He is (Oscar voting), eager for fun. He wears a smile, everybody run.
Welcome to bizzar-o land and the end of an overlong Oscar season once again. The best films of 2021 are being decided in late March 2022, which makes sense to someone, somewhere but I’m lost on how waiting this long drums up any anticipation for the Oscars. On top of that, the ABC producers are butchering the show with a chainsaw and throwing out technical categories so they can fill in a bunch of A-list personalities to attract the normal people
And well, I’m here mostly to ramble. Discuss the state of the race. Drop a few predictions for PGA, ASC, and WGA this weekend. Shame the ABC producers for once again missing the mark completely. And talk about my favorite Oscar nominated films.
So, to get started, I wanted to talk about the pinnacle of the race: Best Picture. With the Producers Guild winners being picked this weekend, it’s make or break time for the heavy favorite The Power of the Dog. Winner of the BAFTA, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globe and Directors guild. It’s been such a dominant force in the race since November that it’s made following the race an utter bore.
Even if a film is the clear winner, it’s boring to see the consensus form so soundly around one contender. The fun of awards season is the surprises and upsets and while the Oscars could be storing up for the mother of all upsets, it feels unlikely.
Let’s consider The Power of the Dog’s competition. In my eyes, the clear number two film is no longer Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, but Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard. Moreover, Belfast likely has fallen behind the Sundance breakout CODA for third place. Returning to King Richard, no, it hasn’t been a massive player in the picture race thus far. Marcus Green wasn’t nominated for director, but it has hit basically everywhere else and could be the surprise winner at PGA. It’s not only Will Smith as the easiest call for the performance categories, but the idea of King Richard taking editing. That nomination, along with its nomination total of six, speaks to the film being well liked by many different branches.
With no Belfast or CODA in editing and a good chance of King Richard winning the category, winning both that and actor could spell an upset in picture. However, The Power of the Dog also got a nomination for editing, along with 11 more nominations. We can continue to talk about perceived weaknesses for Campion’s film but there’s no evidence it’s actually vulnerable, especially in director and picture.
Yet, there’s still time for things to change. First, CODA, who pulled a massive upset at the BAFTAs by winning for adapted screenplay and potentially could win the WGA with little competition. If CODA or anything other than The Power of the Dog wins PGA, that spells major trouble for the aggressive Netflix frontrunner. The issue with CODA is moreso based on nomination totals with only three, but that doesn’t discount the idea of it winning all three on the night. For me, that’s the one path I see towards its victory. It would need to win adapted screenplay to take it home.
It’s certainly possible but I won’t be putting my hard earned money on the upset. But with Campion’s awful gaffe at CCA and a backlash to its frontrunner status forming, there could be a last minute change of heart among academy voters. The main issue with not predicting it is Jane Campion has the director win in the bag and going into the night with a virtual guarantee win in the second biggest category is a huge boon for Netflix.
The preferential ballot is one of the worst things to happen to Oscar voting. Yes, there’s been some solid winners under this format, but overall, it’s a good way to ensure the least hated film wins the most prestigious award instead of the most beloved. And with that, PGA’s importance as the one guild that uses this voting system makes it crucial to predicting.
The narrative around The Power of the Dog all season is that it won’t play well on preferential. Stating it’s not the crowd pleaser that preferential regrettably highlights over the more atmospheric, dour tone of The Power of the Dog type arthouse films. That line of thinking is one possible outcome, especially with the Campion news staying top of mind, but people discount what Netflix has accomplished with this campaign and how many people saw it compared to these other films. CODA might play well on preferential, but it’s still a smaller film that hasn’t been touted as the Oscar winner and not as discussed or seen as The Power of the Dog.
So, even with some signs of weakness from Dog’s camp, it’s my PGA pick. If it was going to lose, it would’ve happened by now but until I see otherwise, it’s a runaway train that no amount of stupidity can stop. It wins PGA and easily takes Best Picture on Oscar Sunday.
As for the Writers Guild (WGA), it will have little to no impact on the race considering the ineligible scripts (The Power of the Dog, Drive My Car, Belfast). Therefore, CODA winning here would be significant but not as much as other years. Same goes for Paul Thomas Anderson and Licorice Pizza. But if you combine WGA with wins at BAFTA and CCA, then you start building a more compelling case.
If CODA wins at the Oscars, then I’ll seriously doubt The Power of the Dog in Best Picture. WGA and BAFTA could be the start of that surge, but winning even with those two wins on the resume doesn’t make them a favorite in adapted. It would still be considered an upset with all the precursor love. The other factor is King Richard winning over Licorice Pizza and further strengthening its chances in the picture race. For now, Licorice Pizza and CODA are far and away the odds on favorite to win the WGA.
Lastly, we need to discuss cinematography. The American Society of Cinematographers is this weekend and there’s a number of narratives forming around the nominees. First, Greg Fraiser winning at BAFTA as Dune took home virtually all the below the line technical awards. Secondly, Ari Wegner for The Power of the Dog, who is only the second woman to be nominated in this category, has a chance to be the first winner. ASC often goes for off the campaign trail picks with a focus on the craft. Also, they love a certain amount of showiness in the work and neither Dune nor The Power of the Dog fits that description, so there might not be crossover with the Oscar winner.
With that in mind, French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, a former ASC winner (A Very Long Engagement, 2004), is that archetype. Sharp, saturated black-and-white cinematography with innovative use of lightning. Furthermore, it’s a film driven by the visual element and thus the cinematography will stand out. It’s similar to previous winners Mank (2020) and Cold War (2018).
Conversely, the narrative behind Wegner is much stronger and it’s a good opportunity to reward a woman for more than deserving work. But, ASC is going to ASC and go with the arthouse favorite – The Tragedy of Macbeth.
As a massive Delbonnel fanboy, the idea of him getting a second win at ASC and turning it into an Oscar is enticing. The more likely outcome is winning here and losing at the Oscar. Wegner winning at CCA feels significant in an undivided field. It won’t be an easy category to predict at the Oscars.
My Oscar Favorites
If you haven’t, please check out the 2021 Weird Cinema Awards
As you can see, my favorites of the year have little to no crossover with any of the Oscar categories. Most of my film enjoyment came from international films with the exception of one eccentric Wes Anderson joint.
Thankfully, Joachim Trier and Ryusuke Hamaguchi got their fair share of recognition on Oscar nomination morning. Moreover, Pénelope Cruz received another nomination for her brilliant performance in Parallel Mothers. Hamaguchi landing a director and screenplay nomination was the personal high point for me. Add on Best Picture and it maxed out on nominations. The Worst Person in the World landing original screenplay was also a welcomed surprise for an era defining screenplay.
Eight of my top thirty films weren’t nominated in any category. But, if I did have to select a number of nominations that I appreciated, I’ll start with Kristen Stewart in Spencer – an overly expressive take on Dianna but one so utterly compelling in the psychological aspect of her performance. Next, the documentary Flee breaking history as the first film nominated in animated, documentary and international. And while many disliked Belfast, I appreciated the endearing look at childhood, exploring familial bonds. Lastly, Jonny Greenwood and Alberto Iglesias got into original score for powerful, character driven music. Although The Power of the Dog isn’t a favorite, seeing it succeed for telling a subversive cowboy drama is fascinating.
Holy s**t, this piece wasn’t supposed to be this long. I’ll be back next week with FULL Oscar predictions. Until then…