In a normal year, the day after Thanksgiving is kind of an official kick off to awards season. Voters have a stick of screeners to choose from as their turkey day viewing (if they don’t go to theaters) and settle in with family to hopefully enjoy their pick in an L-tryptophan state. But we’re not in a normal year. Families are spread across the country, separated by a virus. Theaters are closed. Screeners are just barely starting to trickle in. Oh and we just had the most contentious and insane election in the history of the United States, nbd.
Even just one of those things could cause a seismic shift in something as seemingly trivial as the Oscars but how do ALL of these things together impact it? Do they? The short answer is yes, of course they do. How voters watch films, the parties, events and premieres they get to go to are all a part of the road to Oscar. The social and political landscape of the country at any given time, especially in an election year, definitely will have an impact. If you don’t think the outcome of the 2016 election helped sway some voters from the easy, breezy La La Land to the more impactful and historically important Moonlight, I would urge you to reconsider. So how does this election matter or change possible votes? Actually, it’s probably going to be considerably less. With the expanded season of eligibility and an Oscars date a full two months later than normal, the January 20, 2021 inauguration of Joe Biden as President isn’t going to be as fresh on voters’ minds and hearts as they were four years ago.
At the moment, it feels like we’re barreling towards a two-horse race and, in great two-horse race fashion, it’s two films of completely opposite styles, themes and appeal. Nomadland, from acclaimed indie director Chloé Zhao, details the nomadic lifestyle of a huge section of the country who have been rendered houseless by dried up businesses turning towns into ghost towns. It speaks to individuality, chosen families and economic despair and does all of that while never making anyone’s situation seem pitiful. Mank is a personal work from one of film’s most respected auteurs, David Fincher, and digs into film history itself as it tells the sordid story of Citizen Kane co-writer (or writer, as they film purports) Herman J. Mankiewicz as he drunkenly stumbles through Heart Castle and lays bedridden trying to complete his magnum opus screenplay. It will play beautifully to classic filmgoers of the Academy and those who grew up in the old studio system of the 1930s and 1940s (at least those that are still around). If this is our eventual final two, it’s going to be a fascinating battle as Searchlight (who has Nomadland) has an excellent history with winning Best Picture and Netflix (with Mank) is looking to snag their first.
A big question is how Hillbilly Elegy will land. Savaged by critics, it’s exactly the type of film that highlights what is sometimes a disconnect between critics and Academy voters. That isn’t to say one is right and the other is not. The Academy makes bold choices (like Moonlight) as easily as it makes basic ones (like Green Book). The general public response to the film is also a huge chasm: 25% vs 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve dropped it out of my top 10 for now (and it’s down in all other categories as well) but it’s not done for. With so many other Netflix films though it’s hard to see it as priority viewing. In the face of Mank, Ma Rainey, Chicago 7 and Da 5 Bloods, the latter of which is the most vulnerable and another example of that rift – but in the other direction. D5B is a huge critical hit, sitting at 93% on RT but with a brutal audience score of just 53%.
I know Soul will have a lot of passionate support, and it’s a very good film, but we still haven’t seen an animated film crack Best Picture since the expanded lineup when from a solid ten to a flexible 5-10. Voters may look to breaking up the Netflix stronghold but I think it will be on the outside looking in. Incidentally, this is the last year of the flexible lineup as the Academy will be going back to a firm 10 nominees next year, where Soul probably could have stood a better shot.
The Prom and News of the World are set to screen for critics just days after this predictions piece so we’ll see how they impact next month’s list and, even sooner, next week’s Frontrunner Friday.
Here are my ranked 2021 Oscar predictions in Best Picture for November.
Green – moves up; Red – moves down; Blue – new entry this month
1. Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures)
Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao (producers)
2. Mank (Netflix)
David Fincher, Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski (producers)
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson (producers)
4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf (producers)
5. Minari (A24)
Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh (producers)
6. The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
Philippe Carcassonne, Simon Friend, Jean-Louis Livi, David Parfitt, Christophe Spadone (producers)
7. News of the World (Universal Pictures)
Gary Goetzman, Gregory Goodman, Gail Mutrux (producers)
8. Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin (producers)
9. One Night in Miami… (Amazon Studios)
Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder, Jody Klein (producers)
10. Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros)
Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler, Shaka King (producers)
Other Contenders (alphabetical)
Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly (producers)
Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix)
Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins, Karen Lunder (producers)
The Midnight Sky (Netflix)
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Bard Dorros, Keith Redmon, Cliff Roberts (producers)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)
Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy (producers)
On the Rocks (A24/Apple+)
Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley (producers)
Pieces of a Woman (Netflix)
Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder, Kevin Turen (producers)
The Prom (Netflix)
Adam Anders, Dori Berinstein, Chad Beguelin, Bill Damaschke, Bob Martin, Ryan Murphy, Scott Robertson, Matthew Sklar, Alexis Martin Woodall (producers)
Promising Young Woman (Focus Features)
Ben Browning, Emerald Fennell, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Josey McNamara, Ashley Fox (producers)
Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios)
Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Bill Benz, Cathy Benz (producers)
Dana Murray (producer)
Tenet (Warner Bros)
Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas (producers)
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Paramount Pictures)
Lee Daniels, Jordan Fudge, Tucker Tooley, Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Pamela Oas Williams (producers)