It’s the end of August so we have the lineups for Venice, Toronto and New York festivals, shining a light on studio priorities and castaways and now only await the day-before announcement by Telluride. But, truth be told, we know 90% of the Telluride lineup before that based on the premiere classifications of the various other fests.
We have a shortened year this season due to the extended season last year. March 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 is the eligibility period for the 2022 Oscars. With that change, I am including below a large section from the May prediction piece that covers changes to this year’s Oscars that cover screeners, the new inclusion standards and the return to a solid 10 Best Picture nominees. This information is crucial this year so I will be including in most monthly pieces so that we’re all on the same page.
Beginning with the 94th Academy Awards (2021), the Best Picture category will return to a set 10 nominees, rather than a fluctuating number of nominations from year to year that we’ve seen since 2011. The Academy will also implement a quarterly viewing process through the Academy Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, also starting with the 94th Academy Awards. By making it possible for members to view films released year-round, the Academy will broaden each film’s exposure, level the playing field, and ensure all eligible films can be seen by voting members.
For the 94th Oscars (2022) and 95th Oscars (2023), submitting a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form will be required for Best Picture consideration, however meeting inclusion thresholds will not be required for eligibility in the Best Picture category until the 96th Oscars (2024). Beginning that season, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility in the Best Picture category, as part of its Academy Aperture 2025 initiative. The standards are designed to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience. Academy governors DeVon Franklin and Jim Gianopulos headed a task force to develop the standards that were created from a template inspired by the British Film Institute (BFI) Diversity Standards used for certain funding eligibility in the UK and eligibility in some categories of the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA) Awards, but were adapted to serve the specific needs of the Academy. The Academy also consulted with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), as it presently does for Oscars eligibility.
As part of the Academy’s sustainability effort, the 93rd Awards season was the final year DVD screeners were allowed to be distributed; these mailings will be discontinued starting in 2021 for the 94th Academy Awards. Access to the Academy Screening Room will continue to be made available for all eligible releases. The distribution of physical music CDs, screenplays and hardcopy mailings, including but not limited to paper invites and screening schedules, will also be discontinued. Digital links to materials will be permitted. All screeners, DVD or otherwise, will also now be required to include closed captioning.
Something interesting to note is that for the last six years in a row, only one Best Picture winner, 2017’s The Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro, earned below the line technical wins to go along with its BP win. All other winners found themselves in the top spot because of the preferential ballot that was introduced in 2009.
2015: Spotlight (no tech wins, only won Original Screenplay)
2016: Moonlight (no tech wins, Adapted Screenplay + Supporting Actor)
2017: The Shape of Water (Production Design, Original Score + Director)
2018: Green Book (no tech wins, Original Screenplay + Supporting Actor)
2019: Parasite (no tech wins, Original Screenplay + Director)
2020: Nomadland (no tech wins, Director + Best Actress)
It’s for this reason that I’ve kind of dug my heels in with Nightmare Alley as my #1 in Best Picture and Best Director since I started my early predictions. But as we are almost to September and with all of these festival lineups there’s one big glaring omission: Nightmare Alley. Barring an absolute shock and showing up at Telluride (and it would be truly shocking), del Toro’s long-awaited follow-up to his Oscar winner isn’t making a festival run and will likely be a very late December release. We know that in the modern era, you need a strong festival presence to win Best Picture. You need momentum and buzz to build. The last film to win Best Picture with no festival appearance at all was 2006’s The Departed, which was pre-ordained as Martin Scorsese’s long overdue Academy win. The next year, the Coens’ No Country for Old Men premiered at Cannes and went on to win Best Picture.
Since then, every Best Picture winner has played a combination of Cannes, Venice, Telluride and/or Toronto on its way to the Oscar stage. Even if Nightmare Alley makes its world premiere at AFI FEST in November (totally possible) that’s likely not going to be enough to propel it above films that are going to have very healthy festival runs like Netflix’s The Power of the Dog [trailer], Warner Bros’ Dune or even NEON’s Flee. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have kept del Toro in the top spot of my Best Director picks this month had I waited just a bit longer and would swap him out for Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) instead, as is reflected in my BP rankings.
That also brings us to CODA, which premiered on Apple TV+ on August 13 plus around 100 select theaters that utilized onscreen captioning. The film, which made a huge splash at Sundance 2021, broke all records at the January fest. First by winning four competitive and audience awards and then with Apple’s astonishing $25M buy, the most in the history of the festival. But then something odd happened; the burgeoning movie studio, angling for Oscar buzz and credit the last two years, opted for an August debut, robbing it of a fall festival run that could have seen the film scoop up more audience awards, tremendous word of mouth and the type of buzz that organically creates a Best Picture contender. It might get a nomination but a win seems out of reach.
It will be very interesting to see what next month’s charts will look like once we have Venice, Telluride and TIFF behind us.
Here are my ranked Best Picture Oscar predictions for August 2021.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new/re-entry ♦ Black – no movement ↔
1. The Power of the Dog (Netflix) ↑ [Venice, Telluride, TIFF, NYFF]
2. Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ↓
3. House of Gucci (MGM/UA) ↔
4. Dune (Warner Bros/HBO Max) ↔ [Venice, TIFF]
5. The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/Apple) ↔ [NYFF]
6. Belfast (Focus Features) ↑ [TIFF]
7. West Side Story (20th Century Studios) ↓
8. King Richard (Warner Bros/HBO Max) ↔ [Telluride]
9. Flee (NEON) ↑ [Sundance, Telluride, TIFF, NYFF]
10. CODA (Apple) ↑ [Sundance]
- C’mon C’mon (A24) ↔ [Telluride, NYFF]
- Cry Macho (Warner Bros) ↔
- Don’t Look Up (Netflix) ↔
- The French Dispatch (Searchlight Pictures) ↔ [Cannes]
- The Hand of God (Netflix) ♦ [Venice, Telluride]
- A Hero (Amazon Studios) ↔ – Cannes, Telluride
- The Last Duel (20th Century Studios) ↔ [Venice, TIFF]
- Last Night in Soho (Focus Features) ↔ [Venice, TIFF]
- The Lost Daughter (Netflix) ♦ [Venice, Telluride]
- Mass (Bleecker Street) [Sundance]
- Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) (Sony Pictures Classics) ↔ [NYFF]
- Passing (Netflix) ↔ [Sundance, NYFF]
- Spencer (NEON) ↔ [Venice, Telluride, TIFF]
- Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson aka Soggy Bottom (MGM/UA) ↓