Friday, April 12, 2024

Will “The Color Purple” Live Up To Its Awards Expectations?

Now that fall festival season is nearly over, and both strikes may at last end with it, nearly every single Oscar contender has been seen by an audience and is finally guaranteed to be seen by general audiences in 2023, too. But now that the strikes have nearly lifted their dark cloud over awards season, the race is instead in a holding pattern for the next two months because of the one contender – or rather presumed contender – no one still has seen yet.

Warner Bros’ “The Color Purple” would have almost certainly been moved to 2024 if David Zaslav succeeded in further prolonging the strikes. But assuming he doesn’t tamper with his very crowded December slate for other reasons, “The Color Purple” will be released to general audiences on Christmas as planned. However, the major question now is when will any other audience see it first?

Among presumed Oscar contenders, “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” were seen by sold-out summer crowds, “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” and “The Zone of Interest” debuted at Cannes, “Past Lives” launched at Sundance and the likes of “Poor Things,” “The Holdovers,” “Maestro,” “American Fiction,” “All of Us Strangers,” “Priscilla,” “May December” and more made statements at fall festivals. Yet that leaves “The Color Purple” as the biggest completely unseen movie left – not counting “Napoleon” and smaller films like “The Iron Claw” and “Freud’s Last Session” – and the movie that everyone is waiting for to complete the first leg of awards season.

If “Oppenheimer,” “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” “Poor Things” and “Barbie” are locks in Best Picture, if “The Holdovers” and “Maestro” are near locks, if “Anatomy of a Fall” and “Past Lives” get just enough juice from Neon and A24 to stay in, and if the streak of TIFF People’s Choice winners getting in holds for “American Fiction,” then that leaves only one spot available in this field. At the moment, that spot is probably reserved for “The Color Purple” if it delivers – but it looks like no one will be able to say if it does until the holidays.

Without any fall festival screenings and a place on the AFI Fest lineup released days ago, “The Color Purple” seemingly can’t or won’t screen until it absolutely has to. At maximum, if it wants to be eligible for the National Board of Review awards, it would have to be screened for them around Thanksgiving finally. If that is the strategy, then awards season will pretty much be on standby for the next month and a half until word about it can go public.

Since “Killers Of The Flower Moon” and “The Holdovers” will open for general audiences before then, and since word on “Napoleon” will start coming out by then, too, it’s not as if the whole race will be at a standstill. Nonetheless, we are now at a point this season where there are almost no mysteries left besides “The Color Purple,” at least when it comes to the movies themselves and their reception.

Although non-festival audiences haven’t seen most of these films yet, we now have a general idea of which preseason favorites are actual real contenders, which ones are at least good enough to stay on the bubble, and which ones are disappointments – that is, all of them except “The Color Purple.” And if the Best Picture bubble or perhaps more is stuck in place until it is revealed, then so are a few other major categories as well.

As touched upon in this writer’s recent breakdown of Best Actress after Lily Gladstone’s category move, every Best Actress contender has also been seen by an audience – except for “The Color Purple’s” Fantasia Barrino. Like with Best Picture, Best Actress is frozen in place until “The Color Purple” at last unveils this final piece of the puzzle. And like with Best Picture, only then will there be a solid idea of whether this final piece is a real threat to win it all, if it will just stay on the bubble until the end, whether it pops or not, or whether it will be deemed lacking or irrelevant by nomination morning.

However, this also applies to the other Actress field – only in Best Supporting Actress, there are two missing pieces “The Color Purple” has yet to unveil. And after Gladstone’s move, those pieces could become more crucial than ever.

With Best Supporting Actress now lacking an undisputed frontrunner, the closest among those who have already been screened is Da’Vine Joy Randolph for “The Holdovers,” if not Emily Blunt for “Oppenheimer” or Jodie Foster for “Nyad.” Yet, as it has been since her casting, there is every expectation that Danielle Brooks will leap near or to the top of the charts once “The Color Purple” showcases her as Sofia. If not her, then Taraji P. Henson is also waiting in the wings to be the movie’s big Best Supporting Actress play – or perhaps its second nominee.

Either way, in a time where it’s common for at least one supporting category to have two nominees from the same movie, the fate of “The Color Purple,” and of Brooks and Henson could bring about maximum chaos – or sudden clarity – to a race already more up in the air than expected. At the bare minimum, even if Brooks or Henson don’t become the frontrunners – like previous Best Supporting Actress musical winners Ariana DeBose, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones before them – one or both of them may be deciding factors in how the nomination bubble pops.

As for the other supporting category, the fact Colman Domingo is already a projected Best Actor nominee for “Rustin” probably makes him an unlikely double nominee for “The Color Purple” too. Even if he is nomination-worthy again, the battle for Best Supporting Actor’s one available spot is crowded as it is. But if Domingo is indeed that good in two fall movies, perhaps history can yet be made. Or if Domingo actually slips out of Best Actor due to “Rustin’s” presumed weakness beyond him, maybe then voters could give him a collective 2023 nomination in Best Supporting Actor as a make-up – assuming he does have a real case for just “The Color Purple” alone.

Beyond that, “The Color Purple” seems like an even longer shot to crack Best Director for Blitz Bazawule and to slip into Best Adapted Screenplay. In all likelihood, the film would have to be massively big with both critics and the box office for its coattails to get that long. But at the moment, there’s no evidence out there to prove or disprove if it’s possible.

It is a tradition that at least one or two major presumed contenders are kept out of festivals and theaters until the holidays. Sometimes, being the last mystery film of the season doesn’t work out, as it didn’t for “Babylon” last year. Sometimes, it works to a point, but not enough to seriously threaten for more than one significant Oscar, as with “West Side Story” two years ago. And sometimes the last unseen contender can storm at the end to nearly take it all, like with “1917” and “The Revenant” – though that strategy hasn’t worked for the Best Picture winner since “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004.

Given that “Oppenheimer,” “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” “Poor Things” and “Barbie” have jumped so far ahead so early this year, there is a lot of ground “The Color Purple” would have to make up in a very short time to overtake them for Best Picture. But even if it isn’t that good or that big of a hit, it could still break the heart of a few films by squeezing into the bottom of the Best Picture field. Perhaps that alone can generate enough controversy to shake up or outrage online on nomination morning, depending on what is left out to make room.

That is to say nothing of what could happen if Barrino is a frontrunner or just another name on the Best Actress bubble, if Brooks, Henson, or both shake up an already shaky Best Supporting Actress race and bubble if Domingo indeed winds up on two bubbles in one year and if this film is massive enough to break in even more fields. Yet it could be another six weeks, at most, until anyone knows if any of this is realistic at all.

By mid-October, the last lingering fears of strikes or category fraud altering the 2023 Oscar season may be settled. As such, barring surges of backlash for frontrunners, surprise reactions from wider audiences seeing festival frontrunners for the first time, or something like “Napoleon” being far more formidable than expected, nothing is going to seriously change this Oscar race for a while. In fact, whether or not holding back “The Color Purple” this long is wise or misguided, the entire race is about to go on pause waiting for just this one film – or at least just one measly preview screening for that film.

Do you think which film do you think “The Color Purple” will be a major Oscar player or not? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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