Earlier this week, I put out some admittedly half-hearted Oscar predictions. I have not had my ear to the ground this awards season, but I did want to address the Best Picture race once more. (Mainly, I wanted to give some credit where it was due to CODA for being this year’s awards season darling. But more on that later). I think there are more shades to uncover than my original prediction took into account.
As such, I want to briefly rank the Best Picture nominees, from least likely to most likely to win.
10. Don’t Look Up
Netflix and Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up doesn’t have strong legs to stand on. Released to decidedly mixed reception from fans and critics alike, and still looking for its first major awards season W, Don’t Look Up lacks the credentials to make any noise in the Best Picture hunt. The only category this film has a shot at is Screenplay (and I wouldn’t put my money there, either).
9. Nightmare Alley
Nightmare Alley is an interesting Oscar picture, in that it doesn’t really feel like an Oscar picture. Its inclusion here very much hinges on the Academy’s affinity for Guillermo del Toro, but Alley lacks the distinct Oscar vibe of The Shape of Water, despite it being more of a straight drama with less genre trappings. Alley has better chances in the technical awards, frankly.
8. Licorice Pizza
There was a time when I would be surprised to put Licorice Pizza this low on a ranking like this. That time was before the movie came out. Its marketing campaign screamed Oscar player. It has a Hollywood nostalgia to it. It is made by a modern-day auteur. And at the time it just felt like a big film. But it didn’t land with the same splash, and it hasn’t had a fruitful awards season thus far. With only three Academy nominations, it isn’t looking good for Anderson’s film. (Notable, too, that these three noms don’t include Best Editing, which is a significant correlate to Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is almost always nominated for Best Editing. Don’t ask me why.)
Nowadays, it seems like the Best Picture race always has a big, effects heavy movie in the mix. 1917, Black Panther, Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant and The Martian (all in the same year). It feels like a trend. Also, none of these movies win. Dune will be the next in that pattern. It is definitely less Oscar-baiting than some of these other films, and it didn’t exactly land with a huge splash when it day-and-dated on HBO Max last October. Also, frankly, it is only half of a movie. It doesn’t seem like a film Oscar voters will jump at the chance to champion. The nomination here is its victory (along with whatever technical awards it cleans up on Oscar night).
6. King Richard
Speaking of Best Editing, King Richard did get a nod here. And a Best Picture win isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It is a pretty Oscar-y movie. It is dominated by big performances. It has feel-good elements. It has the true story angle. But it is also the type of movie that the Academy drops an acting or screenplay award on and leave it at that. In this case, Richard should snag Will Smith his Oscar, and that’s it.
5. Drive My Car
Drive My Car is a very good film. It is one of the critics favorites from last year. And it is a shoo-in to take home the International Film award on Oscar Sunday. But its Oscar stock has cooled to icy. The film failed to pick up crucial nominations at the DGA, PGA, and BAFTA awards. Those hoping it will pull off a Parasite and move beyond the ghetto that is the International category will likely be disappointed. Then again, I was wrong about Parasite. I could be wrong here, too.
4. West Side Story
Remakes are rarely considered for Best Picture. But there is precedence for remakes. The Departed (somewhat surprisingly) won Best Picture. And West Side Story I’m sure holds a more special place in the hearts of Academy voters than Infernal Affairs did for 2006 voters. That said, there is something about the done-before-ness of Spielberg’s West Side Story that feels limiting to its chances. And it hasn’t really won anything big beyond its Golden Globe Best Picture (in a year where the Golden Globes have been shamed and not televised). DeBose will likely win Supporting Actress in a walk; beyond that, Story‘s Oscar stock is pretty low.
Previously, I called this a two-horse race between Belfast and The Power of the Dog. And I still think Belfast has a shot at winning this. It was heavily discussed as a favorite early in the season. What I didn’t acknowledge in my previous article, though, is how little traction Belfast has retained since then. It has gotten nominations pretty much everywhere it needs to, but few wins. It is possible that the same voting body which nominated it for seven Academy Awards will pass it over in the final voting, dropping it to the three or four spot in their preferential ballots.
Meanwhile, as Belfast plateaus, CODA surges. And Apple has saturated its FYC campaign. I can’t turn my head without seeing some form of ad championing CODA as the feel-good film of the year. This late-season surge if the type of thing that could spell an upset. It is the kind of film with populist appeal (helpful ever since the Academy switched to the preferential system). If we go by the correlation between Best Editing and Best Picture, however, both Belfast and CODA are in a bad spot. Of course, correlation does not equate to causation.
1. The Power of the Dog
I’ve said plenty about The Power of the Dog already. Just suffice it to say that I find Campion’s film a heavy favorite to win. It is winning awards left and right. Best Picture at the BAFTAS, at the Critics Choice, at the Globes, at various regional film critics associations. Campion won the Directors Guild award. It is the odds-on favorite to take the Producers Guild award (if it doesn’t, these power rankings might have to change…).
Perhaps my only hesitation is that Academy voters might not get the appeal of the film in the way they might a Belfast or a CODA. In the preferential balloting, Belfast and CODA may be a lot of voters’ number two pick, whereas those who are not all-in on Campion may have Dog much lower on their ballots.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)
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