MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 010719. PGA, DGA & The Closing Bell

Your 2020 Producer’s Guild Nominees

Producers: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne‐Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall

Ford v Ferrari
Producers: Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, James Mangold

The Irishman
Producers: Jane Rosenthal & Robert De Niro, Emma Tillinger Koskoff & Martin Scorsese

Jojo Rabbit
Producers: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi

Producers: Todd Phillips & Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Knives Out
Producers: Rian Johnson, Ram Bergman

Little Women
Producer: Amy Pascal

Marriage Story
Producers: Noah Baumbach, David Heyman

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Producers: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino

Producers: Kwak Sin Ae, Bong Joon Ho

Your 2020 Director’s Guild Nominees

Bong Joon Ho
Sam Mendes
Martin Scorsese
Quentin Tarantino
Taika Waititi

And now, the eternal question… what does it mean for Oscar?

But before I get to that… David Heyman and Emma Tillinger Koskoff both have two nominations. After a decade as “The Harry Potter guy,” these two films likely represent the third Best Picture nomination in seven years for this guy, all for movies that are nontraditional in significant ways. And while ETK still lives mostly in ScorseseLand, but because of a wide range of interests, she is essentially running a small indie studio. Huzzah!

Here is some history of PGA and Oscar. PGA picks 10 nominees. Because of the counting structure at The Academy, there are very long odds that we will see 10 Best Picture nominees. So one PGA pick is going to mathematically eliminated.

Last year, Crazy Rich Asians and A Quiet Place were out and no other title joined the Oscar nods. The year before, there were 11 PGA nominees, with I, Tonya, Molly’s Game, Wonder Woman, and The Big Sick all falling out for Oscar with Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread filling in for Oscar. The year before that, Deadpool was DGA’ed but not Oscared and the other nine remained in place. And in 2015, Ex Machina, Sicario and Spotlight got their DGA honor, but Oscar passed and added Room.

So something is going to change. But there are a lot of ways it could change. Most of the PGA list will get a Best Picture nomination. And there is nothing that is remotely a surprise on the PGA list, neither what is in or what is out. Yes, it could have been a little different. But this is The Field and it has been The Field for weeks.

Bombshell and The Two Popes are the un-DGA-nominated titles that could still end up with Oscar Best Picture noms. But it is factual to say that we haven’t seen an Oscar BP winner that wasn’t PGA nominated in The Expansion Era of 11 seasons. So some hopes were dashed this morning. Every stat is just waiting to be flipped. But… it’s what it is.

The most endangered titles from the PGA are Ford v Ferrari, Knives Out and Joker. Joker has a lot of love out there (see BAFTA), though it still feels like an Oscar reach based on the level of violence and the lack of a satisfying third act. Knives Out has become a symbol of a non-IP box office success on a reasonable budget with a lot of well-liked actors and people enjoyed the film… a lot. And Ford v Ferrari has become The Traditional Hollywood Movie, though that may have been undercut by 1917, which also feels like an instant O.G. classic.

As a result, I would not be shocked to see one of these out and the other in with the other 8 PGA nominees as the Oscar group. I am sad to say that Bombshell is dead for Best Picture (I love the movie more and more)… but I think it is now. So really, I think of Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Knives Out and The Two Popes, two get in for the Best Picture Oscar and the other two do not.

Oscar nomination voting closes four hours from the publication of this piece. PGA is influencing nothing.

And DGA?

They rarely match Oscar. Four of five are probably locked in this year. Taika is in the up-for-grabs slot and he may make it too, though don’t sleep on previous Oscar nominees Greta Gerwig or Fernando Meirelles. I would argue for James Mangold as a possibility, but he got screwed out of his clearest nomination path by both DGA and AMPAS on Walk The Line, which is a bad sign.

Again, everything falls in line. DGA is not influencing… it is influenced. Like almost everyone else, they work from the same short list that was created by media and marketing months ago and pick their favorites, but no one (except critics groups) tend to Hulk out and break out of the suit.

Let me speak to Influencing for a moment.

The way the precursors have worked over many, many years is that they tend to reflect where all the trends have been heading for months in about 80% of the cases. And then there is the 20% or so wiggle room. None of them have ever led Oscar voters by the nose. Just not the history.

The ability to influence is closely aligned with the ability of distributors to get their unseen films seen and to make Oscar voters feel like they are not wasting a vote, voting for a film that “cannot” get nominated or, ultimately, win. It’s Psychology 101.

There is always a little chicken and egg involved. And every major award that has nominations or awards is one that involved parties want to win. Human nature. But, for instance, the Globes nominations have more significance in the Oscar life of the films involved than the wins do… because there are a few weeks to build on those nominations and to get Oscar voters to watch the films over Christmas-New Year’s break.

The illusion that 1917, for instance, was a surprise at The Globes or is “surging” now is just silly. The film started screening back in November. It had an enormous instant impact. Little Women also seemed to gather momentum over the holidays. Parasite continued to build a fanbase. And Knives Out became a popular phenom, akin to Get Out from two seasons ago (without the racial politics). As a result of all this late activity, other films that seemed locked in for months suddenly seemed stale.

When we look at PGA nominations or The Globes or whatever and say, “Well, the nominations match up, so Oscar must have been at least a little influenced,” we are just log rolling. There is no logical argument for this. It’s a feeling. The same feeling we get when someone attractive crosses in our view, while we know full well that we are not going to engage with that person for any number of fundamental reasons. But as The Farrellys once wrote, “So you are telling me there is a chance!”

This season, the “not-wasted vote” candidate was Parasite, which had a strong core of fans, voters and otherwise, since Cannes. Neon’s task was to get voters to the “it can actually get the Best Picture nomination” place. Last year, Netflix started with the assumption that they could get Roma to a Best Picture nomination and started filling the dance card in with other category possibilities early and often. It rarely works any other way. Sometimes, you get a locked in Acting nom, like Brie Larson in Room or Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, and the Best Picture prospects are bolstered as everyone gets excited about seeing the movie, which then finds its own agency. Similarly, the “she’s the winner” tone around Kathryn Bigelow on The Hurt Locker drove that film to a win, as did Scorsese’s “gonna win” on The Departed. For Parasite, the focus was on Bong Joon-Ho and indeed, he seems sure to get every nomination he can personally get while the movie gets double picture nods. But end of November was, it seems, too late to turn the ship for everyone else on the film, deserving though they may be.

To me, the greatest single challenge left in this Oscar season is for Universal to get as many voters to see 1917 on a massive screen as possible. A 1000 Oscar voters watching the film on a immersive, huge screen could be the difference between winning Best Picture or not.

The movie is the ultimate influencer. Right?

15 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 010719. PGA, DGA & The Closing Bell”

  1. lazarus says:

    “And Knives Out became a popular phenom, a little reflective of Get Out from 2 seasons ago (without the racial politics). ”

    Well, it does have the racial politics; due to the protagonist being Latina, the white family members all thinking she’s from a different country, the use of her mother’s immigration status as a blackmail tactic, the white family’s heated discussion about immigration policy, etc.

    It’s not as overly about race as Get Out (nor is it as creatively subversive) and is concerned more with class issues, but it’s definitely still there, and perhaps why people might vote it into a BP slot for reasons beyond just its entertainment value.

  2. Ray Pride says:

    The last shot alone, of the character with the cup watching the fracas recede and the motto on that cup, yeah, that’s political as many a “political” film gets nowadays.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    Good that we have two late-opening films, !917 and Little Women, receiving so much awards attention in this shortened Oscar season.. Neither going the film festival route which has become so predictable 1917 looks like a likely winner, using a releasing schedule that used to be common, for winners, but which has not been successful for many years.

    The shorter Oscar season is better. No reason for Awards season to run deep into February. The only people benefiting from a longer season are the publicists and the Oscar blogs. Less time for bs is better.

  4. palmtree says:

    I’m glad we have some Knives Out fans in here. I’ve seen the film twice, and it’s highly rewatchable with the whodunit pieces falling into place the second time around. And it definitely deals with class in a way that mirrors my other favorite film this past year, Parasite. It’s the type of weird, quirky, original Hollywood movie that doesn’t get made anymore, and even for just that reason alone, I think we need to celebrate its existence and hope for more.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Compleley disagreed with Joker. It’s one of the stronger potential nominees. In fact, its lost NONE of its awards potential momentum since its Golden Lion win. 2 wins at the Globes (including Best Actor, not mention nods for Pic and Director), showing up at most of the guilds (SAG for Actor, PGA and WGA) and leading the BAFTAs (Pic, Director, Actor, Screenplay, Etc.)…
    I’d switch out Little Women, which it’s current trending comes more from Greta Gerwig’s respect and likeability in the industry and the Globes outrage of not nominating females helmed films (justified or not). It still misses out at the BAFTA which typically goes for these types of films. I still think it gets in for Best Picture just barely. But I think this is a 9 nomination year (unlike the 8 from last year). I think Knives Out gets the 9th nod for it’s late surge and popularity.

  6. Stella's Boy says:

    People love Little Women. Reviews are rapturous and everyone I know who has seen it loves it, male and female. I wouldn’t underestimate it or presume any awards love it receives is merely due to respect for Gerwig. I like its odds much better than Joker’s.

  7. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Gerwig is “in the club” as a previous Oscar nominee, which counts for a lot. People like to renominate people already in that club, which could boost her over the one non-sure-thing: Taika Waititi.

  8. Stella's Boy says:

    Oh I agree. I just don’t think it’s accurate to attribute any Little Women nominations to that as opposed to genuine love for the movie.

  9. Daniella Isaacs says:

    There are several movies that have genuine love, certainly six or seven. And we only get five nominees so a couple of “genuinely loved” movies are going to get “snubbed.” I just think it’s more likely to be Waititi, since he’s not “in the club,” than Gerwig. I think that’s maybe more of a factor than either anti-women bias/pro-diversity bias.

  10. palmtree says:

    Not to be technical, but technically Waititi is “in the club.” He was nominated for Best Short Film in 2004.

  11. Glamourboy says:

    Finally saw Knives Out and as much as I admire so much of it, it still feels like a missed opportunity in ways. Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson are given interesting characters to play but have very little to do. If you look at the character work in the best ‘whodunnits’ like the Lumet ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ each actor is given a golden scene that they absolutely devour. Not so much here.

  12. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Palmtree, I’m going to say that is indeed a “technicality,” and won’t register with the directors’ branch.

  13. Serg says:

    At what point does #(blank)sowhite outrage become more about nominating specific films as opposed to giving minorities a fair shot at getting recognized?
    Shouldn’t we be focusing on getting more women and POC filmmakers significant work opportunities and leadership roles that help representation become more true to real world demographics instead of making it always about some bs award snub. It’s all a circle jerk. Who cares?
    If women and POC filmmakers truly had proportionate opportunities, the nominations start coming naturally since we’ll stop just being the token Minority nom and simply judged as equals. BAFTA didn’t flinch last year and awarded a non-English language Best Pic despite significant corporate/political pressure not to do so. Now they’re the devil. It’s so bipolar.
    Being woke about superficial nonsense is precisely what tires certain toxic corners of society into dismissing our very real demands for more equal opportunity.

  14. Stella's Boy says:

    Um I think people are very focused on exactly what you are calling for Serg. The representation conversation is hardly only about awards or limited to awards season.

    Isn’t Waititi pretty universally liked by the industry? That’s the impression I get.

  15. palmtree says:

    Daniella, it does make for a good story though: a young director (of color, no less) makes good on his early promise and comes back with huge Hollywood blockbusters as well as intimate Oscar-caliber films as well.

    Serg, actually DP warned us about that happening in this very blog. At this point I cynically just think it’s gonna happen every year, but of course, Moonlight wins and my faith gets restored a tiny bit.

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