The Summer of Soul is likely the frontrunner to win Documentary Feature but might not. Encanto seems likely to win Animated Feature, but might not. Drive My Car most likely to win International Feature.
This is more or less how I see things heading into the guilds — for whatever it’s worth (which isn’t much).