Every year, we pundits try to parse the Best Picture Five: what are the movies that would land in the Best Picture category if voters still thought about which five films (and not which ten films) were the best of the year. How can we know for sure? Well, there is no foolproof way. In the old days, a film could get acting, directing, and writing and miss Best Pic, or it could get Best Picture and miss Best Director. But in general, it is easy to see which are the strongest of the year, as opposed to those that hover on the fringe.
The most reliable influencers have always been the DGA and the PGA, though they can’t account for the whole picture. The first year I was doing this site, Almost Famous hit every marker then lost out in the final act to … wait for it … Chocolat. It seems weird that Almost Famous, which has held its place in time, was not in the lineup, but that was the magic of Miramax/The Weinstein Co. (yes, that would be Harvey Weinstein), which had influence over the Academy voters themselves, outside of the guilds.
Another weird year like that was, of course, the year before they expanded the ballot — 2009:
Most reading this will know why the Academy expanded its ballot from five to ten. It was after this year, but more importantly, it was the year itself. It was 2009, the first year of the Barack Obama administration (the “collectivism” phase) and it was also a time when collective voices were now officially hive minds on Twitter. Twitter is more important to driving the media narrative, even now under Elon Musk’s ownership and the busting up of the blue-check aristocracy, than any other social media site out there. It isn’t just a social network. It’s a live public chat room that is designed to push the most engaged stories to the top of everyone’s feed. That means if one person feels outrage or afraid or angry, that emotion is going to spread from user to user, intensifying as it goes along until it becomes a full-blown, Category 5 hurricane. Sometimes it stalls at a tropical storm. Sometimes it doesn’t make landfall.
In 2009, the combination of Heath Ledger’s death and The Dark Knight being (at that time) such a massive blockbuster had to mean that the Academy was out of touch and HAD to do something to change. We were all emotionally invested in this particular movie because of Ledger and, probably if I’m honest, Ledger’s own place in the pantheon after he starred in Brokeback Mountain. It was kind of a big emotional soup at the time, as I recall — experienced by all of us at the same time.
That would only be the beginning of social media’s impact on the awards race, needless to say. From the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, on through to the post-Trump era of freak-outs that La La Land, Three Billboards, and of course Green Book were all examples of RACISM in the industry and in the Academy.
But you know, the worm turns. So does the pendulum, and right now, my spidey senses are telling me it’s starting to swing back in the other direction, away from collectivism and toward individualism. The industry is feeling the punch of so many things at once, from streaming pressure, to COVID pressure, and now the strikes — we can compare the box office of this year with the last time things were really good, 2019 from Box Office Mojo:
And it’s true on a global scale as well, just a noticeable difference in earnings:
How do I know the pendulum is about to swing? Well, according to the book Pendulum: How the Past Shapes Our Present and Predicts Our Future, we’re in the “witch hunt” phase of the most extreme end of collectivism, what they call the “we” cycle. And in their book, SHOCKINGLY they target the zenith as, wait for it, 2023. No kidding. Even though the book was written in 2011.
According to this book, and we’ll have to see if it plays out or not, the next twenty years (yes, that long) will be heading toward the height of individualism. After that, the next twenty years it winds down and eventually heads back to collectivism. I am too old to live through this but I leave this here as a record in case anyone is interested in tracking it.
What does that mean exactly? Well, just as the chart illustrates —
We’re at the “I’m O.K you’re not okay” phase, which means everyone is being accused of everything all of the time. People are being canceled and hurled into the public square, and moral judgment against others is at an all-time high. But then, after it’s all shattered and things ultimately collapse we get to a point where we all like each other again. Then, according to this chart, as we move through the “me” cycle, we get into hero worship with a strong leader. Then it all starts over again. Each of these cycles adds up to 80 years. 40 years of one, 40 years of another.
At any rate, I don’t know if this means the Academy will shrink back to five Best Picture nominees (which I personally believe it should) or not. It’s kind of easy to see which would be the strongest five films now:
Oppenheimer — without a doubt the strongest film of the year and Christopher Nolan’s opus.
Killers of the Flower Moon — coming in strong right alongside Oppenheimer, an important opera of a movie.
Barbie — a cultural phenomenon and massive success for Greta Gerwig.
The Holdovers — a deeply moving character drama taking us back to the good old days of Christmas movies, of well-written adult dramedies
Poor Things — an exceptional artistic accomplishment that is shocking and hilarious all at once.
So that’s an easy five. Old-timer Oscar watchers know that this would also be the DGA five. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that all five will get in for Best Director at the Oscars. In fact, history tells us one or two names will be dropped off, give or take.
To find the next five is going to be somewhat trickier. There are many different ways the race could go and we’re only through September now. The New York Film Festival and the AFI Fest will both fundamentally shift the buzz and the energy around the race, not to mention whatever might suddenly appear and change things, like George Clooney’s The Men in the Boat, which remains shrouded in mystery. Good old fashion kicking Nazi-ass movie:
This is a sports movie that will compete, I would imagine, with Nyad, the movie about Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida. The Boys in the Boat as a adjunct movie about Nazis will also compete with Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest. Nazi movies, and WWII Holocaust films are a mainstay in the Oscar race.
The Boys in the Boat, if it is released this year, will be more of a pressing film for voters since it will be released on Christmas Day and is uplifting. That movie is one we’ll have to wait and see how it goes. But it isn’t the only Christmas Day release. The other big one coming in November is Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, which is also a mystery as to whether it will be good or not, or whether Joaquin Phoenix will be a contender or not (probably will be).
The Color Purple still hasn’t been seen but looks promising:
The Toronto People’s Choice winner has now got to be considered a Best Picture contender. American Fiction beat both The Holdovers and Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron. Last year’s winner, The Fabelmans, didn’t win any Oscars, though in general the audience winner does win something. But Screenplay puts it up against Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon (not that it won’t win but…). As of now, it appears to be firmly planted in the predictions of most pundits.
Here are Erik Anderson’s latest Best Picture predictions:
- Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures) (-)
- Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures) (-)
- Poor Things (Searchlight Pictures) (▲)
- The Zone of Interest (A24) (▼)
- Barbie (Warner Bros) (-)
- Maestro (Netflix) (▼)
- American Fiction (MGM/Orion) (▲)
- The Holdovers (Focus Features) (▼)
- The Color Purple (Warner Bros) (▼)
- Anatomy of a Fall (NEON) (▼)
The film Origin by Ava DuVernay has been placed at number one at Gold Derby by Kevin Polowy and Shawn Edwards. Not sure how it will do heading into the race, but they seem to be high on it.
Both of them have a rather out-of-the-box list of predictions, I’d say. The always-reliable Joyce Eng is sticking to the plan:
David Fincher’s The Killer is a film unlike any of the others up for the Oscars — it’s not sentimental or feelgood. It’s just brilliant filmmaking, though it will need to be number one for around 300 or so members, maybe even more than that, to land a spot. Intensity of emotion is what often drives the Best Picture race.
I find I am not certain of the next five at the moment because the year is not yet complete. I’ll post full predictions on Friday.