It’s been an awards season where from near the very start there’s been no overall frontrunner. And while some have emerged it’s been a competitive race with a number of surprise wins and late sprints. All ultimately leading eyes to the race for yet another Best Picture Oscar. With a number of surprises it’s a Best Picture competition that very much comes down to the effects and swing of the preferential ballot.
However, as with previous years, I’m once again going to take a very rambly, not to mention poorly-written, look at each of the ten nominees in the top category at the Academy Awards. Look at their chances, what might swing them to the win and the forces which could lead them away from it. Because, with the way things have panned out this year – and may very well do so on Oscar night – the 94th film to be crowned Best Picture may not be as set in stone as it initially seems.
When it comes to the Best Picture race, early predictions begin to come in around October-November time. However, it seems that this year didn’t have any certain nominees until a couple of weeks before the nominations themselves, after the course had been paved by various other awards bodies. And yet, even then there still wasn’t a definitive ten. Partly proven by the success of Drive My Car. It’s very rare to find a film with the level of success and impact this has had, especially considering what it is. A three hour Japanese drama about grief and Chekov/ Uncle Vanya, with pretty much no awards push which has landed a Best Picture nomination? That’s a pretty grand achievement.
Drive My Car’s awards success started amongst critics circles in America. Its success there in winning a handful of best film awards began to put it on the radar. People began to seek out this film to see what the hype was about, and it seems that they got on board the train (or rather got inside the car) too. With something like Parasite two years ago there was a something of a push behind it, and a lot of word of mouth praise in the build-up to awards season. However, Drive My Car appears to have been almost entirely natural gaining not just a Best Picture nomination (meaning that at least around 500 Academy voters will have likely placed it as one of their top two films of 2021) but also nods in key categories such as Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
With these achievements in mind its still perhaps easy to underestimate the power behind Drive My Car and the push which it has had. Even the fact that it’s in a foreign language can’t be argued against after Parasite and the increasing frequency (if only one each time) of foreign language features at the Oscars. Three hours long? Most of the nominees this year are around the two and a half hour mark, or longer. Yet, when it comes to the foreign language front Drive My Car, while somewhere towards the front, isn’t everyone’s favourite to win the Best International Feature award. It appears to face strong competition from other multi-nominated features Flee and The Worst Person In The World.
However, where it might find a push is in the way that it connects to a number of voters. Not in the effective conversations about grief, but in the way that it’s about a director, and acting and the stage. Such points, while not always the main focus, could connect with enough voters to cause it to linger in their minds, or have more impact due to the way in which they connect with it, and lead them to place it higher on the ranking of the ten nominees on their ballot. After all, the Academy have been known to lean towards stories about their own industry in the past – Birdman and The Artist won in the last decade alone. And yet, they haven’t actually nominated the man who so wonderfully plays the central director-actor in the film, Hidetoshi Nishijima, despite some saying he could have managed to slip in. Instead, favouring Javier Bardem’s slightly divisive turn as Desi Arnaz in Being The Ricardos.
But still, it’s hard to understate the force that must have been behind Drive My Car to get it to the nominations which it has earned. And even then it could still be underestimated, it’s got a Best Picture nomination after all. And with the more people who have viewed it on hearing of its growing success it appears to have gained an increasing level of love, all of which could reflect on voters ballots – especially if they watch it as the nominee they hadn’t seen yet, leaving it fresher in their minds. To come from pretty much nowhere, largely through word of mouth and love from other places, and already prove to be favourable with a large enough amount of voters (as it already has done, although to an unknown degree), there’s a chance that perhaps the most exciting reveal and win of the Oscar night this year could be a further surprise from the force of Drive My Car, namely it winning Best Picture.
On the point of films which appear to have come from nowhere and simply gained steam over time, there’s perhaps no bigger success story this awards season than that of CODA. After having been acquired by Apple at the start of 2021 for a Sundance-record $25 million, the film was pitched as a potential contender after positive word of mouth in the mid-stages of awards season ramblings. As nominations began to be increased the certainty of a nomination grew. Since then the snowball has grown and grown. Leading CODA from outsider-dramedy to many people’s favourite to win Best Picture.
It started with the win for the big award at the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards. Sure, it’s an ensemble cast award, this is an ensemble film which features a frontrunner for the Supporting Actor Oscar (Troy Kotsur), but it did beat awards frontrunner Belfast. We’ll see… Soon within the space of a week or so the film has won the Adapted Screenplay award at both BAFTA and WGA (Writers Guild of America) and claimed the top prize from the PGA (Producers Guild of America) – who also use the same preferential ballot system as is used for the Best Picture Oscar. From being consistently in the awards season conversation CODA has gone on to dominate it with its traditional, feel-good story which is likely to connect with the many older voters, and indeed appears to have worked with audiences of all ages. It’s a film which appears to have been generally liked by most viewers – despite what expected Twitter discourse has to say as soon as positive word about something builds – and often, to paraphrase and borrow a belief by the great Mark Kermode, Best Picture often goes to the film which is the most consistently liked.
And despite having the furthest away release date of the nominees, only back in August, there’s been plenty of push from Apple, especially as they’ve seen the success that the film has been having. Pushing money at a campaign, which appears to have been working. Or, maybe it’s because of the memory in voters minds. The final 20 minutes certainly has an emotional and, to use the phrase again (forgive me), ‘feel-good’ nature that may very well stay in voters minds and push it up their ballots beyond the standard 4th, 5th or 6th places it was initially believed to potentially get (by myself, admittedly). It’s often the case that consistent placements in the top three spots on ballots are needed to get a film across the needed 50% mark to win the top prize of the night – more on which later on in this ‘thesis’.
Yet, despite the push CODA doesn’t have the often sought after nominations in the Best Director, despite Sian Heder’s screenplay receiveing a nomination, and Film Editing categories to confirm a true competitor for Best Picture. It’s especially rare for a winner to emerge without a Film Editing nomination, although, of course, not impossible. It’s been pointed out the lack of technical nominations for the film – I would personally point out the fact that Beyond The Shore should have been included in Best Original Song, a category which almost always has shocking omissions – but, it could be argued that it’s not a hugely technical film. It’s one that’s had an effect because of the story and the way that people have connected to it, perhaps why the screenplay has been such a success.
A film doesn’t need to get a shedload of nominations, or be technically stunning to connect with you and have an impact – a point which American film journalist Jeff Sneider has made a number of times on Twitter in his praise for the film, which he has long claimed will claim Best Picture on the 27th. And if that’s all it needs to do, at least amongst enough voters, to get high enough placements on the preferential ballot then it could easily swing to yet another awards stage and claim the top prize of the evening.
From the more down-to-earth stories which have come from nowhere, let’s move to the grand-scale sci-fi flick which acted as one of the most praised films of last year. While not a completely certain addition amongst the nominees until other awards bodies began showing favour towards it, knowing how they sometimes stereotypically are towards major films and blockbusters (there’s usually one or two amongst the Best Picture nominees each year, it’s never that bad. Remember, Titanic won and more recently Black Panther, Avatar, District 9, Inception, Get Out, Toy Story 3 and Up all had Best Picture nominations). However, Dune has managed to make its way into the top category at this year’s Oscars, and has also picked up a number of technical nods to match where a lot of the praise towards it was directed.
There’s no denying the triumph that Dune was as a big screen experience. And when it comes to the technical categories, where it clearly has a lot of favour, it’s expected by many to do very well – particularly when it comes to Sound, Visual Effects and indeed Editing. All coming down to the cinematic achievement which it was. However, for those voters perhaps catching up on it, or who haven’t watched it on the big screen, the impact might not be there? There may still be a sense of scale and scope, but whether the overall impact of the film is felt is a different matter – particularly as the visuals were much of what people loved about the film and why it received so much acclaim. And, if Denis Villeneuve can’t earn a Best Director nomination – which came as a shock to many – for his work on this film and helping bring it all to life, then what does that say for the film’s chances and the effect that the scale had on some voters? Yet, it could be argued that some voters may give the film Villeneuve directed a push in the Best Picture category to make up for the lack of attention towards his actual directing. It’s perhaps unlikely, but not entirely out of the question, especially as his direction was largely praised for capturing the wide ranges, landscapes and details within the film.
This being said, the film still has ten nominations overall, the second most out of all nominated films this year, including one in Best Adapted Screenplay (something which I was personally slightly doubtful about). The screenplay for this highly visual film also being remembered and worthy of a nomination, in enough Writers Branch members’ eyes, says something about the overall reception of the film and perhaps says that there is a push behind it. The story and dialogue, etc has been noted – perhaps from multiple viewings where it was perhaps noticed more a second time around? – and shows multiple elements of the film working and giving it an overall push for Best Picture if it did more than just visually appeal in creating a grand sci-fi world in the form of Arrakis, amongst the other locations featured in the futuristic outer-space settings that line the film.
Yet, if the visuals alone are enough there could be something amongst voters who want to push a film that truly shows cinematic spectacle – particularly with cinemas having not long been shut, even a fair way into 2021 for some countries. While this might be what the technical categories are for, there could be others who felt such an impact, and generally loved what Dune did so much and the effect that it had on them, that they place it high on their ballots to hopefully give it a Best Picture win. There was certainly a lot of love for it when it was first released, and the acclaim has continued into the awards, and most notably Oscars, race. If there is enough within it that has stuck out to voters and blended together for a truly memorable cinematic experience, and with the help of the preferential ballot which could be a big help to a film such as Dune (again, more on which later), it could very well pick up the title of the best film released in 2021 (in the eyes of the Academy Awards) from this closely-competing pack of ten.
Meanwhile, while Dune looked at the futuristic, sci-fi-rooted climbs of far off planets Don’t Look Up looked at the modern day destruction of our own. There’s something about the social and political relevance of the film – initially meant as an allegory for climate change, although perhaps taking on more relevance after the last two years – that could very well connect to a number of voters and lead them to place this higher on their ballots of they agree with it and the more widely spread jabs it makes compared to Adam McKay’s previous films; acting as a wider satire than his previous two feature projects.
While McKay lacks a Best Director nomination he has received an Original Screenplay nod – with a chance of winning in that category, after having won at the WGA Awards. In fact, with this, Vice and The Big Short he appears to have become something of an expected contender with the Oscars, as has become the case with a number of writers and directors over the years. Well before release people were expecting Don’t Look Up to be an awards contender, and it has proved to be – even managing to pick up a Best Film nomination at the BAFTAs, which wasn’t entirely expected. In fact, even at that ceremony Leonardo DiCaprio managed to pick up a nomination for Leading Actor, while his increasingly rage-filled performance failed to get any Oscars love, the same going for any performances in the film as a whole.
But, the Academy is an international group, not just limited to America, although they make up the largest proportion of the membership, and if they relate to the American take of Don’t Look Up then that could give it a push alongside any relevance they mind find in it. Alongside this, perhaps there could be a quiet push from those in other branches, such as the technical ones, who may not have seen a push for Don’t Look Up for Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling but liked it as a film overall.
However, the film with its satirical tone and nature does find drawbacks when it comes to its comedy. The Academy has long been shown to prove the subjective nature of comedy, especially through rarely leaning towards it. And while this has done enough to find a nomination for Best Picture it may not quite get the win if the humour doesn’t have a wide effect, which may be the case as this appears to be the most divisive film amongst the ten nominated; having been so since its release on Netflix in late-December. With that being said a late-December release does sometimes mean that a film just slips away from being nominated by the Academy, at least if it doesn’t have a campaign. Don’t Look Up admittedly had a short, limited, release a week or two before landing on the streaming platform, but its core attention was gained when available to stream – and it may have been released early for and to voters of various different awards bodies, including the Academy, meaning that it could have more easily slipped into view for voters earlier on rather than in that late-December patch, the final stages of eligibility in the year.
Regardless, the film was clearly seen and enjoyed by enough voters to get a nomination for Best Picture, and in a number of other categories including Editing, at least. And while it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s overall favourite, it’s enough to have received a nomination and therefore shouldn’t be viewed as the automatically assumed outsider that some have slightly branded it, after all it’s a contender and anything could happen with the preferential ballot and the way these nominees have changed and competed over time.
Perhaps the biggest hinderance for Don’t Look Up claiming Best Picture isn’t voters, but the studio and distributor. While Netflix have slightly promoted the film, mostly when first released, its awards push appears to have been somewhat quiet for this particular feature, even The Lost Daughter (nominated for Lead Actress and Adapted Screenplay and competing at a number of indie awards) appears to have more buzz around it from the studio than this top-prize-contender. The big money from the studio, however, appears to have been put into what they potentially view as their best chance and frontrunner at winning Best Picture: The Power Of The Dog. There’s more to say about this when actually coming around to the film, but it certainly seems as if the money has gone towards this campaign rather than that of Don’t Look Up.
However, at the end of the day this isn’t exactly a competition about who puts the most money into something (remember, Drive My Car has had a fair deal of success), but simply what people think is the better film. The one that works best for them and has an impact. And if the humour and anxiety of Don’t Look Up have an effect on voters, and indeed they feel the relevance within the satire, then it could perhaps climb up ballots and quietly sneak up to having its name announced after the drumroll towards the end of one of the biggest nights of film celebration in the calendar.
Away from the chaos of modern day world-ending and adults in rooms discussing serious topics, Belfast takes a throwback look to, you guessed it, Belfast in 1969. A simple tale of childhood and occasionally adults in rooms discussing serious topics. Since winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2021 Belfast has been largely viewed as an awards frontrunner. It’s powered through the season, and for much of it was considered to be the frontrunner; the one destined to win. However, as soon as it failed to pick up a Best Film Editing nomination its chances simply appeared to halt. Everyone almost instantly cast it aside as the film that wasn’t going to win Best Picture, after all you almost always need a Best Film Editing nomination to win Best Picture. But, surely that doesn’t hinder the overall reputation of the film, people surely like it just as much as they did before the nominations?
After all, it’s still managed to pick up Best Director and Original Screenplay nominations (although not really a frontrunner in either of those categories, despite the latter being quite an unpredictable race where almost any nominee could win) for Kenneth Branagh, telling a personal tale inspired by his own childhood in Northern Ireland during the Troubles – something which may very well connect with voters. What may further connect with them is the representation of cinema, and the arts in general, as a form of escape. A prominent image from the film has circulated of the central family, especially main character Buddy, being transfixed and transported by the wonders of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There’s a celebration of the cinematic experience in such moments and it could take some voters back to their own childhood, particularly some older voters who have connected with the more traditional nature of the film, and cinematic experiences. A reminder of their first love for their industry could give the film a boost in some eyes and minds.
Plus, with the sentimentality being clearly remembered in the form of Ciarán Hinds’ Supporting Actor nomination – once believed to be a leader in the category – and a surprise nomination for Judi Dench in Supporting Actress (it’s Judi Dench doing an accent, Oscar bait gold!) there could be proof that the film has emotionally connected with a number of Academy members. Dench scoring a nod over Caitriona Balfe, who was believed by some to be a potential nominee, perhaps speaks to the memory of her performance, or rather her delivering of the final line of the film. The key statement that she makes before the final summary and dedication. What she says is certainly the emotional focus of that ending and if it’s lingered in enough minds it could show resonance and impact amongst at least the Acting Branch of the Academy, the most populous branch of them all.
However, despite being well liked and nominated Belfast hasn’t had much success in actually picking up any major awards. Perhaps its main note is claiming the title of Outstanding British Film from the BAFTAs. And perhaps there could be the British push towards it – although in the end the Best Film BAFTA went to The Power Of The Dog – and enough people liking it enough to place it consistently on their ballots, but the question then becomes will it be placed high enough on ballots? With so many other favourites taking over in the conversation where does that leave Belfast? It could still be liked and loved, just by a now quiet group. The reception towards it has unlikely changed, just the view of its chances has as awards season has panned out. Certainly, the film is the kind of thing to have won a number of years ago – before the shift we’ve begun to see with the Academy in the past couple of years. And with a number of different genres and styles at play in this year’s Best Picture category, perhaps it could be tradition that prevails and leads Kenneth Branagh to an Oscar win in at least one of the various categories he’s been nominated in throughout his career so far.
While on the topic of throwbacks to past decades Best Director nominee Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the Oscars with his latest, 70s throwback Licorice Pizza. It may surprise some to hear (or rather read) that Paul Thomas Anderson has never won an Oscar. While he’s had plenty of nominations over the course of his career (11 in total, including those for Licorice Pizza) he’s never been on the stage to deliver an acceptance speech. Perhaps he may get a career push for his latest effort, he has become something of an expected contender over the years, why not a win finally? Although, if this were to happen it may more likely be in the Directing – where he appears to be an outsider – or Original Screenplay category, where some have predicted a win for him in that close competition.
Yet, instead of awarding Licorice Pizza a legacy award for Anderson, some voters may instead have simply connected to his lookback to the hazy summers of the 70s. Focusing on California there’s plenty of film references, main character Gary is a young actor, and discussion of the industry; Bradley Cooper makes an acclaimed appearance which was rumbled to be in with the chance of a nomination as producer Jon Peters. As already mentioned, the Academy has been known to connect and get on with representations of their own industry. If some are transported back to their youth, or early years in the industry, then the effect of the film could be stronger on them, pushing it further up their ballots. A point perhaps pushed and emphasised by the fact that, unlike some other throwbacks by Oscar-favourite writers and directors, Anderson’s film doesn’t feel completely made up of personal nostalgia. Giving more opportunity for personal involvement and transportation to the viewer.
This being said, the film only has the three mentioned nominations. While some expected it to appear in Cinematography, Leading Actress (for a generally absent from most awards, although BAFTA nominated, Alana Haim) and Film Editing it’s failed to appear in any other category outside of the Director, Original Screenplay and Picture races. While this doesn’t completely take the film out of the race, to repeat myself again, a film doesn’t have to be technically astounding to connect with you and involve you – despite what I said about Dune… Licorice Pizza could simply find a push because it’s liked and engaged people. A good screenplay and direction are a strong blend and displays that such elements have been recognised within the feature show that there is a push behind it – especially as Anderson wasn’t completely a frontrunner to receive a nomination for his, admittedly excellent, direction of the film.
There’s certainly a mixed bag of reasons for and against Licorice Pizza’s chances of winning Best Picture. It’s certainly the film that’s perhaps received the most controversy amongst the nominees, mostly in relation to the outdated, in-period, treatment of Japanese characters – with John Michael Higgins’ character putting on an overdone, racist voice when talking to his Japanese wives about their/ his restaurant. While the film is knowing of what it’s doing during these brief moments and doesn’t completely promote the behaviour it does play it for laughs with no overall condoning, seemingly presuming people will get the idea of ‘we’ve moved on from this’. Yet, even this controversy appears to have been somewhat quiet in the grand scheme of things – the sudden dislike of CODA appears to have been much louder and stronger in the days since it became a frontrunner than this point about Licorice Pizza ever appears to have been, although it has been present. It’s certainly not appeared to overly remove anything from the film’s chances – even winning Original Screenplay at BAFTA.
With such points in mind it seems that there may be quite a push behind Licorice Pizza and quite a liking towards it from a number of potential voters. Perhaps that push has been underestimated, or simply just not thought about in comparison to the belief of the power that other contenders have. There was certainly a strong reception to the film when first released, and that may have remained strong enough for enough people to increase its chances in the Best Picture category. Especially if it wins Best Original Screenplay then that certainly could give it more prominence in the race for the top award of the night.
Away from the throwbacks and onto the updated throwback(?). Steven Spielberg has returned with his take on classic musical West Side Story. Long believed to be an Oscar contender, simply because it’s a Spielberg film, those predictions and rumblings have certainly proved to be true as the film lands a Best Picture nomination and nods in a number of other categories. And Spielberg is undeniably a big push for this film and its chances of winning Best Picture, especially with his Best Director nomination. However, his involvement could also act as a pull from the film’s chances. There’s a tendency now, after the amount of great and acclaimed films he’s made throughout his career so far, to almost underestimate Spielberg. To think ‘of course he’s made another great film’. It’s become expected to the point where maybe we aren’t always aware of just how great the film he’s made is? Although still noting that it is indeed great.
Although, it’s not exactly Spielberg’s name which could cause an increase in the film’s odds. That title goes to lead actor Ansel Elgort. In 2020 Elgort was accused of sexual assault and rape in 2014, from a woman who was 17 at the time, he being 20. Elgort has denied the allegations and claimed the relationship was “brief, legal and entirely consensual”. Certainly, little has been heard from Elgort since, especially when surrounding this film. And his remaining in the final cut of the film doesn’t appear to have stopped its awards chances, gaining many nominations from various awards bodies. This is Best Picture, Elgort himself hasn’t received a nomination. Plus, the Academy did nominated Bohemian Rhapsody in this category a few years ago, even with Bryan Singer’s involvement.
Aside from this, plenty of attention has gone towards other cast members, especially Ariana DeBose in the Supporting Actress category, where she appears to be a frontrunner. Even while failing to get a nomination Mike Faist has undeniably captured plenty of hearts with his performance as Riff, and Rachel Zegler has blown up Twitter and the internet a couple of times, especially when revealed that she wasn’t invited to the ceremony – something changed by the Academy at the last second when the internet spoke out against the lead actress of one of the Best Picture nominees not being invited.
However, while the film has a handful of nominations it doesn’t have an Editing nomination – even with its various dance and musical sequences – or a mention in the Adapted Screenplay category. Some may put this latter lack-of-nomination down to the fact that the film keeps many of the same songs, just slightly rearranged, with some tweaked and updated dialogue here and there, without major differences? Meanwhile others might claim it’s a remake of a film which has already won Best Picture; 60 years ago. Yet, there are also those who point out that this isn’t a remake of the first film adaptation, rather the stage musical again, with Spielberg’s view. If enough people have noticed this, and indeed they may very well have done to have given it a Best Picture nomination, then the chances of the film winning the award could still be strong. Plus, Ariana DeBose, as already stated here, is frontrunner for the Supporting Actress award; playing the same character Rita Moreno won for 60 years ago in the original big screen take on the classic Stephen Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein musical.
While the film wasn’t the biggest box office success, at least in the States, since its conveniently timed landing on Disney+ it appears to have gained something of a new life. With much love pouring out towards it since it dropped onto the service, especially from people who were catching it for the first time after the film was around for about one week before being dominated box-office-wise by Spider-Man: No Way Home. Alongside this and its mid-December release there’s a chance that West Side Story is fresher in the memories of some voters, especially if they aren’t revisiting all the films, and that could give a slight memory-based bias towards it. Add to that the strong response that the film appeared to get in the first place and it could very easily find itself sneaking up the ballot.
Admittedly, on first seeing it I thought to myself as the credits began to roll ‘that might win Best Picture’. And this is a film that could get a big boost from the preferential ballot. If it has proved to be as joyous as some have claimed and displayed a remake that some view just as good as, if not better than, the original then the chances of Best Picture may very well be quite strong. This is perhaps Spielberg’s biggest awards film in a number of years, some claiming it’s simply his best film in years, although he’s almost always in consideration, understandably so. And if there’s one thing we learn and remember pretty much every time he’s behind a new release as director; we should never underestimate him or his film. Remember, even The Post gained a Best Picture nomination.
Spielberg and Anderson aren’t the only major returning directors in this year’s Best Picture line-up. Off the back of his (rightfully) Best Picture and Director (amongst others) winning The Shape Of Water, Guillermo del Toro returns to the top category with his latest film, Nightmare Alley. However, Nightmare Alley is without many of the nominations that The Shape Of Water had. In fact, it lacks any major nominations aside from Best Picture. While it has some mentions in the technical categories (Production Design, Costume Design and Cinematography – all elements which have had consistent praise, particularly the production design) there’s been very little mention of the film across any major awards bodies, although Cate Blanchett did gain a Supporting Actress nod at the SAG awards – losing to Ariana DeBose’s turn in West Side Story.
It generally seems to be believed that Nightmare Alley just slipped in to the list as the ‘tenth nominee’ the one that nobody could properly nail in, with about eight or nine films seemingly competing for the spot in people’s predictions. But, the fact it has received the nomination shows that there is a force behind it, and it could be more than initially thought of at first glance. While not as much of an awards contender as The Shape Of Water, Nightmare Alley isn’t perhaps the most conventional awards film with its style and tone inspired by Greek tragedy. And that style and tone has clearly worked for enough voters listing it as one of their two favourite films of 2021 (US release date and meeting Academy qualifying regulations, etc). Plus, it appears that those who have enjoyed Nightmare Alley the most have REALLY loved it; with some claiming it to be del Toro’s best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. If there’s enough of this reception there could be enough love for the film to get it past the first stage of the preferential ballot at least. Plus, if there are echoes of this and a generally positive reception towards the film, its design and look remaining in voters’ minds, then it could receive some helpful higher, even just middling, placements on ballots.
Perhaps out of all of this year’s Best Picture nominees Nightmare Alley is likely to have the most varied placements on ballots. But, in a year with such strong competition and an ever-changing lead (if there has ever been a single one) in the race it’s likely that ballots will be more varied than usual where it comes to positionings. And with something as different to the rest of the competition as Nightmare Alley, that could come in handy. Especially if, because of the way it stands out from the other nominees, it gets more consistent placements on ballots than the rest of the nominees.
And, while del Toro won Best Picture and Director for his previous feature just four years ago and some might say that his film had its chance and he won it speaks positively that his follow-up has been taken into consideration in this category. Plus, again, its the film that’s being judged, not overly the person behind it that’s what those individual categories are for. And more often than not it comes into play in the directing and acting categories. There appears to be love towards del Toro from the Academy, or perhaps just Nightmare Alley, or a mixture of both? For the film to be mentioned at least shows that there is enough love from a fair few Academy members at least towards it. It’s been said by some figures that the believed frontrunners could very well cancel each other out somehow and that alleged ‘outsiders’ such as Nightmare Alley could begin to take the lead with this unique voting system amongst Oscar categories. Perhaps that could be enough to bring it round to a win for Best Picture. It’s certainly not unheard of, and with the changing face of the category still slightly developing anything could happen. A film such as Nightmare Alley picking the big award up at the end of the night is nowhere near out of the question.
If there’s one film that’s been discussed as potentially being cancelled out by other apparent ‘frontrunners’ it’s the one with the most nominations at this year’s ceremony (with 12 in total), The Power Of The Dog. With all these nominations, including one in each of the key categories, and four acting nods, there’s clear love for this western almost across the board of the Academy’s various branches. It’s been in their minds and overtime has powered through to become the film that many people believe could be the one to win Best Picture. However, whether the film is in minds as much as people think is a different matter. In many of its nominated categories the film isn’t the favourite to win, often the 2nd place or ‘upset’ winner. Benedict Cumberbatch is certainly believed to be a strong competitor in the Best Leading Actor race, while the screenplay is part of the too-close-to-call Adapted Screenplay category. And while this does show that there’s favour towards the film, the question arises as to whether it’s enough?
If the awards season power the film has shown up until this point is anything to go by then the answer is perhaps yes. Picking up a number of key awards here and there The Power Of The Dog has most notably won the top prizes at both the DGA (Directors Guild of America) awards and BAFTAs. Plus, with director Jane Campion seemingly nailed on to win Best Director, in the eyes of many predictors, there’s often an overlap between the two categories – and it does seem odd to think that Best Director might be the only award that a film with as much push behind it as The Power Of The Dog has on the night. Particularly when you look at just how much money Netflix appears to have put behind this. Numerous posters and billboards and adverts have appeared over the last month or two expressing just how much the film has been praised and loved. Plastered with just how many best film awards and competitions and festivals its won. There have even been adverts on Spotify saying how Netflix has the most awarded film of the year – while potentially just advertising the film you can’t help but feel it ties in rather well to the timing of awards season and Oscar buzz.
Netflix really appear to be trying hard to win a Best Picture Oscar this time around. While coming close with Roma, and having recent contenders in the likes of Marriage Story, The Irishman, Mank and The Trial Of The Chicago 7, this year appears to be the year where they’re truly pushing their campaign, and on one film in particular (sorry Don’t Look Up). However, there is a chance that this could backfire on the studio and distributor. Will voters want to give attention to a film they feel bombarded by? Especially one which has clearly already won so much, why does it need one more?
Regardless, the film clearly has plenty of supporters, and with a number of major wins so far there are clearly many people who will likely have it at the top of their preferential ballots. While there are some who have begun to speak out against it (people who have remained relatively silent up until the last few weeks and aren’t Sam Elliott) or simply say they were slightly middling on it, if the film has enough placements towards the top of ballots to back up the first place rankings it may very well get then there’s the chance of a strong push for it to get Best Picture. Especially if the competition is as varied and scattered as it seems they might be. This may be one of the occasions where more first place votes is a bigger push than consistent second and third placements. If so, then reminders of the memory of The Power Of The Dog and the first place votes that it may very well get may add yet another major plaudit to its breezeblock-supported mantlepiece.
As mentioned, Benedict Cumberbatch is a strong contender in this year’s Best Leading Actor race. However, the man who many believe that honour will go to is Will Smith for his turn in King Richard. Since the film’s release he’s been widely believed to finally reach Oscar gold, partly for the fact he gives a great performance, and partly for the legacy honour. Yet, King Richard has managed to pick up a number of other nominations, including Film Editing, Original Screenplay and a nod for Aunjanue Ellis in Supporting Actress (with reports of rumblings at a number of Academy events in her favour). It’s a strong line-up for the film when it comes to nominations and shows that the traditional slight underdog nature of the sports biopic tale has connected with a number of voters.
To the extent that the film made a surprise win in the Drama category at the ACE (American Cinema Editors) Eddies; although, the non-Best Picture nominated Tick, Tick… Boom! (still nominated for the Film Editing Oscar) won in the Comedy group. While these awards do, as likely already presumed, celebrate film editing and which film was simply the best edited it does perhaps show an echo towards the Editing category at the Oscars. And, often a nomination in this category is needed to give a proper Best Picture push in many eyes. King Richard has just this, and perhaps with a potential win it could show that if voters view it as the best structed and pieced together film they may reflect that in their ranking of the Best Picture nominees; despite no Best Director nomination for Reinaldo Marcus Green at the helm.
Yet, while the film has somewhat gained steam over the course of awards season, particularly thanks to Smith, a strong performance can boost a film and its overall reception – remember Green Book? – and the Eddies win, it’s still been viewed as something of a slight outsider in the category. Many predicted that it would get the nomination, however it’s never exactly been viewed as a major contender for the award. But, it can be argued that both enough people have clearly favoured it, and the fact that there’s been little word against it could help give King Richard a boost. Perhaps providing consistent placements on ballots as a generally liked film. It would just need consistent enough placements high enough on the ballots to scrape into the Best Picture win.
The ‘feel-good’ nature is there within the narrative as the film looks at the origins of American tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams through the eyes and life of their father, Richard. Much like discussed with CODA, which many believe to be a frontrunner, this could have an affect and after the triumphant tennis match finale and final stages could very much stay in the mind with that very feeling. After all, don’t we most often remember the films that make us feel something? While people focus on CODA as the ‘smaller film’, King Richard may very well have been bubbling in the background, with the push of its strong performances and praised flow and editing. If those combine to have a similar impact it’s just as much a part of the competition as any of the other nominees. And could very well have a similar force behind it if it is as consistently well-liked as receptions appear to indicate. Festival and cinema screenings were said to have gone down well with audiences, particularly in the final stages. If voters had that experience then (get ready for this one) it’s possible that King Richard could become king of Oscar night.
And now, the main point of the repetitive ramble: trying to predict what will win the 2022 Best Picture Oscar. Based on the unknowledgeable presumed thoughts and patterns of 9,000+ members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
It’s an intensely close race this year, something which is said every year and remains to be true – that’s also said every year; and now probably that, too. And before diving into a quick(er than everything above) summary of the nominees chances it’s perhaps best to once again look at the preferential ballot and the way it works. Voters will rank each of the nominees from best to worst. The film with the least amount of first place votes is removed from consideration, and anyone who had that at the top of their list then has their second place vote become their new top choice. This happens until a film has 51% or more of the first place votes – which very likely won’t happen in the first two or three rounds, especially this year. Therefore it’s often better to think about what will gain the most consistent second and third place rankings rather than the most first place mentions on the ballot, giving a better chance of an early push towards that 51% mark.
As usual, predicting does somewhat assume that voters have seen every film and mentioned them on their ballots. Although, some in actual fact may just end up listing one film, or five. Either having not watched them all, or just wanting to giving a push to their personal favourite. Perhaps they just passionately hate tennis, or the thought of the world ending, or cars.
When it comes to the film/s that are likely to have the least amount of first place mentions and can almost be taken out of the race completely there are, as with almost any year, still one or two outliers. Don’t Look Up simply feels too divisive, with many people who have just not got on with it and its humour, to have a proper Best Picture push. Meanwhile, Nightmare Alley; while certainly having a fair deal of love shown towards it and this being the Best Picture category where the film as a whole is judged, doesn’t appear to have much attention outside of one or two technical categories, especially after little overall awards attention and discussion.
Then arrives the matter of the films which have been generally liked, but perhaps not enough to be placed consistently in the top three of the preferential ballots. While they’ve certainly had their fans and a push in other categories it feels as if both Licorice Pizza and King Richard are being outshone and discussed by other titles in the Best Picture category. They may be mentioned consistently on the ballots, but perhaps more likely in the middle-lower ranges, beginning to take both out of the conversation. King Richard certainly has its traditional ‘feel-good’ underdog nature which may connect with voters, but other titles with that feeling have been in further discussion, meanwhile Licorice Pizza’s conversation appears to have faded overtime. It may have hope for Paul Thomas Anderson in the Original Screenplay category, but that’s perhaps about it. Both films appear to generally be in the background of the conversation, perhaps further suggesting they may be just outside of the core Best Picture spotlight.
Meanwhile, the case for Drive My Car is an interesting one. It’s uncertain just how much force is behind it, but the nomination was something of a surprise; especially as its success has largely been based on word-of-mouth attention. There’s a strong case to be made for its chances, and they are perhaps rather good. But, with it only just being the frontrunner in the International Feature category does put concern into the mind over its Best Picture chances. It feels that while the film has had success it may be somewhat limited now in terms of the Best Picture competition. The conversation has been around the fact of its appearance and achievement rather than how it will fare overall in terms of getting Best Picture. There are certainly those who really like it, shown by its other nominations, but its likely to not quite be enough, especially based on conversation around competition in other categories it appears in.
While Drive My Car has had its dramatic push Dune has long appeared to be about the technical and visual push. That of the powerful cinematic experience. However, without a nomination for Denis Villeneuve in Best Director the film begins to seem to falter, especially when thinking about having the emotional hook and connection with voters, leading it to begin to drop out of the race. That being said, Belfast has long been discussed because of the personal story behind it helping to create the emotional moments and connection. Yet, since being damaged by that lack of Best Film Editing nomination the conversation around it has dramatically dropped, being overtaken by other titles. The push simply appeared to die as the film has gradually got pushed back in the Best Picture race, feeling like it’s just on the edge of being an upfront competitor, but not quite in the ring enough anymore to quite reach the award.
Which brings us to the final three potential winners, in my view: CODA, The Power Of The Dog and West Side Story. My personal choice would be West Side Story, but while I think it could really benefit from the preferential ballot (as Dune possibly could with its cinematic impact) and consistent places higher up ballots, there does feel to be a push against it for being a remake. Yes, CODA is also a remake, but one of a film that ‘noone’ has seen (La Famille Bélier) – basically meaning that it hasn’t been in the Hollywood and American sphere, etc. Remember, The Departed was an English-language remake – something which it seems many people still don’t know. But, West Side Story is an adaptation of a very famous stage musical that’s already had a Best Picture winning adaptation, which a number believe this new version to be a sole remake of. Plus, with Spielberg on board you can also feel an air of accepting this as ‘of course it’s great, it’s Spielberg’ – both a push and pull element.
Therefore it appears that the two frontrunners for this year’s Best Picture race are indeed the ones that many predictors and pundits are claiming to be the two leads in the race. Both quite different films, and both with heavy pushes from the streaming distributors behind them. With how this season has panned out and the different receptions to both films, and the effect which they have, it’s difficult to properly determine which one has the upper-hand – if either of them either do and there isn’t a silent nominee that could claim the award at the last second.
CODA has truly come from nowhere in the last two weeks building up to this year’s Oscars ceremony. And perhaps the biggest surprises its delivered is its success in Adapted Screenplay categories, ahead of The Power Of The Dog which was once believed to be in the lead in the now tight Academy grouping. It’s this that perhaps puts it out in front over The Power Of The Dog.
However, The Power Of The Dog is undeniably one of the most awarded films of the year – as many adverts have continuously told us – and had a very early push that has appeared to continue. It’s the kind of film that fits in with the trends that the Academy has shown over the past few years (Green Book being the anomaly – although CODA isn’t completely a Green Book win, although it does seem something of an Academy favourite style of ‘safe’ and ‘conventional’). And while The Power Of The Dog may very well end up having a number of first place votes on the preferential ballot I can see CODA having more consistent placements in the three levels below, as may have happened at the Producers Guild Awards to lead it to that win – they also using the preferential ballot. With this in mind this may very well be where The Power Of The Dog begins to slip and becomes another ‘second place’ figure in a category as it may find itself slightly jumbled with other contenders amongst the varied mix that ballots are perhaps likely to present.
CODA does not have nominations for Best Director and Best Film Editing, it only has three in total – and yet it feels as if it could maybe win all of them. The Power Of The Dog, on the other hand, has 12 (the most this year) and could only win one, or two, of them. It’s an odd set of circumstances and shows the power that a small film such as CODA may very well have behind it. If you asked me three weeks ago I would have said that CODA was probably an outsider in the category, although may have picked up Best Supporting Actor. Ask me now, and I say that it could very well be this year’s Best Picture winner.
However, with all of this in mind, the question remains which film is likely to best fare on the preferential ballot and reach 51% or more before the other can. And this year I believe the film that will do just that and become the latest Academy Award winner of Best Picture will be CODA.