MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

16 Weeks To Oscar: Best Picture

Okay… the reboot of MCN is taking longer to arrive than I had hoped, so the first Oscar column of this year will launch on good ol’ MCN (which is actually the 2.0… but that is another conversation).

Let’s jump right in.

There are only two movies left hiding in the shadows, 1917 and Richard Jewell.

You can look at the group of Best Picture movies in a very generous way or a very tough way.

The tough way would be to say that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and The Irishman are the only two movies truly locked in for Best Picture nominations.

After that, JoJo Rabbit, Bombshell, and Little Women seem likely, but for all the attention they have gotten, they haven’t proven their status yet.

Ford v Ferrari is already getting media backlash, but it seems likely to become a popular favorite, especially with men. If that happens, it will be in. But if it comes up short at the box office next month, it could lose its position.

Netflix has, along with Scorsese, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. The first question is whether voters are going to go for three Best Picture nominees from the streamer. The second question is whether Marriage Story will hold the interest of voters, outside of the acting. And the third question is whether The Two Popes will be pushed as hard by Netflix as Irishman and Marriage… which has not been the case so far. But Marriage seems strong. (This is a classic example of getting it into the media’s head early so every story offers it as a fait accompli.)

A Hidden Life, like The Two Popes, is the “other” film for a distributor with a strong lead movie or movies. There are three World War II movies in the season – Hidden, Jojo, and The Painted Bird – plus the WW I movie, 1917. Painted Bird is competing only for International. But the question for Oscar watchers is whether the exhaustion level with the subject matter, even though each of the movies takes a very different tack, will eliminate a more languorous movie like A Hidden Life while Jojo stands as a comedy and 1917 stands as a clock-driven thriller.

You might notice at this point that there are no people of color in the field yet. The truth is that, as is so often the case, there just aren’t many films even trying to be in the game. Warner Bros is offering up Just Mercy, but the festival run wasn’t kind to the film, with the only real embrace coming for Jamie Foxx playing a wholly dramatic role. But that means competing for Best Supporting Actor, which is loaded, as usual. Possible. But Best Picture is a reach.

Queen & Slim has been shown… and there is no heat coming off of it.

Harriet, with all respect, is painfully conventional. It’s nicely directed and there isn’t a bad performance in the movie… but even the solid performance of a hero by Cynthia Erivo, isn’t that special. The push for the film now seems focused on Erivo’s song from the film, rather than her acting performance.

The last option of color is My Name Is Dolemite, a terrific movie coming out of Netflix. Eddie Murphy is working harder for awards attention than he has, well, ever. He’s already done more for this film than he did during the entire season for Dreamgirls. But… Lead Actor is a bear. And the movie, which I personally love, is a gentle comedy about a dreamer who won’t allow himself to be marginalized. It’s really a movie about a film industry underdog overcoming all odds to make successful junk more than it is about race. But it is chock-full of race by the very nature of Rudy Ray Moore. No one wants Eddie Murphy to get Oscar recognition more than I do… but I’m not 100% sure this is the vehicle. It is a true ensemble movie. Remember… Johnny Depp didn’t get a nomination for his indelible, delightful turn as Ed Wood.

So will there be enough of a base inside The Academy to vote in one of these films or performances in on principle? I don’t think so. If Dolemite was Netflix’s #2 film instead of #4… maybe. If Just Mercy offered a bit more from Jamie Foxx… maybe he’d be likely.

The lesson is, either way, that the industry is still making a limited number of films that fit into the award season category with actors of color in great roles telling great stories. Hollywood So White.

Is Joker a serious contender for a Best Picture slot? I don’t think so. It’s a longshot, though there is a lot of craft that could be embraced beyond the performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Production Design, Score, Cinematography, maybe Editing, Sound… all legitimately interesting. That can be built into a BP nod. But it can also end up being three or four nominations and no BP nod.

Can Parasite do the double-dip and get nods for Best International Feature Film and Best Picture? This is an uphill battle. It’s not impossible and Parasite is certainly a worthy movie. But this is one of those cases where a small distributor, like Neon, is at a great disadvantage. At Netflix or at a Theatrical Studio where the film was their primary focus, there would be a better chance because there would be more money and more bodies thrown at it. Then again, Filmmaker Bong has enormous (well-earned) cache these days. They won the Palme D’or, just as Amour did. And Neon has a lot of smart people working on it.

That leaves the two unseen movies. 1917 stinks of a nomination… perhaps frontrunner status when seen. Richard Jewell, less so. Great cast, Eastwood… but it feels like a diatribe against the press while the press is under attack by a joker in the White House. It may be more commercial than any of us expect, given that 38% of America seems to want to buy into attacks on the media. But not a lot of that 38% is in The Academy.

So, if I had to guess today… and this is always a work in progress…

I am going to guess at nine Best Picture nominees because the odds are severely against ever having exactly 10 nominees. Could be 7, 8 or 9.

Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood
The Irishman
JoJo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Ford v Ferrari
The Two Popes

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3 Responses to “16 Weeks To Oscar: Best Picture”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    So have you seen LITTLE WOMEN and BOMBSHELL? I thought they were still under wraps.

  2. Jay says:

    what reboot of MCN? Is that a joke I’m not getting?

  3. Bradley Laing says:

    —Thought: has anyone suggested a Best Documentary Feature film, before the Academy “long List” is announced?

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon