Even a small awareness of film releases in 2021 likely means you have heard of Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious take on a classic work deemed to be unadaptable (save for those who actually deem Lynch’s original a success). As the story goes, the acclaimed Director kept waiting around for someone to take it on and when no one did he finally decided to take it on himself.
The result is a film that is celebrated for its visuals and somewhat mixed on the adaptation front. One could argue this is mostly thanks to his decision to follow the source material a bit too faithffully- the problem is the source material not him. What is most certainly true is that Dune did what Nolan’s Tenet could not, which was welcome people back to theaters in light of the pandemic woes. This is no small feat for a film that boasts real art house sensibilities and that, given the adaptation was split in two halves, functions without a true conclusion. For my money, while he does misstep at points by following the source material a bit too faithfully, the intention one can see behind the decision to leave out and streamline some story points, the character arcs he chooses to bring to the surface and accentuate, and his very deliberate choice to tell this story without a lot of dialogue, without all of the technical lingo allowing the visuals to do the heavy expositionary work in its place, pays real dividends. This along with Villeneuve’s incredible visual imagination make this blockbuster one of the best of the year, fusing entertainment with thoughtful commentary and substanstive ideas.
The Oscar Story:
If not for the egregious miss in the best Director category, arguably one of the most non-sensicle and controversial outcomes of the nominations, Dune would be sharing the nomination haul with the current leader (the Power of the Dog) and, in my opinion, would be seriousy in the conversation right now for not only best Director but best Film as well. As it stands, the Best Picture nom is very likely inconsequential, and in a cruel twist of fate the miss in the best Diretor category could leave its noinations in below the line categories entirely vulnerable. For as much as supporters of The Power of the Dog are beginning to fear it might walk away with one or two wins on the night, Director being the only sure one, the irony is the years biggest film is facing a similar fate.
One category that will prove interesting to watch is cinematography as much hinges here on whether its even possible for The Power of the Dog to walk away with two or less wins on the night given it is the nomination leader. If it loses Best Picture, which at this point appears it would be to Coda, shoring up wins in subsequent categories might be its consolation prize. Neither Nightmare Alley nor Tragedy of Macbeth are really competing in this category which leaves West Side Story, arguably a distant third, and the two nomination leaders fighting it out for first and second spot.
While Cruella has been cleaning up in the costume category leaving Dune largely in its shadow, this leaves makeup and hairstyling, a category most believe will go to The Eyes of Tammy Faye, original score, film editing, adapted screenplay, production design, sound, and visual effects. Of these categories original score feels most in the bag, Hans Zimmer has been very much in the spotlight over the course of the awards season. Production Design I think will be one of two categories, along with an expected win for actress in a supporting role (Ariana DeBose), where the acadamy will recognize West Side Story.
I do feel fairly confident in its chances at winning Visual Effects however. Marvel doesn’t typcally fare well in this category and the only real question then is where, or if, the acadamy wants to acknowledge No Time to Die. This could be a place to do it along with Sound, making this an interesting race between those two films. Adapted Screenplay I believe is a two horse race between Coda and The Power of the Dog. It’s entirely possible, according to some pundits, that whichever film wins there wins Best Picture, so that is definitely a category to watch closely on awards night.
Film Editing seems to be a natural place to honor Dune, but the biggest question there is King Richard’s expected win in the Best Actor category (Will Smith). If acadamy voters don’t want to leave King Richard with just a single win, and it does seem voters do like the film, it would most likely vote for it here.
Dune is an intresting film to consider given all these possible scenarios. Fascinating to considrer it within the shared narrative of the Power of the Dog as well, given they are the two nomination leaders. The miss in Directing, for as mindboggling as that is (especially given the Best Picture nod), could prove to be a motivating factor as well. One reason a film misses can be the assumption that the film was not in danger of losimg that nominated spot, thus some giving their vote to another film that needs it. If this was the case with Dune then giving it the win in subsequent categories could be seen as a way to make up for this error in judgement. Usually this many nominations means the acadamy is favorable towards the film and have seen the film, so this, along with the possibility that voters assumed they would get their chance next year with Part 2 (this doesn’t explain the Best Picture nom though), seems to me to make the most sense. In any case I do hope it walks away with a few wins on the night and anticipate Part 2 hopefully leading to a bonafide win for Villeneuve next year. He deserves it.