By Zoe Rose Bryant
With half of the critics’ groups’ awards in our rearview mirror and only two weeks to go until the first televised ceremonies start announcing their nominations, we’re set to soon witness a massive shift in this awards season, likely upending many pundits’ predictions entirely. Thus far, for most of the race, there’s been a consistent trend in what film is winning the most accolades. Without a doubt, “Nomadland” has crushed its competition, earning 15 Best Picture awards in total (including notices from both the National Society of Film Critics and the Gotham Awards). Chloé Zhao has also outright obliterated her respective rivals, acquiring 21 Best Director wins over the last two months. If we were to go off of this information alone, it would seem safe to call the race for “Nomadland” here and now and wrap things up early.
And yet, it’s not quite that easy. If we’ve learned anything from the awards paths of past critical darlings like “Roma,” “Boyhood,” and “The Social Network,” it’s that the televised awards are their own beast and they’re not merely swayed by whatever film has captivated cinephiles or tickled #FilmTwitter. If they were, we wouldn’t have ended up with Best Picture winners “Green Book,” “Birdman,” and “The King’s Speech.” This year, the thorn in “Nomadland’s” side appears to be Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial Of The Chicago 7,” a blistering biopic with painful parallels to our present and an expansive ensemble for the ages. “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” has performed decently with critics so far (mostly for Supporting Actor contender Sacha Baron Cohen, Sorkin’s scathing screenplay, and the film’s expeditious editing). Still, it’s the very kind of star-studded, sturdy studio filmmaking that always appeals to Academy voters more anyway, especially following the troubles and turmoil of 2020, when many might want to send a message denouncing the horrors and hatred we endured just one summer ago.
“Nomadland” isn’t down for the count just yet. However, when comparing “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” to past Best Picture contenders that ultimately prevailed in the top category at the Oscars, a few striking similarities jump out that seem to give Sorkin’s historical epic the edge with AMPAS. If we are to assume that “The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s” most likely wins would come from the Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing categories, this leaves us with six possible paths for it to pull off a Best Picture victory, four of which feel particularly feasible based on historical precedent. Each prospective path is explored below…
Path #1: Best Picture + Best Supporting Actor/Actress = N/A
In 93 years of Oscar history, no film has ever won Best Picture if its only other win came from the Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress category. Nothing is impossible, but at this point in time, it would seem that “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” needs more than just a victory for supporting stars Sacha Baron Cohen or Mark Rylance to take home the top trophy.
Path #2: Best Picture + Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) = “Spotlight”
In 2015, after many awards prognosticators had switched their Best Picture predictions to Golden Globe/BAFTA winner “The Revenant” or PGA winner “The Big Short,” it was former frontrunner (and SAG Ensemble winner) “Spotlight” that surprised by pulling out the win in the end, a success made even more shocking by the fact that it had only won one other award – Best Original Screenplay for writer-director Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer. Therefore, if “Judas and the Black Messiah’s” Daniel Kaluuya or “One Night in Miami’s” Leslie Odom Jr. triumph in Best Supporting Actor and “Nomadland” or “Mank” come out on top in the Best Film Editing category, “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” can still conceivably win Best Picture, as long as Aaron Sorkin beats out his competitors in the Best Original Screenplay race.
Path #3: Best Picture + Best Film Editing = N/A
As with Path #1, there is no precedent for “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” to win Best Picture only with a Best Film Editing victory under its belt. Again, never say never, but it wouldn’t be wise to bet on this avenue either.
Path #4: Best Picture + Best Supporting Actor/Actress + Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) = “The Life of Emile Zola,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight” & “Green Book”
If “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” were to win both Best Supporting Actor (for either Baron Cohen or Rylance) and Best Original Screenplay, it would seemingly be set up for success in the Best Picture category as well, as four other winners from the past can attest to the prosperous nature of this path. 1937’s “The Life of Emile Zola” proved that wins in these two categories could lead to a Best Picture triumph at the 10th Academy Awards – where it won both Best Supporting Actor for star Joseph Schildkraut and Best Screenplay – while last decade, we saw three Best Picture winners follow in its footsteps. “12 Years a Slave” won Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o and Best Adapted Screenplay for John Ridley, “Moonlight” won Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and “Green Book” won Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Original Screenplay for Peter Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Nick Vallelonga. If Sorkin succeeds in Best Original Screenplay and Baron Cohen or Rylance follows suit in Best Supporting Actor, don’t be surprised to hear “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” announced as the Best Picture winner of the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25th.
Path #5: Best Picture + Best Supporting Actor/Actress + Best Film Editing = N/A
Even if “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” were to win both Best Supporting Actor and Best Film Editing, there is once again no former Best Picture winner that notched that top notice with these two trophies alone. “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” could very well be the first, but it isn’t looking likely.
Path #6: Best Picture + Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) + Best Film Editing = “Crash” & “Argo”
As mentioned above, both Baron Cohen and Rylance (or any other supporting actor from “The Trial Of The Chicago 7“) face considerable competition in the Best Supporting Actor category from top-tier contenders like Daniel Kaluuya and Leslie Odom Jr. If it proves to be too difficult to overcome their momentum, “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” isn’t dead in the water just yet. Assuming Alan Baumgarten still catapults past his competitors in the Best Film Editing category and Sorkin likewise surmounts his opponents in Best Original Screenplay, “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” can mirror the awards hauls of 2005’s “Crash” and 2012’s “Argo” – both of which won a screenplay award and Best Film Editing – to be named Best Picture when all is said and done.
When comparing and contrasting the six paths above, one thing becomes clear – based on historical precedent, if “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” is to win Best Picture, Aaron Sorkin absolutely needs to win Best Original Screenplay. If he fails to conquer his competition there (especially with a formidable threat from Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman“), “The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s” Best Picture hopes may be extinguished entirely, regardless of whether or not Baron Cohen/Rylance or Baumgarten earn individual wins. At the end of the day, all eyes will be on Best Original Screenplay, and the rest is just gravy.
This is an ever-evolving race, and there’s always a chance for additional variables to affect “The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s” awards trajectory – Maybe Aaron Sorkin starts to sweep in Best Director, further cementing the film’s frontrunner status? Maybe “Judas and the Black Messiah” steals its “movie of the moment” thunder and takes after the paths described above instead? – but, for the time being, this is how things stand given “The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s” strength in the top categories and its correlation to contenders of the past. As always, we’ll see.
Do you think “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” is going to win Best Picture? If so, how? Check out the Next Best Picture team’s Oscar predictions organized by each category here. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Zoe and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @ZoeRoseBryant