Thursday, May 23, 2024

Unlikely Paths To A Best Picture Win Or How “CODA” Has Forced Us To Question Everything

Once the cheers, arguments, and rants over the Oscar nominations end soon, everyone will go right back to cheering, arguing, and ranting over who might win on March 12th. As nomination morning backed up, the paths to Best Picture for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and “The Fabelmans” are about the same as they have been since the fall of 2022. However, the nominations also cleared up what possible paths the other seven nominees may have with them.

Because of “CODA” alone, we have to look closer at films that don’t look like a frontrunner, or even a challenger, after Oscar nomination morning. Though if “CODA” was a long shot at doing it before the final weeks last season, it is an even longer shot that such a thing can happen two years in a row.

Nonetheless, if there is any chance something other than “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” or “The Fabelmans” can win Best Picture, here is what each of them would have to do.

“Top Gun: Maverick”Top Gun: MaverickThe biggest non-Pandora set film of 2022 got bad news and very good news on Oscar nomination morning. While it missed out on nominations for Best Director, Best Actor, and even Best Cinematography, its surprising nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay – and its subsequent repeat nomination from the WGA – gave it the last-ditch Best Picture path it needed.

Some suspect the preferential ballot will give “Top Gun: Maverick” the Best Picture win, even if it doesn’t win any other above-the-line categories. Leaving aside how that hasn’t happened in the modern era, if a blockbuster were going to win Best Picture and no other significant awards with this ballot, then “Avatar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Black Panther” or “Dune” likely would have already. As those examples proved, big money, acclaim, and favorable ballots aren’t enough on their own. Therefore, the one chance “Top Gun: Maverick” really has at Best Picture is to win Best Adapted Screenplay too. After all, surging ahead at the last second to win a screenplay award is what wrapped up Best Picture for “CODA” last year and “Green Book” in 2018, more than their respective Best Supporting Actor winners did.

Even so, the task of winning Best Adapted Screenplay is more difficult than “Top Gun: Maverick” would have hoped, after it missed a BAFTA screenplay nomination and after Adapted favorite “Women Talking” salvaged a Best Picture nomination after all. If “Women Talking” wins at both BAFTA and the WGAs, no one will catch it at the Oscars – and “Top Gun: Maverick” can’t possibly pull off an upset at BAFTA.

The PGA awards are announced on February 25th, so “Top Gun: Maverick’s” whole strategy may be to pull off an upset there and hope the momentum carries over to the WGAs just like it did for “CODA.” But even with a PGA victory, it doesn’t mean enough on its own if it still loses WGA a week later.

Maybe winning PGA, unlike past nominated blockbusters, would be enough to make “Top Gun: Maverick” a stat-crushing exception. Yet Best Adapted Screenplay is the biggest, if not the only, opportunity it has to be absolutely certain.

“All Quiet On The Western Front”All Quiet On The Western FrontIn a year where Netflix looked likely to have zero Best Picture nominations for the first time since 2017 and where hopes for its first Best Picture victory seemed dashed by the end of the fall festivals, “All Quiet on the Western Front” saved it from embarrassment despite – or perhaps because of – Netflix and critics groups barely campaigning for it at all. With nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best International Film, pundits now have to wonder if this could take the path “Parasite” did three years ago.

However, the win that put “Parasite” over the top was for Best Director. Unfortunately for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the big setback it had on nomination morning was missing Best Director for Edward Berger, thanks to “Triangle of Sadness’” Ruben Ostlund. Without even a DGA nomination, the only major category “All Quiet on the Western Front” can rally in before Oscar night is Best Adapted Screenplay.

Just as “Top Gun: Maverick’s” only chance rides on a Best Adapted Screenplay comeback, so too is Best Adapted Screenplay the only chance for this movie. But while “Top Gun: Maverick” can only surge there with an upset at the WGAs, the WGA-ineligible “All Quiet on the Western Front” can only surge there with an upset at BAFTA. That might be far more likely, given how the past few Adapted winners like “CODA,” “The Father,” and “Jojo Rabbit” started their late rise to victory with BAFTA surprises as well.

But if “All Quiet on the Western Front” can rise up to take Best International Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and one or two tech awards, that might only be enough to make it a top 3 or top 5 Best Picture film in the final vote. If only Berger had a chance to shock in Director, it might be a different story, yet instead, his snub might well represent the ceiling for this film.

In any case, after Netflix stumbled so badly at the finish line with supposed Best Picture frontrunners four years running, it makes almost no sense – or too much sense? – that it would finally get it right while barely even trying this time.

“Elvis”For a few days before the Golden Globes, there were some suspicious/fearful minds that “Elvis” could become a real Best Picture-winning threat, on the backs of Best Actor favorite Austin Butler and countless reports of joyful crowds at industry screenings. But when “Elvis” lost Best Picture at the Golden Globes, and Baz Luhrmann’s hopes for a Best Director nomination ultimately faded, the film and pundits seemed to come back down to Earth.

Even so, with eight nominations and Butler right back to frontrunner status after Brendan Fraser’s “The Whale” missed Best Picture, “Elvis” is back to where it started – as a likely winner for Butler and maybe one or two tech awards, but nothing more. Some might still think that could be enough in Best Picture, yet no movie has won with Best Actor as its only other above-the-line winner since “Gladiator” 20+ years ago – and unlike “Elvis,” it also had nominations in Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay.

Like with “All Quiet on the Western Front,” if “Elvis” had at least gotten a Best Director nomination, a path to Best Picture might have opened up. Instead, both movies can only hope one above-the-line victory and some below-the-line upsets will be enough – yet even then; it probably wouldn’t be.

“Avatar: The Way Of Water”Like its predecessor, “Avatar: The Way of Water” exceeded even the highest box office expectations and used that to get in Best Picture. But unlike its predecessor, the sequel could not do the same for James Cameron in Best Director.

Like with “Elvis,” if “Avatar: The Way of Water” had secured a Best Director nomination, it would have had a defined, if not longshot, path towards Best Picture. But like with the original “Avatar,” the sequel is looking at an Oscar night where it sweeps visual awards yet doesn’t have enough support above the line to take the big prize. And while it at least had a shot thanks to Cameron thirteen years ago, there is no such wiggle room this time – though it has three sequels left to get it right later, finally.

“TAR”TARDespite racking up Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay nominations all season, the only category “TAR” has been win-competitive in is Best Actress. But even if Cate Blanchett wins over Michelle Yeoh, it will, in all likelihood, go down as “TAR’s” collective victory for Oscar night, barring a massive move from Todd Field in either Best Original Screenplay or Best Director.

With “Top Gun: Maverick” snubbed in Cinematography despite being the leading critics’ winner, it does leave an open door for “TAR” nominee Florian Hoffmeister to take advantage. Perhaps a win there would point to a larger “TAR” surge for Blanchett or even Field or signal that Best Cinematography could be “TAR’s” one collective win instead.

Either way, in a season where a preferential ballot could be a possible boom for “Top Gun: Maverick” and a possible obstacle for the less crowd-pleasing “The Banshees of Inisherin,” almost no one believes the far less crowd-pleasing “TAR” can make up the ground it needs on such a ballot. But if Field somehow surprises somewhere at the WGA, DGA, or BAFTA, only then might pundits take another look at “TAR” beyond Blanchett.

“Triangle Of Sadness”If “The Whale” had made Best Picture to perhaps cement Fraser for Best Actor and then made Best Adapted Screenplay to become that category’s new frontrunner, it would have instantly been labeled as the next potential “CODA.” But after it missed both, this year’s biggest film with only a select few major nominations and nothing more became “Triangle of Sadness” instead, after making Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay alone.

Like “CODA,” “Triangle of Sadness” won an early season film festival – in this case, Cannes – then seemed to struggle with a more mixed reception among general audiences, yet recovered to secure a small but essential Oscar nomination haul anyway. But unlike “CODA,” it did not secure an acting nomination for its much-raved-about supporting star in Dolly De Leon, much less put her in line for a win.

Regardless, after “CODA” only got three above-the-line nominations but won them all anyway, we now have to more closely consider other films like “Triangle of Sadness,” which do the same. Yet in this case, its Best Original Screenplay hopes appear more daunting thanks to overwhelming frontrunners in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” while Ostlund’s hopes in Best Director seem non-existent thanks to the Daniels and Steven Spielberg, if not Martin McDonagh and Field as well.

If De Leon made the Oscar cut and had a chance to rally over Angela Bassett, it might have been a sign of something different. But like with “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Elvis,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Triangle of Sadness” missed the one nomination it really needed to raise the possibility of something more.

“Women Talking”When Michelle Williams moved from Best Supporting Actress to Best Actress, the biggest winner seemed to be “Women Talking,” back when it looked like either Claire Foy, or Jessie Buckley could emerge as the new frontrunner. If that had happened and its supposedly overwhelming lead in Best Adapted Screenplay held, “Women Talking” would have instantly had the time-honored acting/screenplay combination that most defines the Best Picture winner these days.

But as we all know and continue to assign scapegoats for – whether sexism, a lousy distributor, or the movie’s own color scheme – “Women Talking” instead sunk to such an extent that its Best Picture nomination became a mild upset, and even a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination looked in doubt for a brief second. Yet thanks to its last-second Best Picture inclusion, a screenplay win that once looked like a mortal lock is now close to one again, barring surges from “All Quiet on the Western Front” or “Top Gun: Maverick.”

With no other nominations besides Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – not even for Best Original Score or any cast member – there appears to be no real chance “Women Talking” can win Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay with no other nominations at all. Yet we all said “CODA” couldn’t possibly win Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay with no other nominations at all last February either.

With only two nominations instead of three, “Women Talking” shocking the world would be 100 times more stunning than “CODA” doing it. That is one of many reasons it couldn’t possibly happen – but thanks to “CODA,” we have to entertain such possibilities more seriously for the foreseeable future.

Do you think there’s a chance any film can win Best Picture other than Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” or “The Fabelmans?” Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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

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