It could be described that Licorice Pizza’s rise and fall in the Oscar race was as brief and fleeting as a Winnnipeg summer. It emerged as an early critical darling powered by the presence of Paul Thomas Anderson. Back when Belfast occupied frontrunner status some pundits thought the release of this much anticipated coming of age romantic comedy could give the Oscars an actual race, especially given the 1970’s Hollywood setting and the pedigree of the Dirctor. That was before the Power of the Dog started sweeping awards season and long before Coda had its timely, last minute surge.
Licorice Pizza did face some controversy, which might have played into its rapid fall in favor. This includes the age gap that exists between the two main characters (the “older than he is” guy is turning 16, and the younger than she is woman is 25). Not everyone appreciated this dynamic, although for me the way PTA uses this age difference is very intentional, writing the story around these polarizing aged perspectives. Much more publicized was what some see as a misplaced “asian”related joke. Again, I would argue that the joke has been misconstrued when seen in context of the script- it is designed to elicit a degree of awkwardness while accenting the sheer absurdity of it “in its time”.
Controversies aside I did fall for this story and their relationship, which shines in its charming nature and challenging insights. There is an innocence here that feels welcom and compelling in the midst of reigning cynicsm. It meanders with the characters’ back and forth pursuit of life and each other, and it is packed full of the kind of subtle nuances and narrative touches that make this ripe for rewatches. In many ways this is a world building exercise that uses the unsettled space of the complicated character dyamics to draw rich insights into the human condition.
The Oscar Story:
If Best Picture is highly unlikely the films nominations for Original Screenplay and Directing are more compelling to consider. If, and this is a big if given she is all but a sure lock in the category, The Power of the Dog fell enough out of favor in the weeks leading up to voting there is good reason to think that PTA could slide into that spot as the number 2. I wouldn’t count out Kenneth Branagh entirely in the same scenario either as there is still love for his passion project (Belfast) and there is a chance some will see this as his time. Who knows if he makes something like Belfast again. But PTA I think is a name you can’t overlook in the Directing category, and the remnants of that general anticipation for Licorice Pizza could kick in to elevate him in a category that also features Steven Spielberg (West Side Story) and Ryusuke Hamaguch (Drive My Car)
Original Screenplay is probably the category he stands a better chance at winning. It seems like this is where Branagh will get his due, but there is a good case one could make for PTA edging this one out. There are some that have thrown out The Worst Person in the World as possibly getting a passion vote, but I think while that passionate support is there the film remains firmly in the 4th or 5th spot. I would place Zach Baylin (King Richard) ahead given its Best Picture nomination and expected win for Will Smith, maybe even ahead of PTA. But PTA has a lot of support, the film does celebrate hollywood, and anticipation for the film is still somewhat there in the collective consciousness.