Monday, July 15, 2024

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” Is The Game-Changer For This Oscar Season

By Ryan C. Showers

About a week ago, the long-awaited “The Post” from Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks screened for critics and pundits. Due to the strict social media and review embargos set in place, the broader punditry and general audience members didn’t learn much about the film for over a week after the screening. It led to much speculation on both sides of the anticipation spectrum: the pro-Spielberg/Streep/Hanks crowd insisted patience would lead to a late-breaking success story, while anti-Oscar bait voices instilled doubt while pointing out ways in which it could fail. In award show circles, this was the perfect item to create such a storm of division and discussion. With not many having seen the film and those who had not been able to talk about it, there was not much to do besides speculating on the rushed project about the ever-timely political and feminist topics, brought to life by the crème de la crème talents of the entertainment industry.

​Recently, the social media embargo was lifted and a few things were made clear: the response was an overwhelming positive consensus – many saying it’s Streep’s best work a good while, that it combines many of the strengths of Spielberg’s past accomplishments (many referencing “Munich”), and, as expected, that the themes strongly resonate in the eras of President Donald Trump’s “Fake News” and Hollywood’s unending string of sexual harassment and assault revelations. It also just swept three of the top awards at the National Board of Review, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor. If Oscar-winning writer Josh Singer could ignite a connection with Academy members in the nonfictional telling of “Spotlight,” imagine how the true story of “The Post” could have an even greater of an impact with the themes drawing eerie parallels to the times of 2017.

To put “The Post” in a Spielberg perspective, it appears the film resonates to a deeper extent than “Bridge of Spies,” yet it may not reach the highs of “Lincoln,” which many consider the director’s most recent masterpiece. Early word, through tweets and conversations, indicates those who have seen it genuinely enjoyed the movie in a similar fashion as something like “The King Speech.” (This comes as a surprise to many who were expecting a divided consensus, with many anticipating reactions of a colder nature.) “The Post” is probably the handsomely constructed, expertly acted, overtly preachy, social and historical commentary, old- and big-Hollywood film most were expecting it to be.

In terms of its Oscar prospects, “The Post” being a complete failure or Streep-or-bust doesn’t seem extremely likely now that we have early word on the finished product. But with the film’s reviews still under embargo, the fate of “The Post” is still nebulous, and more importantly, the role it plays in the way the rest of the award season unfolds is still largely unclear. The following are different scenarios that represent paths “The Post” could travel down in the coming months, in descending order, from most favorable for the film to least favorable.

​Our Next Best Picture and Best Actress Winner

Being released in a year where there are seven, maybe even eight, films leading the Best Picture race without a designated frontrunner highly benefits “The Post.” It could wind up taking control of the Best Picture narrative with the timing of its reviews and emerging as the fresh, new entity just as award season formally kicks off this month, with precursors and guilds to follow. It won the first big Best Picture prize of the year at the National Board of Review, kick-starting its momentum for the season to come. With a cast packed with notable and recognizable film and television actors, “The Post” stands a good chance at winning the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble award, which is its ticket to the Academy’s recognition. The best case scenario, and a plausible one is that it wins Best Picture. In a year where members’ preferences are sprouted off into different directions, a uniting factor could be “The Post” appealing to the Academy’s sensibilities as an Oscar-baity period drama (like “The King’s Speech” did with the Academy’s demographic), with a director and cast whom they already have a track record of voting for (like “Birdman”), and being the culturally “important” film of the moment (Like “Moonlight” and “The Hurt Locker”).

The big race aside, another best-case-scenario for “The Post” is its leading lady takes home the Best Actress trophy. Many people want to see Streep go on to win her fourth Oscar (Tying Katharine Hepburn’s record) at some point, and like the Best Picture race, Best Actress has many solid contenders with passionate support but lacks a clear favorite. Streep is said to have a scene-stealing Oscar moment in the film’s climax, which gives her the substance to justify a win. Most importantly, Streep could use her role in “The Post” as a soapbox to preach about the Trump administration, concerns about the public’s view of journalism, and the treatment of women in the workplace (and tie it to the skeletons in Hollywood’s closet which have recently come into the public eye).

If she is able to power the same type of rebellious speech-giving as she did at the Golden Globes earlier this year in her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille award, she could form a towering campaign that could propel her and her film to the top of their categories. Streep has already won the National Board of Review Best Actress award for this performance, and recent NBR winners like Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” and Brie Larson for “Room” have gone on to win the Oscar. (Tom Hanks also won the National Board of Review award for Best Actor for his performance in the film.)

As for other wins, it’s possible the film wins Best Original Screenplay, but the stiff competition there indicates it may be a tough category to claim. Not to be too on-the-nose, but perhaps the most fitting precedent for “The Post” winning Best Picture is “Spotlight.” It won two awards on Oscar night, which is below the average for a Best Picture winner, but realistic within the modern-day Best Picture voting.

“The Post” carries a similar tone and weight as “Spotlight” with the same screenwriter and type of plot, a real-life corruption story.

​The Biggest Winner of Nomination Morning, the Biggest Loser of Oscar Night

Another viable road “The Post” may walk down is being doused with nominations but left Oscar night without any trophies. It’s the type of film that will have exceptional quality in its production values and the real-life story lends itself to credible narrative and memorable performances. Add in the “Spielberg Effect” and it stands a chance to even be the most nominated film this year. (Side note: I believe “The Post” or “The Shape of Water” will be the top earner on nomination morning, with “Dunkirk” following behind.) But every couple years or so, there is a trend of a popular film with a plethora of nominations to fall short in winning any of their numerous shortlisted categories. It’s not uncommon. This trend has occurred in 1978 with “The Turning Point” (11 nominations, no wins), 1986 with “The Color Purple” (11 nominations, no wins – and a feminist Spielberg film!), and 2003 with “Gangs of New York” (10 nominations, no wins).

Recent, very apt comparisons of this in the expanded Best Picture lineup are “True Grit” and “American Hustle,” two films that skipped the festival circuit, won over critics in late-December release dates, and managed to gain 10 nominations. And both films went home without a single Oscar win, despite their fancy production values, A-list cast and directors, and praised writing. “The Post” could very easily become a member of this movie family. “American Hustle” and “True Grit” had the problem of not having a shoo-in category to win, while a lot of other films had previously taken ownership of most categories and there was no way voters could deviate. It happens by chance, and “The Post” may have that problem. It’s in the running for over a dozen nominations, and it’s not the clear, hands-down frontrunner in any of those categories, especially if Streep fails to overtake the other veterans and ingénues in the Best Actress category.

Locked Nominations

Best Picture
Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Likely Nominations

Best Director: Steven Spielberg
Best Actor: Tom Hanks
Best Original Screenplay

Probable Nominations

Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Mixing

Longshot/Potential Nominations

Best Supporting Actor: Bob Odenkirk
Best Cinematography
Best Makeup/Hairstyling

​An Average Spielberg Score

In the long haul over the past few months of not really knowing what to expect from “The Post,” many pundits and voices in award show circles have placed the film in this safe position, predicting it would perform modestly. Spielberg’s past films have been big nomination-getters, like Schindler’s List (12 nominations), “Lincoln” (12 nominations), “Saving Private Ryan” (11 nominations). But for every massive film he has, he’s had recent projects that earn about five or six nominations. “The Post” could fall in this range if it’s simply good or very good, not great. It could have difficult time fending off competition in the below-the-line categories. Or say, if Best Director and Best Original Screenplay become overcrowded, it could find itself as the loser in a game of musical chairs.

“The Post” could carry on the legacies of Spielberg’s well-received (not enthusiastically received) films this decade, “War Horse” and “Bridge of Spies.” These films garnered six nominations each, and the categories in which they were nominated overlapped four out of six times: Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, and Best Sound Mixing. “War Horse” was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing, while “Bridge of Spies” won Best Supporting Actor for Mark Rylance and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. This is what gives me faith that “The Post” will do well in the latter three categories because those branches of the Academy clearly have a pattern of nominating even his less popular films. At the bare minimum, “The Post” will likely receive, Best Picture, Best Actress, and three or four below-the-line nominations.

Victim of Circumstance

The worst case scenario for “The Post” is, if the Oscar bait doesn’t stick, voters do not see it in time, or there is some public relations disaster with its campaign that allows it to underperform despite having the right ingredients and reception for Oscar success. The worst that could happen is, it simply underperforms in a similar vein as “Jackie” or “Steve Jobs.” Those are films that had impressive technical achievements, were based on true stories, and portrayed nonfictional characters. Along the way, there was a miscommunication between the voting members of the Academy and the film. “The Post” could be susceptible to that, but it’s unlikely.

My strongest belief is “The Post” is guaranteed a nomination for Streep in Best Actress. There’s no way she misses. Even in years where the snubbed competition is unanimously seen as better than her work, she makes it passed the finish line on nominations morning. Recent examples are her nominations for “August: Osage County” and “Florence Foster Jenkins.” The former arguably flopped critically, yet she persisted. The latter was a film that probably should have nabbed more nominations than what it did when you consider the target audience, the precursor attention for other actors, and its lavish production design and makeup/hairstyling. Yet, she was the one still standing. She was one of two nominations for each of these films. Streep will be nominated for “The Post.” Do not underestimate her.

What do you think about the fate of “The Post”? Which of these scenarios do you believe is most likely to happen? Is there a different path you see for the film’s overall award show direction? Let us know in the comments below.

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

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