By Liam Gaughan
One of the biggest question marks of the extended awards season has been whether “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” will continues its awards run and make it into the Best Picture lineup? It is hardly a traditional Best Picture contender, but it’s hardly a normal year. The film’s predecessor, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” led a successful run during the 2007 awards season, where it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture- Comedy/Musical for Sacha Baron Cohen, and a WGA nomination among other critics’ honors.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” earned a PGA nomination for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Picture a few days ago, capping off a successful month for the film. While the WGA nomination and the Golden Globe win for Cohen as the Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical mirrored the first film’s achievements, the sequel has taken home honors that its predecessor did not, including the Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical prize at the Globes and a Critics Choice Awards win for the film’s breakout star, Maria Bakalova, in Best Supporting Actress. The first “Borat” wasn’t recognized at PGA (which was limited to five nominees at the time), but the appearance of its sequel comes in place of on the bubble contenders such as “News of the World,” “The Father” and “Da 5 Bloods.”
In many ways, this is not surprising. While 87 of the last 98 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars scored PGA nominations, the outliers have tended to represent more mainstream crowd-pleasers. Past PGA nominees that didn’t translate to the Oscars have included “A Quiet Place,” “Wonder Woman,” “Deadpool,” “Skyfall,” and “Bridesmaids,” and there wasn’t a major blockbuster in 2020 that was poised to secure one of the slots. Some pundits theorized that fellow WGA nominee (albeit in the Best Original Screenplay category) “Palm Springs” had a shot at sliding in, but “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” solidified its industry popularity with its inclusion.
So what does this mean for the Oscars? Maria Bakalova has shown up as a Best Supporting Actress nominee at everywhere she’s needed to, and while her loss to Rosamund Pike at the Golden Globes was a surprise, her win at Critic’s Choice provided momentum at just the right time. She even managed to crack a competitive BAFTA lineup that was decided on by a small committee. Best Adapted Screenplay will be a closer call, as a snub of “Nomadland,” “The Father,” “One Night in Miami,” or “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” would be shocking. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is fighting for the critical fifth slot alongside “News of the World” and “The White Tiger.” It’s very much in the conversation but it’s going to be tough to overcome more traditional Academy-friendly films.
The PGA recognition certainly supports “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” in those two races as a contender, but the path to a Best Picture nomination is much murkier. Until nominations morning, we won’t know how many films will be in the revolving Best Picture lineup, but math indicates that it’s unlikely to be ten. Even if the PGA-snubbed “News of the World,” “The Father,” and “Da 5 Bloods” continue to underperform, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is likely the least positioned for a Best Picture nomination of the entire PGA lineup.
That being said, any late-breaking success for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” would only come as good news. More wins for Bakalova or a nomination at the ACE Eddies might signify more unified industry support, and there’s also a possibility that “The Wuhan Flu” cracks the Best Original Song lineup. Further below the line nominations are unlikely.
While the perception that a broad, gross-out comedy isn’t in the Oscar wheelhouse is up for debate, the more damning statistic “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” faces is the fact that it’s a sequel. Only seven sequels have ever scored Best Picture nominations, with only two (“Toy Story 3” and “Mad Max: Fury Road“) getting in without previous Best Picture nominations for the franchise. It would be tough to make a comparison to either of those, which held unified acclaim as masterpieces that “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” simply doesn’t. A comedy sequel would be entirely new territory for the Oscars altogether.
That being said, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was one of the most-watched movies of 2020 and one of the few, alongside “Hamilton” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” that generated hype and conversation comparable to the opening weekend of a blockbuster smash. We don’t entirely know what a post-COVID Oscars will look like, and the changing viewing patterns coupled with an expanded voting body could break a lot of the preconceived notions we have about what a Best Picture nominee looks like.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” also hits the right political notes in a season that’s already been politically charged, and a Best Picture nomination might be the forward-thinking message that voters want to highlight as more attention is called upon representation within the membership. Any film that ends with a direct call to action to get out and vote is a novelty, and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” also has the significance of being the only contender that directly responds to the COVID-19 pandemic (sorry, “Songbird” and “Locked Down”).
There’s a case to be made that “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” could be the shock of the morning. While still a longshot, its performance signifies that it is at least worth considering as a fringe Best Picture nominee.
You can follow Liam and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @TheLiamGaughan