Four Burning Questions In The Oscars Home Stretch

This weekend, we enter the home stretch of the awards race. Several guilds have already presented their awards, voting begins next week, and this weekend, the BAFTAs, Critics Choice, and Directors Guild will name their best of 2021. So as we begin our countdown to the Oscars, we are faced with four burning questions, each of which sums up exactly where we are in the Oscar race?

Who’s Winning Best Picture?

Of course the top question on everyone’s mind is “What’s winning Best Picture?” And the short answer is, “I don’t know.” Much like 2018, every contender feels like they have a massive chip on their shoulder. The Power of the Dog seems steadily out front, as it remains the only film to have every important precursor. But that Netflix hurdle is still a major factor, and as angry as everyone on Film Twitter was at Sam Elliott for his interview with Marc Maron, he’s not alone: an esoteric exploration of the American West is not the slam dunk many think it is. It faces a similar uphill climb as infamous Oscar losers Roma and The Revenant.

So what are its challengers? Well, those would be the feel-good options. And really, there are only three “feel-good” movies contending for Best Picture: Belfast, King Richard, and CODA. Belfast has some major roadblocks on its path to victory. It failed to get that all-important Best Editing nod, and it hasn’t won a major award to date. And yet, it isn’t an impossible winner – like both Spotlight and Moonlight before, it managed to stay in the conversation for longer than it should have, and if it can manage that BAFTA and PGA boost in the coming weeks, we may see a shift in the race. Meanwhile, King Richard continues to overperform every step of the way. It got nominations in Best Screenplay and Best Editing, Will Smith is the Best Actor frontrunner, and it recently pulled off an upset at the ACE Eddie Awards (for Editing). It’s certainly the most unlikely scenario, but it’s not an impossibility either.

And then there’s CODA. If you asked me right after the nominations, CODA would be my #9 choice. I would have expected it to go out in the first two rounds on the Preferential Ballot, potentially giving Belfast the win. It only earned three nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, and Best Adapted Screenplay. No Director, no Editing, no tech nominations. But a funny thing happened: it won SAG. Ok, no big deal, Black Panther also won SAG. But then the word of mouth started. At every event for nominees and contenders, the CODA table is where everyone wants to be. And as Parasite can tell you, being the table everyone wants to talk to can be a big deal. And then there’s the Travis Rule: only twice in the last twelve years or so has a Best Picture winner not been on my Top Ten. And CODA is on my Top Ten.

Could CODA get that sweet, sweet #2 boost and win Best Picture? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly in the Top Three right now, and I’m willing to keep an eye on how the race goes. I’m sticking with Power of the Dog for the time being, but make no mistake: this could switch on a dime.

Who’s Winning Best Actress?

The other acting races seem pretty much sewn up at this point, give or take. Will Smith is winning his first Oscar for Best Actor. Ariana DeBose should easily dance her way to the podium for West Side Story. And Troy Kotsur should barely edge out Kodi Smit-McPhee in Best Supporting Actor. But what about Best Actress? Well, there’s a funny story behind that.

As we all know, Kristen Stewart was considered the frontrunner for her work in Spencer. And then we hit the awards trail, and she kept getting snubbed. Kind of a lot. As in, not even nominated. Her nomination at the Oscars was considered by many (not me, though, I’m a smart boy) to be a complete shock. Nicole Kidman stepped in to fill the power void after her Golden Globe win. But the Golden Globe is essentially useless – especially this year – and with the underperformance of Being The Ricardos with the Academy, it seems unlikely she will repeat at the Oscars. Penelope Cruz won the Volpi Cup in Venice for Parallel Mothers, and then didn’t receive a single nomination until the Oscars – she wasn’t even shortlisted with the Almodóvar loving Brits. So who’s left?

Well, let’s talk about Jessica Chastain and Olivia Colman. Chastain was considered an underdog all year for her exceptional work as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. In fact, despite her hitting every single major award, and my appreciation for the performance, even I didn’t predict her being nominated. So you can imagine everyone’s shock when Chastain won the Screen Actors Guild Award a few weeks ago, perhaps the best indicator of who’s winning the big prize. Her only competition, it seems, is Colman, who was equally nominated by every possible branch during the pre-season.

But here’s the thing about Colman: not only has her film, The Lost Daughter, overperformed all year (it received a surprise Supporting Actress nod for costar Jessie Buckley and swept both the Gotham and Indie Spirit Awards), but Colman also has a track record of this sort of thing. One might recall Colman’s losing streak throughout the preseason of 2018 to Glenn Close before pulling off the upset at the Oscars. Could Colman, who is beloved in the industry, surprise again? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’ll tell you one thing: I went into this article expecting to pick Chastain, but I have finally talked myself into Colman. It’s a Hail Mary, but I’m going ride or die on this pick.

Are Upsets Looming In The Feature Categories?

With so many categories (outside of the Big One) feeling exceptionally chalk this year, many pundits are looking to the Feature and Screenplay Categories as a sign of an upset? While The Lost Daughter is coming on strong and could upset Jane Campion (who is pretty much winning Best Director outright), I’d say the Oscar frontrunner is pretty safe. Meanwhile, Licorice Pizza’s underperformance indicates a potential loss to Belfast, which needs that Screenplay Oscar if it wants to stay in the race.

But what of the non-Picture films? What about animation, and documentaries, and International Feature? Any chance of an upset there? Well, the Features find themselves in sort of a “Goldilocks” situation. There is a zero percent chance that Encanto loses the Animated Feature Oscar. There just isn’t. Its only question mark is if “Dos Orugitas” can pick up the “Bruno” love and beat Billie Eilish. Meanwhile, while it’s entirely possible that The Worst Person In The World upsets Drive My Car (they both have a great deal of love and support), only once in the history of the Academy has an international film nominated for Best Picture lost its respective category – and that was the result of an impossible fluke. Don’t overthink things; stick with Car.

Which leads us to Best Documentary Feature. And here’s where things get interesting. Technically speaking, Summer of Soul has been the frontrunner all season. It’s the lightest, happiest nominee of the bunch, and it should be a done deal. But not so fast. Two details stand out regarding Soul’s so-called status as the frontrunner. First, the Academy loathes found-footage documentaries, especially ones about music. And second, its closest competition, Flee, made history by earning three nominations – in all three of the Feature categories. Normally, I’d turn to the precursor awards as a tiebreaker, but even those can’t decide. Soul wins one, Flee wins the other. If an upset happens anywhere, it’s Documentary. And honestly? I’m willing to bet on it.

How Much Goodwill Does Dune Have?

Which brings us to our final question: just how many awards is Dune going to win? The blockbuster extravaganza has the second-most nominations of the bunch, and while the potential for its sequel may result in voters waiting to see Feyd-Rautha in Part II, it still feels likely that this will be the night’s big winner. The question is, how many awards can it win? After all, the record for most wins without Best Picture is seven, held by Cabaret. Can Dune unseat the musical? Let’s look at the numbers.

It’s pretty much a lock that Dune is winning Visual Effects. I mean, it’s over. Sound is pretty much over as well, despite some effort on No Time To Die’s part. The film that wins Best Sound often wins Best Editing, so despite some late efforts for King Richard, this one feels pretty likely for Dune as well. That’s three right there. But where do we go from there? After all, the rest of the precursors have not been kind to the sci-fi epic. It tied with Cruella and Nightmare Alley at the Costumers and Art Directors Guild Awards, respectively. It got crushed at the Makeup Awards by Coming 2 America. And it’s in a tight race for Cinematography and Score with its biggest competition, Power of the Dog (and, to a lesser extent, The Tragedy of Macbeth in Cinematography).

So how will the rest of these races go? Only time will tell. But if I had to offer up some guesses, I think Dune will come out on top in Original Score and Cinematography. I also think it will defy the odds and win Best Makeup as well. That sets its total firmly at six. While it has potential to win Costumes or Production Design, the latter feels like a safe bet for Guillermo del Toro’s film noir, while it’ll come down to the wire against the famous dognapper in the wardrobe department.

So that’s where the race stands, as of today. I’ll be back next week with a rundown of the BAFTA winners, and will likely provide a live blog for the Critics Choice Awards. You can see my current predictions below. We’re almost to the finish line, people. Get excited.

Best Picture: The Power of the Dog
Best Actor: Will Smith – King Richard
Best Actress: Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur – CODA
Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Best Director: Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Best Original Screenplay: Belfast
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Power of the Dog
Best Animated Feature: Encanto
Best International Feature: Drive My Car
Best Documentary Feature: Flee
Best Documentary Short: Audible
Best Live Action Short: The Long Goodbye
Best Animated Short: Robin Robin
Best Original Score: Dune
Best Original Song: “No Time To Die” – No Time To Die
Best Sound: Dune
Best Production Design: Nightmare Alley
Best Cinematography: Dune
Best Costume Design: Dune
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dune
Best Film Editing: Dune
Best Visual Effects: Dune

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