In the most exciting Best Picture race in years, we have a true three-horse race. Spotlight won SAG, The Big Short won PGA and The Revenant won DGA. There hasn’t been a true split of the top three guild awards going into the Oscars since 2005 when Sideways won SAG, The Aviator won PGA and Million Dollar Baby won DGA. Of the three it was Million Dollar Baby that went on to win Best Picture.
Now while it’s true that we live in a different Academy voting world than we did in 2005 – namely the preferential voting ballots for both PGA and The Academy – it can’t go unsaid that this has been a very topsy-turvy awards season. Things are happening left and right (and will continue to) that haven’t happened ever. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) just won a SAG award without a corresponding Oscar nomination. That’s never happened in the SAG awards’ 22-year history. The Revenant‘s Alejandro G. Iñárritu just won back-to-back DGA awards, something’s that never happened in that group’s 68-year history, until last week. Things are different, things have changed. Oscar pundits are scrambling for their stats to find why something did or could happen but it’s time to throw them out because brand new history could be made this year. The last remaining piece of the puzzle is BAFTA, this weekend. This could be a tipping point for any one of the top three films but really it seems like it’s between The Revenant and The Big Short. Spotlight‘s lack of a director nomination there kind of puts it out of the running.
Despite its lack of a SAG ensemble nod and its PGA loss, The Revenant is out in front with the Gold Rush Gang but by an oh so slim margin. The film has a lot to overcome to win Best Picture and even though I said we need to throw out the stats, we can’t ignore the obstacles in front of The Revenant for the moment. With the missing SAG nom, you have to go all the way back to the first year of the SAG awards inclusion of an ensemble category (1995) when future Best Picture winner Braveheart didn’t have but won the Oscar. That PGA loss is important because in the modern era since the Academy’s change from a 5-nominee Best Picture slate (2010), the PGA winner has gone on to win Best Picture every year. A few directors have won back-to-back Oscars but none have ever had back-to-back Best Picture winners. The film is also without a screenplay nomination. No film has won Best Picture without one since Titanic. Even Titanic came in with a WGA nom (Braveheart actually won the WGA and its screenplay was Oscar-nominated), something else The Revenant doesn’t have. Clearly, The Revenant is not the behemoth that Titanic was nor did it overcome a ginormous budget to go on to become the highest grossing movie of all time (at the time). But it’s no slouch either; the film is currently at $151M on a budget of $135M (which has been argued as being closer to $200M) and is doing well worldwide too. Interesting to the three-split of the guilds is that, as mentioned, the last time this happened was also the last time a film released in December won Best Picture. The timeline of the Oscar season has shrunk since then so late December releases often are at a disadvantage from those released in October or November in terms of visibility and screeners. This is especially true with a group like SAG, who announce their nominations in early December. But the film has momentum on its side. It has two secured Oscar wins – Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio and Best Director for Iñárritu. Cinematography seems like a good bet (creating another record – three in a row for Emmanuel Lubezki). It has three Golden Globe wins under its belt (Picture, Director, Actor). If BAFTA falls in line it will make this an easy call. Then we’ll just be discussing if we’re in for a big sweep (we haven’t seen a BP winner with more than four awards since 2009’s The Hurt Locker) or if it’s just those four.
The Big Short comes into BAFTA with top nominations including a very crucial Best Director nomination for Adam McKay. Sometimes pundits think that a film can be ‘too American’ for the British group but BAFTA has long now been a link in the Oscar chain. Once they moved their awards up before the Oscars and then changed their voting structure in 2012, they’ve become more like Oscar predictors and more often than not go for the Academy’s frontrunner. Then, last year they went for Boyhood over Birdman. That marked a shift from BAFTA’s alignment with the PGA-Oscar stronghold. This year though, as we know, is wide open. The Big Short winning PGA and the history between PGA and Oscar’s Best Picture is a major coup for the film. It also has the ACE Eddie. That should be good, right? So how did it lose the SAG ensemble and worse, how did Christian Bale lose to someone who isn’t even Oscar nominated? Did the film’s popularity spike and peak in an instant? Why couldn’t Adam McKay win DGA if he and his film were so strong? Admittedly, the Gold Rush Gang whiffed it on that but hey, we were going to history, stats and logic, can’t fault us too much. The Big Short feels a Best Picture winner in the sense that the Academy likes to often think of itself as forward thinking and problem solving. Giving The Big Short a win means they’ve done their part in helping solve the housing crisis in the U.S. No really, that’s how they’d look at it. Just like Crash‘s win solved racism and 12 Years a Slave‘s win was reparation for 400 years of horrific behavior towards African-Americans. It’s hard not to look at what The Big Short brings to the Best Picture conversation and know that it’s the only film with really everything behind it. The PGA win, the ACE win, the SAG nom, the WGA nom and the BAFTA nominations for Film and Director. No one else has all of that. It’s also a huge ensemble of big names and unknowns, able to secure votes from the acting branch of the Academy. We could just be tricked into thinking that The Revenant is the shiny new toy when The Big Short will prove the PGA stat still strong. One thing it will do if it wins, like The Revenant, is be the first December release in 10 years to triumph with the Academy.
Spotlight was the golden boy and frontrunner since the critics dubbed it so at Telluride. It’s an October release (the last three BP winners were October releases) and it won the SAG ensemble award. What more do you need? Well, a lot, actually. At Telluride we were kind of without a real frontrunner in Best Picture and critics needed to coalesce around something, as they always do. Feeling burned by the loss of Boyhood last year, they chose Spotlight. Even though a film about journalism had never won Best Picture before, it still seemed like a safe choice and ultimately we know that a ‘safe’ choice is often a good one for Best Picture predicting. You have to look and see what film, and what type of film, can appease 6300 people and be the least divisive. There’s not much to be divisive about with Spotlight. Its subject matter is unimpeachable and it’s a compelling, well-written and well-acted film with a strong ensemble and will be supported by the Academy’s largest branch – actors. But then cracks started to appear as awards season went on. Not in the film’s quality but in its ability to curry the proper guild support. Missing out on the ACE Eddie was a big deal. No Best Picture winner ever has. It won SAG but lost the PGA and DGA. No film has only won SAG and went on to win Best Picture. We’ve talked a lot this season that real indie studios like A24 and Open Road Films (who distributed Spotlight) have really made their mark on Oscar season, and they have. But maybe the big studios aren’t just quite ready to give up the Best Picture mantle to such a tiny outfit. There are still three Gold Rush Gang members who think it will win out in the end (see below) and if it wins BAFTA that could change the tide back to the old frontrunner. But, the film missing out on a directing nomination at BAFTA should give people plenty of pause. All of these negatives could simply be moot though as the film has both Film Editing and Directing nominations at the Oscars and that’s what matters most, even if Birdman could become the first film in 35 years to win Best Picture without a Film Editing nomination. But again, this is a film with an ‘important’ subject matter so it’s certainly still in the running.
Here are the BEST PICTURE nominations from The Gold Rush Gang, pre-BAFTA.
|The Big Short||2||3||3||3||3||2||1||3||3||2||85|
|Mad Max: Fury Road||4||5||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||4||69|
|Bridge of Spies||6||7||6||7||6||7||7||6||7||6||45|