The Oscar race is kind of coming into clearer focus. Well, give or take a Twitter shitstorm or two. It definitely has taken an odd turn in these last weeks as many in the chattering class really wants to see what they perceive as the underdog, CODA, take down what they perceive as the “mean old frontrunner,” The Power of the Dog. CODA is such a sweet film. It’s authentic and winning. The performances are wonderful. But is this really the BEST Picture of the Year?
How do we even define Best Picture of the Year anymore? It used to be obvious. As one Academy member once told me, simply, it’s just the best movie. That means, better than everything else. Some years you have movies that hit about the same and nothing really stands apart. In that case, how do you choose? The heart wants what it wants? Are we back there again? Were we ever not there?
As we barrel towards the Writers Guild and Producers Guild we could definitely see a groundswell for CODA that would take it closer to a Best Picture win. This is, as I have explained many times, the byproduct of having lag time in a season. Last year, voters were so shell-shocked by everything that happened in 2020, all of the changes that were made, all of the efforts for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” that were put in place the Best Picture race was decided at the beginning and that was that. Nomadland had great reviews, history was going to be made and nothing was going to derail it. It was history being made, which is the primary motivator of some awards voters.
Two years of COVID has driven the industry of prestige films, Hollywood and Oscar voters inside Biosphere 2. If you’ve never heard of Biosphere 2, it was an experiment of world-building back in the early ’90s. They would build a fully enclosed ecosystem where they could survive totally on their own. They would grow their own food, butcher their own animals – there would be a desert, a rain forest, a beach. They had all once been a theater troop called the “Theater of all Possibilities” and were very much the byproducts of those who came out of the 1970s ethos of tuning out mainstream life and building utopias outside of it. Biosphere completely imploded. There was tribalism. They all almost starved. They ran out of oxygen and then, as the NY Times hilariously puts it, “The hummingbirds were dying. Cockroaches were everywhere. And then Steve Bannon showed up.”
Biosphere 2 happens to be among my most treasured obsessions, along with WWII, Lizzie Borden and Salem, 1692.
I can’t help but think of Biosphere 2 these days as I analyze the Oscar race. They have built onto themselves their own teeny tiny utopia far from the rabble outside of it. There is no real need for a movie to make money or even to make an impact. It simply has to be considered great inside Biosphere 2. That is how we get to the point where Apple and Netflix are now competing for the Best Picture prize and the studios, which still sort of rely on box office to survive, are being left behind. The job of Apple is to somehow pretend it isn’t Apple, aka the richest and most powerful company in the world, and drive its “little movie that could” to a Best Picture win, thus becoming the first streaming platform to win Best Picture.
But they work perfectly for what the Oscars have become. If they have to then exist inside the bubbles of streaming platforms, well, isn’t that just the natural way of things? Sooner or later humans will have to build biospheres that separate them from the harsh environment, and probably from each other.
The big reason people should take CODA seriously as a potential winner isn’t the ginormous pile of cash they’re throwing at this race, but rather, that this movie would make history and that, to the biospherians, likely trumps all.
But we have to wait for the PGA to tell us which movie they like on a preferential ballot. But, incidentally, if it weren’t for the Oscar industry being Biosphere 2, I imagine the race would look very different. Like, The Last Duel would be in play. Spider-Man would have been nominated. And of course, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Hudson would also be in Best Actress. They would be considered populist choices.
It isn’t so much about what I think is the BEST film of the year, or even what YOU think is the best film of the year. It’s what the consensus thinks is the best film of the year. Once you take Belfast out of the equation and you put The Power of the Dog next to CODA — well, then you might see an upset in the Best Picture race, and history made.
So, that takes us to:
The Frontrunner – The Power of the Dog
The Challengers — CODA, Belfast
Why I still have Belfast in the running is because it is still the only film that has SAG ensemble, DGA and PGA. While it’s true stats don’t count much lately, I can’t completely ignore them.
Frontrunner – Will Smith, King Richard
Frontrunner – Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Challengers – Kristen Stewart, Spencer; Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
I think Chastain has this. Someone pointed out to me on Twitter that when a nominated actor is nominated with makeup and the makeup wins, the actor wins. But also, she has worked with everyone and she’s overdue. Stewart would have needed to win the Critics Choice, where she had the best shot. Can she still win? Sure. Any of them can.
The Frontrunner – Ariana DeBose, West Side Story
Frontrunner: Troy Kotsur, CODA
Challengers: Licorice Pizza (BAFTA), King Richard
Challengers: The Power of the Dog, CODA, The Lost Daughter, Drive My Car — any of them can win. CODA has a slightly elevated shot after winning the BAFTA but The Lost Daughter won the Scripter. CODA was not nominated there, though. So far, CODA beat both Lost Daughter and Power at the BAFTAs. If it wins the WGA, that seems to make it probable it will take the Oscar.
Frontrunner: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
The Frontrunner: Dune (after winning the BAFTA)
Challenger: The Power of the Dog (Critics Choice)
The Frontrunner: King Richard (after winning ACE)
The Challenger: The Power of the Dog, Dune
Production Design, Visual Effects, Sound, Score
The Frontrunner: Dune
Challengers – possibly Nightmare Alley
The Frontrunner: Cruella (BAFTA)
Challengers: West Side Story, Dune
Makeup and Hair
The Frontrunner: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Challengers: Coming 2 America (the Makeup and Hairstyling Guild win)
The Frontrunner: Encanto
Challengers: Mitchells and the Machines (Annies), Flee
The Frontrunner: Summer of Soul
The Frontrunner: Drive My Car
That seems to be about where we are here in Biosphere 2. Let’s just hope for no cockroaches, plenty of oxygen, and a way out of things get really bad.
But just as a sidenote, that there a desire to completely destroy Jane Campion and derail a Best Picture frontrunner illustrated perfectly why this town is standing in the shadows, clutching its collective balls in fear. These are people who want to be seen as good, who want to remain in power, and who want to keep working. To do that, they have to obey the new rules. They are strident new rules, birthed from the loins of Tumblr and from thence, thrust upon society. There is only one way out of it – as with Biosphere 2, the first step is being able to admit there is a problem. When we get to a point as a society that something someone says does not bring down the entire house of cards we will know we have passed through this moment. Otherwise, watch your back.
I’m only half kidding. Don’t wish me into the Corn Field.