The State of the Race: Every Nomination Changes the Conversation

The first thing to bear in mind is that this is, in all ways, an unprecedented year. The factors we named at the start remain in effect. And those are:

  1. The battle for the future of Hollywood and the Oscars – the new way vs. the old way.
  2. The shortened season – how to even build momentum in such a season.
  3. How the Trump effect might blow back on consensus and demographics in the Oscar race.
  4. Money — what is making money, what needs to make money, and what doesn’t.
  5. Popular films vs. Indies, International vs. Domestic, etc.

The year began in earnest with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as the high-water mark that any rival that followed had to either meet or surpass. It has never been thought of as the frontrunner, has stayed hovering above the fray, which is an excellent place for it to be. It reminds me a little of Argo in that way. It was that stealthy champ hiding in plain sight.

Now that we’ve had the Globes and the SAG-AFTRA ring in, not to mention the ACE Eddies and a few other major guilds, we have a clearer picture of what is what.

I would caution folks to not to draw any permanent conclusions about any of the categories just yet. But probably Joaquin Phoenix winning Best Actor seems like a fairly reliable lock. And that assumption is supported by the broad support of Joker, which has hit almost every guild.

In all other respects, this is still a very fluid, wide-open race.

To make things even more complicated, the preferential ballot will put a major kink in the works. For Best Picture, voters will need to love the film, or else like it enough to push it to the top of the ballot for whatever reason, and definitely not hate it. But at the moment we really don’t know what that movie will be when all is said and done. It remains the single most difficult thing to explain to people — why the preferential ballot makes predicting Best Picture now so tricky.

But there are a few things we can be pretty sure about in the era of the expanded ballot — 2009-present.

The first, the Globe Director nom trumps SAG ensemble prerequisite. Why? Because both Green Book and The Shape of Water won Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nom.

The second, the Globe Director nom trumps even getting a Best Director nom at the Oscars. Both Argo and Green Book have won Best Picture without that formerly crucial Oscar nomination.

Given that iron clad Globe stat, we have to presume — unless this is a year when another stat crumbles, which it might be, that Best Picture can only be won by:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The Irishman

We have to wait for what the DGA will do — and they still rule in terms of predicting Best Picture. Like the Globes, you can’t really hope to win Best Picture without at least a nomination at DGA. PGA likewise seems to be fairly iron clad with nominations. But neither the DGA nor the PGA nor the SAG are 100% guaranteed to predict Best Picture winner, as we saw with Moonlight, which won without winning any of those. It did, however, have that Globe nom, DGA and PGA noms.

By the way, I think the above five will also be the DGA nominations, give or take a Taika Waititi or a James Mangold.

The key to predicting Best Picture is to figure out which movies will have 300-400 people naming that movie as number one on their ballots. We know the above five will have no problem with that:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Globes/Globes Director/Ace/SAG)
The Irishman (Globes/Globes Director/SAG/Ace)
1917 (Globes/Globes Director)*
Parasite (Globes Director/SAG/Ace)
Joker (Globes/Globes Director/Ace)
Jojo Rabbit (Globes/Ace/SAG)

*I do think BAFTA is going to give 1917 a big boost.

Figuring out the next four will be the trick. You can do that, by the way, by looking at guild spillover. Other than the champs, which movies are consistently showing up here and there?

Marriage Story (Globes/Ace)
Bombshell (SAG)
Dolemite Is My Name (Globes/Ace)
Knives Out (Globes/Ace)
Ford v Ferrari (Ace)

But that doesn’t tell the whole picture. After the brouhaha over the lack of recognition of women directors, that is going to push many to even the score and boost a film directed by a woman into Best Picture. But will those voters so inclined split their support between Little Women or The Farewell, or will one triumph over the other. I’m going to guess Little Women has the edge because it is filled with an all-star cast, because Greta Gerwig is a bigger name-brand directorial star than Lulu Wang, and she has been previously nominated for Director and Screenplay. Are there going to be enough people to put Little Women as their favorite film of the year to get it in? It’s possible.

Finally, the Phantom Thread factor – is there a bravura movie floating on the fringe that could slide in to best Picture? You bet there is:

Uncut Gems by the Safdie brothers.

The Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and BAFTA are all going to shift the race, as are the brewing shit storms, whatever they may be. As usual, this race like every race is the CLASH OF THE TITANS. The best publicists in the business are facing off against each other once again. No one knows how it will end up but we are probably down to three or four contenders to win.

These are the strongest so far:

1) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – The pitch: Quentin Tarantino has arguably been among the greatest influences in modern American film history. There are others who have never won, of course, among them: David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. Tarantino, like those two, is in the overdue category by now. WAY WAY overdue. Not only that, his film is a love letter to that which so many industry people have known and loved for the past 50 years. In this film, if you watch it enough times (I’m going on my fifth viewing), you will see that right around the time when The Rolling Stones’ Out of Time starts playing, that is when the film goes from being an interesting, strange, compelling Tarantino movie to something deeper and more resonate. Oh, yeah, that’s what this is about. It’s about addressing an eternal ache, the dread and fear and sadness over a random massacre in the Holllywood Hills one hot summer eve. How that killing has haunted so many who lived through it is what drives the emotional thrust of this film. If younger generations don’t quite get it, that’s why. They do not live with that eternal ache of knowing that such a thing ever happened, of feeling the seismic shift in society when it did. The more you know about the Manson murders, the more you’re likely to appreciate this film. But it is also a movie about actors and that is really the thing that could push it over the top.

2) The Irishman – This Scorsese epic, like Tarantino’s in a way, brings together Scorsese’s past as both a man and a filmmaker. Just as Once Upon a Time is Tarantino’s most personal film, it could be argued that The Irishman, like Silence, is a personal journey for Scorsese. We are watching Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran but in a sense we are also watching Scorsese’s legacy as a film director rise to its magnificent crescendo. What he wrestles with because of what he’s left behind is the emotional resonance in this film. And of course, the actors drive it. It will be coming into the race with both Joe Pesci and Al Pacino nominated. It also forecasts the coming storm of what the future of film and film watching might look like. After all, Netflix is stepping beyond the model of making audiences wait to see movies. They can, as long as they have a subscription, watch the Oscar contenders RIGHT NOW.

3) 1917 – Though it isn’t hitting with the guilds as well as expected, that could be explained by its 11th hour screening date. They tried to pack the houses and get the screeners out as much as possible but with so many screeners piling up, it might not have been seen. However, there is no denying what kind of masterful accomplishment this is. There is really no other movie like it in the race this year, nothing with this kind of scope. It is a movie that will need more time for viewers to discover it but when they do — it will quickly become a stronger contender in this very odd race. Thrown into the lonely treacherous landscape of No Man’s Land during WWI, this is a story of a hero’s journey in a sense but with a twist. In the same way The Hurt Locker was about the futility of trying to accomplish anything heroic in a senseless war, 1917 is about how many men died just trying to save each other and how it was just a drop in the bucket in a war that was so horrifying it shook the world. 40 million dead by the end of it. Sam Mendes captures this war better than it ever has been. It is driven by actors, but mainly by one actor — George Mackay who isn’t yet a star. The Pianist was another film that caught traction late, when the BAFTAs glanced its way, and I figure that is what will happen with 1917.

4. Parasite – The only reason Parasite isn’t ranked higher is because it is also expected to dominate the newly renamed International Film category, and the one thing we know about how voters vote in the era of the preferential ballot — they like to spread the wealth. If they can give Parasite this major award, they might pick something else for Best Picture. But who can say for sure? Parasite is so beloved, it could become the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. In ever frame of this film, and in the three mentioned above, you can feel the master’s hand in total control. As Dylan would say, in every leaf that trembles and in every grain of sand. There isn’t a wasted second in this movie. Every shot, every line of dialogue moves the story forward. It says so much about our permanent places that we can’t break out of, what we reach for and what we’re stuck with. It’s really one for the ages.

What else could surprise and win? Well, Jojo Rabbit could do some damage if Taika Waititi can earn a nomination, at least with Screenplay if not Director. But we’re not quite at the point where we can predict that.

In other words, we learned a bit today but it’s far from over.



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