This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now
The Oscars are fluid, not static. That means they change as times change. They change as world events change. They change as presidents are elected. The Oscars during COVID may have seemed like they would exist in a vacuum, but they didn’t really. They were still fluid and still responding to how public opinion shifts. This was particularly true last year where the Best Picture race was suddenly something the public noticed because they had time to sit around and bake before the actual Oscars. That will be true again this year. That means we don’t really know which way the race will head, especially as political events start to shape how we see ourselves as a country and how the film industry sees itself.
At the moment, though, as we head into SAG weekend, the voters really only have themselves and their reaction to the contenders. Since the Golden Globes weren’t a big event, the SAG voters really only have the various media that they’ve been exposed to and the films themselves. The awards race, as it was prior to COVID, is a live thing full of events and campaigning, not unlike a political election season. The participants do not like it this way. They see it as a dog and pony show, but one they feel they must participate in, even if they hate themselves along the way. The race was not so competitive back when the Oscars were still something a lot of people paid attention to.
It isn’t that the Oscars are dead. It isn’t that the film industry is dead. It’s that the industry, Oscars and otherwise, walled itself off in the last five years in a huddle of trauma and upset. What’s weird about it, though, is that everyone thought once Joe Biden was elected everything would calm down. But that isn’t what happened. If anything, people have become more huddled in the bunker, more fearful of the invaders coming from outside of it. That’s because they are trying to hold on to what we once had, what the industry once was. But you can’t really hold onto the past. We have to move through the changes as they come our way.
Things are about to change dramatically. Opinions are about to shift as events shift. We don’t know where any of this is going at the moment. We know we’ve been through a rough five years, but those five years were nothing compared to an actual hot war. The only question is how bad it will get in the meantime. Basically, this is all one big wakeup call, friends. There is no point in sugarcoating it.
The only upside to all of this, and it’s something people always want to know when they write me privately about their fears (which they can’t say out loud because our community has become a climate of fear, paranoia and witch hunts), is that as bad as it is, as bad as it will get, actual war has a way of waking people up to the harsher realities beyond their own insular bubble.
So, how does this impact the Oscars? What I would hope would happen is that Americans figure out that we are still one country and we should probably unite sooner rather than later. Divided we fall and all of that. If the awards ceremonies for the past four years – the Oscars and the SAGs — were about the “resistance” against Trump, they’re now going to have to shift towards something else. What that will be, I do not know. But Biden is in power now and we may be on the brink of a world war, potentially.
The Oscars have always been shaped by wars, world wars, useless wars — wars we won, wars we lost. The one thing they have always done in the past, more or less, is remind us that we are still one country. This kind of sentiment often plays itself out in the movies that resonate with voters.
Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game it is about a culture that really had no idea what was about to hit them and they were involved in all manner of frivolity. That’s not to say we have been involved in frivolous things, but there will likely be a big difference in perspective hitting us any moment now.
We don’t have many examples in recent history to bounce off of. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed this country, no doubt, as 9/11 changed it. But a world war is slightly different. Facing down someone like Adolf Hitler is different.
So what was happening in the Oscar race the first year we entered World War II? Well, How Green Was My Valley was facing down Citizen Kane and the fear of Communism was starting to spread to become a full blown Red Scare a decade later. We were not in a good place then either. But we did have Eisenhower, Patton, Churchill, and Roosevelt. So we were in capable hands.
It’s easy to see just how nervous people were back then and how there was an effort to make big change by looking at The NY Times archives. For instance, on this page alone they’re talking about how much Oscar campaigns cost, with someone proposing studios reveal their campaign costs to the public. There is also a column about Hollywood’s efforts towards inclusion way back in 1943.
Maybe the dire situation in Ukraine will calm down. Maybe China won’t try to take Taiwan. Who knows?
In the meantime, what might these events do to shake up the race, if anything? Mark Johnson suggested to me a day or so ago that the message of Belfast might resonate: the idea of homeland being torn up by war and division. That might be true. I think Belfast likely resonates in the wake of what’s happening now than it might have before. The other thing that will likely matter is our appetite for hardcore drama or depressing movies as opposed to uplifting ones.
The Best Picture winners through WWII were:
1941: How Green Was My Valley — a sentimental film about John Ford’s Irish homeland (not unlike Belfast, truth be told)
1942: Mrs. Miniver — about an unassuming housewife touched by WWII.
1943: Casablanca — requires no explanation. It was absolutely about patriotism and beating back Hitler and the Nazis. “Welcome to the fight. This time I know we’ll win.” And we did.
1944: Going My Way — (the first year they reduced Best Picture to five nominees, which they should probably think about doing again) this film was somehow the year’s biggest box office success.
1945: The Lost Weekend — Billy Wilder’s film about the decline of the life of an alcoholic. It is absolutely brilliant but very very dark.
Films about the war would continue to be nominated for and win Best Picture, like From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Patton, and of course films like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan (which almost won), The English Patient, and most recently, The King’s Speech. And plenty of other films that came close but did not win, or won Oscars for actors or were just nominated, like The Thin Red Line, Life Is Beautiful, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Reader, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk.
And that was that for our involvement in WWII. We know that Vietnam also had a major impact on American film, with the masterpiece Apocalypse Now, but also The Deer Hunter, Born on the 4th of July (which did not win BP), Platoon, Coming Home, etc.
The Hurt Locker is still the only film to win that was about our involvement in the Middle East, but plenty of films have been made about these wars, many of them made by international filmmakers. But there is nothing more serious than war. There is nothing that upends our tribes, our belief systems, our emotions like war.
We don’t yet know if we will be involved in one, but this is not something out of the realm of possibility. Already, though, even before we got to this point we have seen the most extreme attacks on our own side against ourselves. Writers, editors, actors, bloggers, journalists — all have been patrolled, persecuted, monitored and punished. Just today someone tweeted to me, “you are now the enemy.” That is how I see too many individuals on the American Left behaving, and especially the community that revolves around the film and the Oscars — before everything changed this week. If it does change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is our new normal.
The SAG Awards
Here is what Gold Derby’s experts are predicting:
Actress: Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Actor: Will Smith, King Richard
Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Supporting Actor: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Stunt Ensemble: No Time to Die
Onto my predictions on the eve of the SAG Awards. Nothing has really changed from last week except that I’m wondering about Best Supporting Actor and whether or not CODA will see a win there, or whether it will be another award for The Power of the Dog. For now, I’ll say it’s either/or depending on how the SAG turns out.
Belfast (Toronto audience winner, Globe Screenplay winner)
The Power of the Dog (Globe Picture/Director winner)
Don’t Look Up
West Side Story
Drive My Car
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion
CODA Screenplay, Siân Heder
Drive My Car Screenplay, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
Dune Screenplay, Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth
The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Belfast, Kenneth Branagh (Globe winner)
Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Worst Person, the World, Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier
King Richard, Zach Baylin
Don’t Look Up , Adam McKay, David Sirota
Will Smith, King Richard (Globe winner)
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Andrew Garfield, tick, tick…BOOM!
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos (Globe winner)
Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Penélope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Best Supporting Actor
Troy Kotsur, CODA or Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog (Globe winner)
Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos
Best Supporting Actress
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story (Globe winner)
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
Judi Dench, Belfast
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Best Animated Feature
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon
The Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner
Dune, Greig Fraser
Nightmare Alley, Dan Laustsen
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Bruno Delbonnel
West Side Story, Janusz Kaminski
Best Costume Design
Cruella, Jenny Beavan
Cyrano, Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran
Dune, Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan
Nightmare Alley, Luis Sequeira
West Side Story, Paul Tazewell
Best Documentary Feature
Summer of Soul
Writing with Fire
The Queen of Basketball
Three Songs for Benazir
When We Were Bullies
Lead Me Home
Dune, Joe Walker
The Power of the Dog, Peter Sciberras
King Richard, Pamela Martin
Don’t Look Up, Hank Corwin
tick, tick…BOOM! Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
Drive My Car, Japan
The Hand of God, Italy
Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Bhutan
The Worst Person in the World, Norway
Makeup and Hairstyling
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
House of Gucci
Coming 2 America
Dune, Hans Zimmer
Encanto, Germaine Franco
Don’t Look Up, Nicholas Britell
Parallel Mothers, Alberto Iglesias
The Power of the Dog, Jonny Greenwood
“No Time To Die” from No Time to Die, Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
“Be Alive” from King Richard, DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“Down To Joy” from Belfast, Van Morrison
“Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto, Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days, Diane Warren
Best Production Design
The Power of the Dog
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story
Best Animated Short Film
The Windshield Wiper
Affairs of the Art
Best Live Action Short
Ala Kachuu – Take and Run
The Long Goodbye
On My Mind
No Time to Die
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Time to Die
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings