MCN Commentary & Analysis

29 Weeks To Oscar: The Oscar Season Starts… Or Does It?

Venice and Telluride are off to rip-roaring starts.


Here are the films that survived the weekend, between the two festivals. Not frontrunners. Not a one of them. But well-liked and in the game… in order…

1. King Richard
2. The Power of the Dog (both festivals)
3. Belfast
4. Spencer (both festivals)
5. Dune
6. Cyrano

Half of these might get a real theatrical-first release.

The French Dispatch is sneaking in Telluride, but it’s a ringer, given Wes Anderson’s history, so count that likely nominee. The Card Counter also turned up as a TBA… but it seems to be an actor-only proposition, (opening this month) based on reactions.

The list of the dead… which doesn’t mean they are hated or even disliked, but failed to get the kind of reaction that could propel these titles into the season with bravado enough to get to the Best Picture nomination finish line (in alphabetical order).

C’mon, C’mon, The Duke, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, The Hand of God, The Last Duel, Last Night in Soho, Red Rocket

None of this precludes acting nominations. And The Last Duel has the star power, behind and on the screen, that it will get a full reassessment (and maybe a re-edit, knowing Ridley Scott).

The surprise of Telluride was Bitterbrush, a doc which was not a hot title going in but seems to be the one movie that comes out of this opening pair of festivals threatening to win a “picture level” award next March.

And here is worse news…

TIFF isn’t offering a life raft.

I am looking forward to the festival and I am sure I will have a lot of wonderful experiences of films, viewed from my TV here in Los Angeles.

But the only additions with serious Oscar Best Picture aspirations are both September releases (which suggest they don’t have serious Oscar Best Picture aspirations); Dear Evan Hansen and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

That leaves…
Being The Ricardos (Amazon)
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
House of Gucci (MGM)
Nightmare Alley (Searchlight/Disney)
Soggy Bottom (MGM)
Tick, Tick… Boom! (Netflix)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/NYFF)
West Side Story (20th/Disney)

Six of the eight will get a real theatrical, assuming Amazon doesn’t turn MGM before the first of the year… And even then, Amazon is still doing proper theatricals.

CODA is the only already-released film that will be in play and has been released on Apple+.

My position on Tick, Tick… Boom! giving up by opening AFI was probably a step too harsh, given the reality that so much momentum is floating this year because of COVID. So may be this is a genius backdoor, late season move by Netflix. Maybe it’s not.

I don’t have an foreign language films listed here, but I think there will be one getting a Best Picture nomination. It just hasn’t announced itself yet. Could be Almodovar. Could be Trier. Maybe Farhadi. Hany Abu-Assad is going back to an intimate scale. I’m sure I will love the Michel Franco that others will run from in fear. Sorrentino seems to have missed the mark. Won’t be Titane. But something has a legit chance of emerging, given the very thin season ahead and 10 slots.

So I guess the premise of this piece is wrong, really. The soft nature of Venice and Telluride (with Venice getting much more glam, but not more Oscar movies) is a true reflection of the season to come… which is still more than half a year from concluding.

I feel confident in saying that we are already down to 13 or 14 movies seriously competing for Best Picture… and Telluride still hasn’t wrapped.

I truly wish I was missing something. It’s always possible for a film or films to be shoved into 2021 from 2022 or for a picture that seems to be dead to find magic. But it’s rare and less likely this year than ever.

Maybe Netflix should ramp up The Mitchells vs The Machines for a Best Picture push. This season is thin enough that the almost-impossible feat of getting in an animated movie could happen.

I don’t think the Best Picture winner has been seen as of this writing. And aside from demanding it be so by media, I am not so sure this season will ever have a distinct front-runner or even a two-movie showdown.

I don’t see a default movie yet, either. Maybe The Power of the Dog, but it’s an Aussie western from one of the great working directors of the last three decades with the wonderful actor who plays Doctor Strange in the lead… tough as a default… easier as a simple Best Picture nominee.

As I exit, I want to reaffirm that I am not judging or reviewing these titles in terms of their artistic value. I am offering Oscar context. I am sure I will LOVE some movies that have zero chance of being Best Picture nominees. You too. Nature of the beast.

Buckle in… it’s going to be a loooooooong ride.

5 Responses to “29 Weeks To Oscar: The Oscar Season Starts… Or Does It?”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    the dream, this year, is that a film gets released late and rides an Oscar campaign to box office big enough to claim popularity. The Oscars matter… yayy!

    fwiw, I predict that the long campaign will result in an especially vicious campaign… which could increase interest… weirdly. A film will be attacked as unsuitable and, on schedule, the Academy steak-eaters will scream about cancel culture.

  2. Bradley Laing says:

    —Wait, Bob Burns is sayijng that people who complain about cancel culture on their weblog will find Executive Producers of films telephoning them in person and asking web loggers who hate Hollywood to fight against other Executive Producers?

  3. Bradley Laing says:

    The rest of Disney’s 2021 slate will arrive in theaters exclusively, the company said Friday. This includes “Eternals,” “The Last Duel,” “Encanto” and “West Side Story.” The move comes after the box office success of theatrical-only releases like “Free Guy” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

  4. Bradley Laing says:

    I just got off of a rightwing website, where a pro-Taiwanese author was suggesting that an anti-People’s Republic of China fiction movie could be made, for the benefit of the people living on Taiwan. I was wondering if I should copy and paste an internet link to the article, when I thought that the Hong Kong Democracy Movement documentaries of earlier this year would be too different to be compared to a pro-Taiwan fiction movie. But this makes me uncomfortable. The PRC government is saber-rattling regional governments in the South China Sea, and some of them have Democracy, and others do not. The PRC clearly does not want Democracy for the Hong Kong people. But is pro-Taiwan the same as pro-Hong Kong Democracy Movement?

  5. Bob Burns says:

    Sort of Bradley….. except, from the outside looking in, I don’t think Executive Producers are really awards players. Awards seem to be a blood sport played by publicists, parceling out gifts and favors to producers, actors, directors, bloggers, tweeters, news outlets etc…..

    I would favor an awards channel on cable…. or U-tube. There are so many stars these days.

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"With Toronto, Telluride, Ven­ice, New York and other key fests opening amid an overcrowded field that includes films postponed from 2020, the acclaim, buzz and dis­tinction festivals bestow on award contenders is more important than ever — especially for spec­tacles such as Dune, which lose impact on the small screen in hybrid streaming/theatrical releases. Yet the surging Delta variant now threatens to derail premieres, star appearances, in-person screenings and the press, the public’s and Oscar vot­ers’ willingness to attend them.

"On August 27, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sci­ences postponed all screenings and in-person events for 2021. And on August 30, despite the U.S. having around 60 times as many COVID-19 cases as Canada and a much lower vaccination rate over the previous four weeks, per Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. State Dept. advised Americans to “reconsider travel to Canada due to [a high level of] COVID-19” there.

“There’s nothing conclu­sive right now, and everyone is not quite sure how to proceed because of the nature of the COVID pandemic,” says Sony Pic­tures Classics co-president Tom Bernard. “Telluride and Toronto have changed what they are going to do dramatically in the last few weeks, putting in a lot more proto­cols. The New York Film Festival is to be determined—what are they and AFI Fest going to do? Running a festival is like trying to [control] an oil tanker. You can’t just stop it, [and most events] don’t have festival insurance where you can say, ‘COVID shut us down, we gotta get paid.’ It brings up a lot of questions that are really difficult to answer.”

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