It’s Oscar week. Which means ramping up the pontificating and predictions for anyone who still cares.
I’ve been on record plenty of times in the past defending the relevance of the ceremony and its importance for the industry (and yes, I know I am Canadian, but it’s near impossible to escape the shadow of the American film industry, and the canadian film industry operates a bit differently none the less, so that’s a discussion for another day). Historically, the Oscars have played a significant role in shining a spotlight on smaller films and smaller studios that often otherwise would not be seen by a wider audience, even as this same history sees a long standing and existing tension between the equal need to showcase films that people have seen for the sake of viewership numberes and the related ad revenue. When it comes to this tension this year has been no different, seeing the Acadamy (or the Network that currently owns the rights to the Oscars- ABC) attempting to stave off the continued ratings decline with some questionable, and at times bizarre decisions (see the the popular film category for example, or the decision to bump below the line categories to a pre oscar ceremony) when it comes to the live broadcast this Sunday night. Of course the ceremony will tell the fuller story in terms of potential dividends and/or further losses, but at present it feels like they are successfully earning the scorn of those who don’t care about the show while further isolating those who do.
Now, I am far from an authority on the Oscars. I do however spend time over the year listening to awards show podcasts, perusing articles and think pieces, and generally following the season as it unfolds. And of course I have a deep interest in seeing the nominated films while also engaging in vibrant dialogue (which sadly is nothing like it used to be) regarding “would have, could have, should have” preferences. So at the very least I can speak something to that. Which is what I thought i would do this week, spotlighting some films, Directors, performances, technicals, that have earned a nomination along with some that didn’t who could be said to have been in the discussion along the way.
Beginning with a personal ranking of the Best Picture nominees, from least to best with one caveat- I have not yet been able to see Drive My Car so that won’t be represented here, and followed by my prediction for what will win and what I think has the best shot at an upset. This year there are 10 Nominees in the Best Picture category:
My Personal Ranking of the 2022 Oscar Best Picture Nominees
9. Don’t Look Up
8. The Power of the Dog
7. King Richard
6. West Side Story
4. Nightmare Alley
2. Licorice Pizza
Licorice Pizza actually ranks higher on my best of 2021 list, but for me personally, when I think of a Best Picture winner I am thinking about a film that successfully represents the year thematically or through the storyline of its production and release and cultural footprint. I think Belfast seems to fit really well as a film that speaks to some of the challenges of the past year (from its emphasis on struggle, division, political turmoil, family, togetherness and isolation, its sense of home and its sense of place, culture, diaspora and war). It is also a film that speaks to hope and to this notion of returning to that which we cherish and which affords us our identity. Or at least to an understanding that home is where we are together. The story of Ireland (and this is a true love letter to Ireland) is one which I think can have much to say to the present struggles in Ukraine of course, but it also feels apt for the experience of the pandemic. Sure, the film didn’t do great at the box office (very few films did in 2021, including streaming films like The Power of the Dog), but it did have the benefit of positive early buzz and it is the kind of film that is able to translate across boundaries and age brackets with a sense of optimism and imagination. It’s the kind of crowd pleasing drama that I think can bring people together, and a Best Picture nod could be the perfect opportunity to celebrate this.
If there is a knock on the film it is that too many critics have been comparing this to Roma, of which a byproduct has been the tendency to then measure this against those qualities, something it can’t live up to because it it in fact a very different kind of film despite sharing the black and white aesthetic. Very few hate the film, but a growing number at this stage in the game seem to be questioning whether it is truly deserving of a best picture win. It did hold the spot of frontrunner for quite a while, but most pundits believe it no longer has a genuine shot at the big award, especially given some of the below the line nominations it was shut out from. But if it somehow does win I would be quite happy with the result.
What will win: The Power of the Dog
When Belfast was dethroned a film that early predictors didn’t think would threaten found a way to do just that. It has been sweeping its way through awards season thus far in multiple categories, and while its not unusual for a dominating film to lose out at the Acadamy, especially when its not that accessible to a wider audience (the Oscars work on a preferential ballot and thus the DGA and PGA winners are often key indicators of what a preferential ballad might bring), its still difficult to vote against at this point in the game. It has a lot of money behind it (Netflix) and while it has many a detractor its supporters are a passionate bunch. It also has the strength of Nomadlands win from 2021 to play off of in its favor, a less accessible indie that steamrolled the season along with taking the major prize. I personally would love to see an upset here for a few reasons- I am not a fan of the film, I think thematically it would be a dire and quite confusing representation of the year in film given its emphasis on the depravity of its story and characters, and while it does seem inevitable that if it doesn’t happen this year it will soon (given Netflix’s mad obsession with winning Best Picture and the sheer amount of money they are putting towards that) I do fear a Netflix win creating a snowball effect where they will dominate the nominations even more than they do now. Unlike other big money representations such as Disney, they have the ability to take over multiple categories including animated, international, and drama). This means that the smaller entities that the Oscars typically helps support will be pushed even further to the margins and have an even harder time competing. But I still do think this is the year Netflix wins.
A Possible Upset: Coda
Much has been written regarding this late stage surge by the unsuspecting Coda. Apple has been pushing their campaign pretty hard and many pundits have been suggesting that its gradually increasing representation in the more recent awards might signal that it will legitimately push for that Best Picture win. All eyes were on the PGA winner, and with Coda taking this spot there is a fairly strong argument one could make for this translating to Oscar night. It’s generally beloved, even more so I think than Belfast despite Belfast being a better representation of the kind of film that wins at the Oscars (or at least one type- this fits I think in the Green Book category). It’s arguably more beloved than The Power of the Dog, something that benefits that preferrential ballot. If Coda does win it would be, I think, a bit of a shock and a bit of an anomaly, but one that I think plenty would more than gladly embrace and praise. It’s a crowd pleaser, and it breaks barriers in terms of representation by shining a spot light on the deaf community. Even if it doesn’t win I’m glad to see it getting the push it deserves.