“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It was a time when movie theaters no longer mattered in any significant way to the people who make movies, the people who star in them, and the people who produce them. Even the films that faithfully headed to theatrical walked into a trap. Other than Dune, with $108 million, the films that counted on an industry standing behind them for their efforts could not rouse their target audience out of their COVID cocoons – Drive My Car ($1 million), Belfast ($9 million), Nightmare Alley ($11 million), King Richard ($15 million), Licorice Pizza ($17 million), West Side Story ($38 million).
By the end, it didn’t turn out to be a war between the old way and the new. The two films in contention for Best Picture are both on offer from streamers. Apple has CODA, with the least number of Oscar nominations, and Netflix has The Power of the Dog, with the most nominations. Both films are directed by (white) women. Both films have high scores at Rotten Tomatoes. But one film, CODA, has something the others don’t. It has something and someone to root for that isn’t problematic in any way.
CODA isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it fits my own longtime definition of the ONLY kind of movie that can win Best Picture, which is to say it’s a movie you can sit anyone down in front of and they will get if not love it. Anyone you know, anywhere in the country. CODA, I was surprised to find out, is even liked on the Right. A review over at Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire has the headline:
How can I complain about that when I have spent the better of a year infuriating many of my readers with my push towards some kind of awareness of the “other half” of America. The problem for the Oscars right now isn’t even just winning over right-leaning viewers. Although it sometimes seems that those who vote on these awards don’t seem to realize it because they are trapped in the same system as all of us are – as we work toward finding Oscar voters their perfect specialty meal in First Class. All they have to do is lift the silver dome and taste it. If they like it, they vote for it. If they don’t, they won’t. There is no organic process to finding Best Picture. Not now at least. Not as we make our inevitable ascent, or descent, out of the world of tickets bought and fair market assessments.
We are in the White House Screening Room. Meanwhile, we were blown away when @potus and @FLOTUS told us that they loved #CODAfilm and its theme of family authenticity. We also found out that the White House staff cried when they watched the film! 🤟🏻🤟🏻 @appletvplus pic.twitter.com/3jN7fOKP8c
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) March 23, 2022
And we are moving in that direction. For all of our hand-wringing over Netflix all of these years, all of that fear that they were “destroying movies” and movie theaters, for all of the animosity aimed at Ted Sarandos and all of the money they have spent trying to win Oscars, all of that was wiped clean away when the right movie about the right thing that hit the right notes and tickled the right spots came along — from an even bigger big-tech powerbroker. Now, looking at how the movies that tried to stick with theatrical release weren’t rewarded for it, not even a little bit, they all better drop to their needs and thank Buddha that Netflix exists. And perhaps now they have realized it.
Every major award of the season has gone to a streaming platform:
Golden Globe: Netflix
Critics Choice: Netflix
Producers Guild: Apple
Directors Guild: Netflix
Screen Actors Guild: Apple
The only group that awarded a theatrical movie was the Toronto International Film Festival’s audience award, way way back in the time of the dinosaurs, and that movie was Belfast.
So I don’t want to hear another word, not another single word from anyone about Netflix or streaming. The awards community has spoken, the people who watch their movies have spoken. It is over. Perhaps, as someone mentioned in an Ankler piece a day or so ago, once the industry crosses over completely, there might be another explosion of creativity and competition.
But ultimately, once you take away the ticket-buying public and the new financial metric is based on competing for subscribers — that just puts all into our individual spheres, our hives, our little mini-universes where we must follow the guidelines of that corporation’s edicts. “Woke Capitalism” means anyone can be ejected at any time for saying the wrong thing or writing the wrong thing — even thinking the wrong thing, if you are found out, that is. I can only hope these large companies don’t become the “Inner Party” of 1984.
The year began as it always does – at Telluride, on the heels of Venice, in a year where the Oscar calendar was once again going to be extended by one month. At that time, The Power of the Dog and Belfast seemed to be the two movies to beat. No one was really thinking about CODA except for a couple of guys on Twitter who really liked the movie and kept saying it could win. Belfast, despite being a crowd-pleaser and a feelgood movie is harder to connect with because the vignette style of its plot lacks the linear formula familiar to most movie-goers. Large groups voters can’t seem to parse complexity outside the norm. Trust me on that one. The Power of the Dog is even more complex than Belfast. It requires you must lean into it, to reach in and access what it is really about. Are thousands of people, of all different backgrounds and frames of reference, able to do that and coalesce into a united consensus? We won’t know for sure until Sunday night.
I personally never thought The Power of the Dog could win Best Picture, certainly not on a ranked-choice ballot. But I watched as Belfast was not only ignored but actively undermined as a contender. Not overtly destroyed; this wasn’t Green Book. But surely had it won any major award it might have been. Hollywood seems to me to be in the grips of a “White Man Scare,” where any white man is less appealing to put in any position of power, let alone win awards. It isn’t even just about white men, it’s men in general. For instance, it took me watching the Honest Trailers’ version of the Oscars to see that some people thought it was weird that King Richard was about the dad instead of Venus and Serena.
This is a forced change, not a natural one. It has to be. Natural change was taking too long. It is a collective effort towards reaching a kind of equity. The BAFTAs forced it a different way, with committees, but here, after the Green Book win, there has been a collective effort to push for change. That’s part of the reason why we’re in the second year where films by two women are competing for the prize. Another reason of course is that women are getting more opportunities in the industry than they ever had before. And it should be no surprise that women are proving themselves just as capable.
When you consider this shift, and you think about streaming, you can see a perfect storm to create an awards dynamic that can be the change it seeks. Turns out Gandhi was onto something. When the box office was still involved, pre-COVID times anyway, the free market helped tell us what movies people like to watch. Male protagonists have always been the default. Movies about men directed by men always make more money. Always. (Well, unless they’re Birdmen.) Hollywood hasn’t stuck to male-driven fare because of any bad ulterior motives. They did it to make the most money.
Even on streaming, the films led by male stars were the most viewed:
I fully expect CODA, should it win on Sunday, to do what Apple needs it to do – bring more people to their subscription platform. Listen, I am an Apple consumer of the highest order. I have the watch, the laptop, the M1 iMac. I have the latest iPhone. I wait for their announcements. I use their fitness app. I know that with Apple I am always going to get something BEAUTIFUL to hold in my hands and something smartly designed. I would prefer if they didn’t outsource their technology overseas to be built by labor forces in various questionable conditions, but in America and especially on the Left we can’t talk about that. I think CODA might be the film version of what Apple does, even if it isn’t their own homegrown product. It provides a satisfying user experience that makes people feel good about the world.
The Academy, for its part, has decided to provide a parallel live-stream of the Oscars made more accessible in American Sign Language:
The Oscar voters are never going to head down the path towards awarding or even nominating a movie like Spider-Man: No Way Home. That kind of theatrical experience, save for the crafts, will be kept outside of their Shangri-La. But streaming gives them a comfortable and profitable platform for the kinds of movies that Americans have mostly stopped buying tickets to see. And so it was decided and so it was done.
So clap for them when they close the circle at last. The TV ratings won’t matter eventually, once the Oscar telecast itself becomes yet another Hollywood institution that dwells in the land of the streamers. Then, as with the film that is probably going to win Best Picture this weekend, the Oscars can exist with no concern for how many people watch them. Anyone who truly cares to watch will pay a streamer to do so. For CODA, that means fewer than a million viewers on streaming, $1 million at the box office, three Oscar nominations – have you ever seen anything like it?
We are living through a strange time in this country. Some, like myself, see it as evidence of a Fourth Turning. Out go the Baby Boomers, and in come the millennials and Generation-Z. Good on the Academy for appealing to them in their own language, with online polls, with the inclusion of influencers encouraged to promote the telecast by posting clips. That seems to be the accepted way to survive now. It may be the only inevitable way to survive a generational shift like this one.
Worst case scenario, we are also potentially headed into a third world war. Everything and everyone might face dramatic change. When you think about all of these things put together, CODA prevailing on Oscar Night does make sense. It could represent a bridge from one world to another, one generation to another, one Oscar era to another.
Here are my final predictions. As with all things, adapt or die.
CODA (SAG ensemble/WGA/PGA)
Alternate: The Power of the Dog (Globe/BAFTA/DGA)
Potential spoiler: Belfast (Toronto audience winner, Globe Screenplay winner)
The rest of the nominees
Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
West Side Story
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
CODA, Siân Heder (BAFTA/WGA)
Alternate: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion
The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal (Scripter)
Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe (potential spoiler)
Dune, Jon Spaihts, and Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
Belfast, Kenneth Branagh (Globe winner)
Alternate: Licorice Pizza, Paul Thomas Anderson
Wild card: The Worst Person in the World, Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier (potential spoiler)
King Richard, Zach Baylin (possible)
Don’t Look Up , Adam McKay, David Sirota (if it wins the WGA….then maybe)
Will Smith, King Richard (Globe/SAG/Critics Choice winner)
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Andrew Garfield, tick, tick…BOOM!
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Best Actress race remains suspenseful. Pete Hammond and Clayton Davis, along with Jeff Wells, have predicted Penelope Cruz to upset based on the chatter among Academy members. Parallel Mothers is the best of the bunch as far as pure cinema. Cruz is beloved in the industry. It’s definitely possible. But I will still go with:
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (SAG winner)
Alternate: Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers
Wild card: Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Best Supporting Actor
Troy Kotsur, CODA (SAG/Critics Choice winner)
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 (SAG/Critics Choice/Globe winner)
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard
Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter
Judi Dench, Belfast
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Best Animated Feature
Alternate: The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon
Dune, Greig Fraser
Alternate: The Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner
Nightmare Alley, Dan Laustsen
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Bruno Delbonnel
West Side Story, Janusz Kaminski
Best Costume Design
Most likely: Cruella, Jenny Beavan
Dune, Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan
Nightmare Alley, Luis Sequeira
West Side Story, Paul Tazewell
Cyrano, Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran
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
Alternate: King Richard, Pamela Martin
The Power of the Dog, Peter Sciberras
tick, tick…BOOM! Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
Don’t Look Up, Hank Corwin
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
“Down To Joy” from Belfast, Van Morrison
“Be Alive” from King Richard, DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“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
Alternate: Robin Robin
The Windshield Wiper
Affairs of the Art
Best Live Action Short
The Long Goodbye
Alternate (and should win): Ala Kachuu – Take and Run
On My Mind
West Side Story
No Time to Die
The Power of the Dog
Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Time to Die
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
It’s been a really fun year, despite it all. If you’ve read this far, thank you for being an AwardsDaily reader. All the best for a fun Sunday. I will be attending the Oscars and will report back my findings from my visit to Shangri-La.