MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 123119. Last Minute Please.

Voting for nominations is now two days away.

Voters may watch another movie or two before they enter the six-day window of voting, but with such a short window, my guess is that even more voters than usual will get their votes in early in the process. It’s hard to imagine that even 20% of the vote will be outstanding by the end of next weekend.

The question is, will there be any real surprises in the top categories. And in this case, I would push down past The Top 8 (Picture/Director/Actors/Writers) and into Cinematography, Costume, Production Design, and Editing. This isn’t to diminish the other 12 categories, but the nominating process is narrower in those areas and unexpected nominees aren’t rare at all.

It’s an odd year. Looking at the leading candidates for Best Picture, there are only three with actual Lead Actresses (Marriage Story, Little Women, and Bombshell). In Supporting Actress, there are really only two likely Best Picture that seem sure to get nominations in this category (Marriage Story and Bombshell).

And Bombshell isn’t a sure bet to get that Best Picture nomination. I think the film is wildly underrated, but I can’t report that I am getting a ton of positive feedback on anything but the performances. Stories that claim it is a box-office flop aren’t helping.

The relationship of box office to nominations has changed in this last decade, as the BP race expanded to as-many-as 10 nominations. This change was instant, with The Hurt Locker having a very poor showing at the box office before Kathryn Bigelow locked in as Best Director early in the season and it became a David vs. Goliath story that led to a Hurt Locker win. It seemed like it might be an anomaly, but the next decade showed otherwise.

This is one of the few key stats of the current era of Oscar stats. Of course, every key stat is just a season away from being disproved. After 30 years in which only two seasons saw a win by a film that was not one of the Top 2 domestic box office grossers amongst the nominees (in fields of 5), there has not been a single Best Picture winner since The Expansion that was amongst the Top 3 domestic grossers in the field. The #4 and #5 grossers have won three times each. The rest of the wins were #6, #7, #8, and with Moonlight, #9 before the win. (It barely passed Hell or High Water after winning and pulling in $5.6 million.)

Of course, last year was the first time we had a Best Picture nominee without a domestic gross. And this season threatens to offer three such nominees.

Joker and Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood and Ford vs Ferrari, if nominated, would surely be the box office 1-2-3 of this group. (I don’t believe Joker is getting in… but it is not impossible.) Little Women and 1917 are the likely #4 and #5. But if one-third of the entire Best Picture list is movies without box office, will that change the dynamic for the decade of frustration for the Top 3 as well?

We don’t really know whether The Academy membership has Netflix on an even foundation with the nominated theatrical releases. If they are willing to nominate, I have no doubt they are willing to vote any of these films in for the win. But until it happens… who knows? Rhetorical question: You think you know. You don’t. Because you can’t. And there is nothing wrong with that.

This season also throws a number of history=twisting notions. Both 1917 and Parasite are likely to fail to get acting nods. But no movie has won in the last 10 seasons without at least one acting nomination and 6 of them have had acting winners in one of the four categories. Yet, more and more, Parasite seems to be The Default Movie in a default-leaning award season.

To be clearer, when the conversation about Best Picture comes up, more Academy members seem to mention Parasite lately than any other title. When quizzed about other titles, they acknowledge “loving” (in quotes because they do use the word) other titles, including eventually coming around to remembering that they really liked the Tarantino a lot. (Meaning, it’s often not top of mind… but when they remember, they light up a bit.)

How do we figure the actors? SAG had a run of at least nominating the film that won Best Picture for the first 8 years since The Expansion, hitting the winner with their Ensemble award four times. But in the last two seasons, the missed the BP winner completely. This season, they have included Parasite… but so far, there has been almost no serious buzz about any of the actors in the excellent ensemble getting an Oscar nomination in any category.

Netflix masterfully navigated this terrain last year, delivering two longshot acting nominations for Roma, though only one was unexpected going into the nomination announcement. Part of the problem for Neon with Parasite is that Song Kang-ho (as the non-wealthy father) has been their main acting representative and while he is wonderful, most seem to feel that one of the actresses is a more deserving choice for Oscar recognition. Lee Jung-eun, as the housekeeper/protector of the wealthy family seems like the one who should be there… but it never congealed. She would be a big surprise on nominations morning… and a great sign that Parasite is a serious contender.

Alan Alda is not considered a likely nominee and I consider him a likely surprise… who could win in a lot of seasons, but can’t likely get past Brad Pitt’s wining performance. Watch out, Mr. Hanks.

There are some potential negative surprises too. Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio both seem in danger of not getting nominated. My guess is that one of them will miss, pushed aside by Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Bale and even the longshot comedy G.O.A.T. Eddie Murphy.

I don’t anticipate a Best Director nominee without a Best Picture nod to go with it this season, but obviously there are going to be 8 or 9 BP nods and only the five Directing slots.

The Battle of Little Women is going to be interesting. It could easily by a 12-nomination film, which I think would shock a lot of people. But Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor (Chris Cooper would be a happy shock here), Adapted Screenplay, Score, Production Design, Cinematography, Hairstyling, Costume, Editing. Or it could get just four or five nominations and disappoint a lot of people who are falling in love with the film late in the game. (Yes, there are people who don’t love it. I take no offense. Taste is not something that can be argued.)

Would anyone scream (negatively) if Claire Mathon got a cinematography nomination for Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Atlantics?

Would it hurt anyone’s feelings if Zhao Shuzhen got a nod for The Farewell?

How many people would feel better about the world if Alfre Woodard actually not the nod for Clemency?

Would the world fall off its axis if Benny Safdie and Ronald Bronstein slid into an editing nomination for Uncut Gems, a film that, like it or hate it, is a physically affecting a piece of editing as you will see in a cinema?

Personally… and without serious consideration of the ramifications… Sam Rockwell (Supporting Actor, Jojo Rabbit), John Lithgow (Supporting Actor, Bombshell), Nicole Kidman (Supporting Actress, Bombshell, in an easy-to-undervalue, pitch-perfect performance), Wesley Snipes (Supporting Actor, Dolemite Is My Name), anything other than “just” screenplay for Knives Out, screenplay for Shia LaBeouf and Honey Boy (even if he remains his own worst enemy), The Painted Bird getting into the Final 5 for International, Almodovar for his Pain & Glory screenplay, Taylor Russell for Supporting Actress who steals Waves completely, and whomever I am forgetting as very long longshots.

Also… watch all the docs on the short list. It will exhaust you, but it will enrich you. The International shortlisters too. Take the time. Even if they don’t end up being nominees, it is good for you and you will feel good about it.

Back to Best Picture. Anything can happen this year after the nominations are set. There is no frontrunner. And unless Joker gets in, I don’t think there will be a nominee that is not capable of winning. As noted above, being a big hit is not really helpful at The Academy these days. But there are so many new things happening, between what should be three Netflix nominees to the expanded voting base (often overstated, but real) to a foreign language film that isn’t a sad sit, but rather entertains, shifting from comedy to drama to force to thriller to sharp social commentary.

Nominations land in less than two weeks.

7 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 123119. Last Minute Please.”

  1. Doug Pratt says:

    Eddie Murphy’s performance is wonderful, but frankly, Wesley Snipes is publicist talk. yes, it’s nice to see him working and what he delivers is fine for the film, but it’s a mannered, overplayed effort that is not in keeping with the tone that Murphy so brilliantly achieved, or that so many of the other actors this year delivered.
    And watch out for The Two Popes. It plays really, really well on television.

  2. PJ says:

    Don’t understand skepticism towards Joker. GG embraced it far more than they did Black Panther. It is already a hit in the guilds. Will assuredly get PGA. Not out of the question it could hit DGA and the BAFTA 5. So some early critics didnt like it? They’ve been far overruled by the time awards voters and the public saw the film.

    Ford v Ferrari has been overrated by pundits all year. At least Rush got a GG drama nod.

  3. cadavra says:

    Can’t recall if I’ve posted this here or not, but I’m bummed that Bill Camp is not in the conversation for DARK WATERS. Also sad that OFFICIAL SECRETS and THE LAUNDROMAT aren’t in the mix for Screenplay. And MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN for…well, anything.

  4. Glamourboy says:

    Cadavra, to each his own, but I thought Bill Camp was bordering parody with his ultra twangy back woods performance in Dark Waters…something that wouldn’t have been out of place in Walk Harder. Laundromat was such a weird hybrid in terms of storytelling…and it is pretty unsuccessful in its attempt. I can’t imagine either of these being nominated for anything.

  5. movieman says:

    Besides “A Hidden Life,” the movie that got the biggest shaft from voters this awards season is “Waves.”
    Of course, I think A24 deserves a lot of blame for that.
    They’re usually much more strategic in their marketing/awards campaigns, but totally dropped the ball w/ Shults’ film.
    Probably because somebody made a corporate decision to put all their awards eggs in “Uncut Gem”‘s basket.
    (And I’m not really sure that’s even going to work out for them.)

  6. Daniella Isaacs says:

    PARASITE is this year’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. It’s taken off, and nobody quite knows why, except for the theory that maybe it connects to the times in a not-too-challenging way: PARASITE is a palatable film that speaks to our class warfare era concerns, SLUMDOG spoke to the Obama honeymoon and the sense of a (short lived) new global era of harmony. Maybe the Iran mess will shift things over to 1917, which plays beautifully on a big screen, but maybe not so well as an at home experience.

  7. movieman says:

    As someone who’s watched “1917” on big and small screens, I can vouch that it works wonderfully well as a home-viewing experience.
    Unlike, say, “Dunkirk” which loses…well, pretty much everything in translation.
    And Nolan’s war epic crash-landed at Oscar time despite seeming like a front runner out of the gate.

    Which reminds me of two stage-to-screen musicals from early this century w/ different Oscar trajectories.
    “Chicago” played like gangbusters at home while “Dreamgirls” demanded a BIG screen.
    The former won the Big Kahuna; the latter wasn’t even a contender.
    (I love Bill Condon’s movie, but it looked like a TV variety show in my bedroom.)

    So, point well taken, Daniella.
    And an interesting comparison between the real world factors that helped catapult “Parasite” and “Slumdog” in their respective years.

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