Friday, December 2, 2022

Questions We Have Before Oscar Nomination Morning

By Robert Dougherty 

On February 8th, Oscar nomination morning will answer questions we’ve been asking for the better part of six months – albeit not all of them. Once the dust settles and all the outrage and second-guessing are finished, a new set of questions will be asked about the nominees and how they can take the next step towards victory on March 27th. But for the climax of this stage of the season, there is a lot more to answer before the frontrunners, and their challengers can officially enter the final act.

There are a fair share of apparent issues and mysteries to settle in the early morning hours of February 8th. Below are some of the biggest questions and question marks that those hours can shed some very crucial light on.

Will There Be Any Hints That This Is More Than Just A Two-Film Race?
One can say the 2021-22 Oscar season has been a two-film race from the very beginning, ever since “Belfast” won the Toronto Film Festival audience award and “The Power of the Dog” won the biggest raves of film festival season. For all our speculation over films like “West Side Story,” “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” “CODA,” “King Richard,” “Don’t Look Up” and more, and for all the perceived weaknesses and obstacles that “The Power of the Dog” and “Belfast” have had at various points, these two films have been 1-2 in some capacity almost the entire way through.

For those of us looking for some kind of a spoiler, or those bored enough to hope for one, the Oscar nominations could be one of the last opportunities. Suppose there is any chance that something like “West Side Story,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Dune,” “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” or anything else has enough strength and pull with voters to threaten the two frontrunners. In that case, they will have to overperform on nomination morning and give us a sign.

Licorice Pizza” seems secure in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, yet otherwise, it is on several huge bubbles. But if it can repeat its success at the BAFTAs by getting Paul Thomas Anderson in for Best Director and Alana Haim in Best Actress while also getting Bradley Cooper in Best Supporting Actor, then there might be a genuine path open for a serious Best Picture run.

West Side Story” has been on a precarious perch for a while due to poor box office headlines, a few key guild misses, and both Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner missing BAFTA nominations. But if Spielberg and Kushner can both overcome those snubs to get in with the Academy, that may at least keep the movie from being declared entirely dead. However, getting anyone other than Ariana DeBose an acting nomination – like Rachel Zegler or even Rita Moreno or Mike Faist – and overcoming snubs at the ACE and ASC guilds would really prove “West Side Story” has some life left for a Best Picture repeat 60 years later.

As for “Dune,” it will likely lead or co-lead for the most nominations, yet we won’t know until the guilds if it has enough support to win something other than tech categories. Meanwhile, if “CODA” overperforms enough to get Marlee Matlin in for Best Supporting Actress, or even Sian Heder in for Best Director, then it will be a very popular dark horse pick. But without a DGA nomination, which only “Driving Miss Daisy” won Best Picture without in the modern era, a surprise Oscar nomination for Heder may be too little, too late. That would also seem to doom the DGA overlooked “Don’t Look Up,” yet its many enemies will still fear it making a big splash on nomination morning to the very end.

Because Kenneth Branagh got a DGA nomination himself, getting snubbed from the Oscar final five wouldn’t derail “Belfast.” Even if both of its supporting actors get overlooked too, or even if Caitriona Balfe is a surprising snub in Supporting Actress, none of that will matter one bit as long as “Belfast” still contends in Original Screenplay – the only major category other than Best Picture it can still win barring a massive upset elsewhere.

With that in mind, maybe everyone hoping for something other than “Belfast” to overtake “The Power of the Dog” is kidding themselves, whether they’re rooting for another film or just hoping for any real suspense. But unless something drastically overperforms on Oscar nomination morning, the chances of such suspense will be left on life support at best for the final seven weeks.

How International Will The Oscars Be?
If historical trends had meant anything, 2021 should have swarmed with international contenders in all the major categories this year. After “Parasite” won it all in 2019 and after the Best Director category reserved at least one spot for an international director the last few years, 2021 should have been the next giant leap forward for foreign films at the Oscars – especially since it was the strongest year for international films as a whole in a long time.

But for one reason or another, an international crop consisting of “Drive My Car,” “The Worst Person in the World,” “Flee,” “A Hero,” “Parallel Mothers,” “Titane,” and many more have barely cracked the industry’s radar so far. On a level playing field, most of these films and their directors and actors might have been frontrunners in several significant categories, especially in a field largely devoid of American critical darlings. Yet whether it’s because these films didn’t or couldn’t campaign hard or wide enough, or voters just consciously or unconsciously pushed back against foreign competition, it may be a minor miracle if anything from a foreign film gets just one major nomination at all.

Nevertheless, all might not be lost because of a rising influx of foreign voters and Academy members. “Drive My Car” has become the designated international film with the biggest push for Best Picture recognition. Meanwhile, Variety’s Clayton Davis has theorized that Sony Pictures Classics could push “Parallel Mothers” and Penelope Cruz into the mix with a late-breaking campaign like it did for “The Father” last year. If such a strategy could work, maybe it can pay dividends for “The Worst Person in the World” and BAFTA nominee Renate Reinsve as well. Either way, the full power of the Academy’s international voting bloc will be made clear this year, whether it is a truly rising demographic or still has a ways to go.

How Many Members Of The Best Actress Biopic Bunch Will Get In?
Biopics have become a dirty word when it comes to the Best Actress race – or at least a certain kind of biopic has. Between “Being The Ricardos,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Respect,” and “House of Gucci,” to an extent, the Best Actress category is overrun with contenders from very mixed reviewed but highly Academy voter-friendly biopics. Meanwhile, a supposed frontrunner from a far more acclaimed, experimental but apparently voter alienating biopic in “Spencer” has suddenly struggled to merely get nominated.

If Best Actress is just populated with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Jessica Chastain, Lady Gaga, and Jennifer Hudson, all while Kristen Stewart either barely gets in or is snubbed completely, then this will become one of the most infamous Best Actress races in years. Yet maybe voter-bashing tweets will be mitigated if other contenders from non-biopics squeeze in too.

Despite a BAFTA snub, Olivia Colman would seem safe for “The Lost Daughter.” But if there could also be room for the likes of Cruz, Zegler, Reinsve, and/or Haim, too, there might not be as much tweet or teeth-gnashing as there could be. On the very off chance Kidman is the sole traditional biopic nominee, or at least is only joined by one of the Gaga/Chastain/Hudson trio, much of Film Twitter will likely be pacified – through certain fanbases might be another matter entirely.

Is Netflix Finally Going To Make History?
The big historical question for Netflix is whether “The Power of the Dog” can finally deliver its first Best Picture victory. But before that, it might be a good early sign if Netflix can set another overdue record in becoming the first studio in decades to get three Best Picture nominations in one year.

This is something Netflix probably should have done last year and would have if both “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Da 5 Bloods” weren’t snubbed while “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Mank” stayed in. But in true Oscars tradition, Netflix is likely to be honored for weaker overall work to make up for stronger work being snubbed a year earlier. At the least, those who aren’t a fan of “Don’t Look Up” and “Tick, Tick…Boom!” will argue that if both get in with “The Power of the Dog,” as they each did in the PGA field of ten.

There’s still an outside chance “The Lost Daughter” swaps places with “Tick, Tick…Boom!” for the final spot and gives Netflix a third nominee that way. But in all likelihood, nothing is swapping “Don’t Look Up” out, no matter how many attacks and counterattacks swirl around it. Getting at least two Best Picture nominations a year is now an annual tradition for Netflix, and it would surely like to start getting three a year – then turn its full attention towards a bigger win for one of them.

Will Anything Or Anyone Surprise Us This Year?
The PGA, DGA, and WGA nominations were relatively low on surprises, as everything that was expected to get in got in. If that is a sign, then it would lay the groundwork for a relatively dull Oscar nomination morning.

With eight if not nine of the ten Best Picture nominations already locked up and maybe just one or two spots still open in the other major categories, it is hard to imagine any nomination or snub truly shocking us by now. Either way, it would be hard to top Lakeith Stanfield’s blindsiding Best Supporting Actor nomination last year, or the surprise Best Picture snubs of both “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami.”

Is this indeed a year where conventional thinking wins out, especially with a far more traditional crop of major contenders than the last few years? Can something like “Drive My Car” or even “Spider-Man: No Way Home” or “No Time to Die” drop our jaws by sneaking into the expanded Best Picture field, or is it all locked in stone already? Can someone join Stanfield as an individual nominee no one saw coming, or have we foreseen them all already? Will someone shock us a la Jennifer Lopez in 2019 and Amy Adams in 2016 by not getting in at all, or are we already well prepared for such a snub – especially when it comes to Stewart? These and other questions will have answers on February 8th; even if they only lead to more questions, we will spend the next seven weeks asking.

What surprising inclusions and exclusions are you predicting for tomorrow’s Oscar nominations? Check out the NBP team’s current Oscar predictions here (you can also listen to them on this week’s Next Best Picture Podcast here) and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @robertdoc1984

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