Well, here we are. It seems like Oscar season just started yesterday (not far off, really) and it’s already time to anoint a new Best Picture winner. Will it be 1917? Parasite? Or is something else poised to make a huge shock?
When the Academy announced last year that this year’s Oscar’s would be moved up two weeks to be in the first week of February instead of the last, it sent shockwaves through the industry who were then going to have to rethink the entire awards season and how to navigate not just individual awards and who gets weekend priority, but screenings, Q&As and three existing film festivals (Sundance, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara). January was a series of mini awards Armageddons with awards shows stacked on top of each other, sometimes with literally five happening on the same night and at the same time. The next two years will go back to normal (until the Olympics, that is). The big question for awards prognosticators though was what it was going to do in terms of nominations and wins? Late December releases were already a bit hobbled when compared to October and November releases that had festival showings that got to build buzz and box office so it was reasonable to think that Christmas Day films like 1917 and Little Women were going to be hurt by it. We saw it when both films were snubbed at SAG over earlier releases but then a strange thing happened. Both films were, and are, huge successes. Little Women was right out of the gate since it opened wide on December 25th (it just crossed $100M) but for 1917 (another $100M grosser), Universal took a rollout approach; super risky when Oscar nomination voting was set to begin just a week later on January 2nd. How could it possibly gain any type of momentum going into the month of awards season mania? Except it did; winning the Golden Globe, PGA and BAFTA. We saw the shortened season reduce the number of films nominated and in fact, for the first time in Oscar history, it gave us four films with 10 or more nominations.
Let’s look at what a Best Picture win for 1917 would look like in terms of history and stats.
- 1st $100M grosser since Argo (2012)
- 1st war movie since The Hurt Locker (2009)
- 1st Christmas Day release since Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- 1st winner with no acting nominations since Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
- 1st winner with no festival appearance since The Departed (2006)
- 1st winner with no SAG nominations since Braveheart (1995)
- 1st World War I film to win since Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- 1st winner with no film editing and no acting nominations since the creation of the film editing Oscar (1934)
Parasite actually has one of those, no acting nominations (“but that SAG win, Erik” says my brain), but it holds what would be the longest record, if you will. Not a record, really, but a history-making event. Parasite would be the first foreign language film in the 92 years of Oscar to win Best Picture. Some have gotten close (Roma, last year) but have never been able to pull it off. Some believe that the existence of the International Feature Film category (formerly known as Foreign Language Film) negates the ‘need’ to vote for it in Best Picture. It’s a back-up. It also aligns with at least one Academy voter who revealed in one of those awful ‘Brutally Honest Ballot’ pieces that foreign films shouldn’t be allowed to compete with “regular film.” That underscores a great deal of the issue and one that’s always been in place with the Academy Awards; that’s it’s somehow a celebration of American film only, or should be. Very few non-English language performances have won acting Oscars. Non-American born directors have won Best Director but mostly for English-language films. In those same collection of anonymous ballots (which I can’t put more stock in than they deserve), Parasite was the overwhelming choice by voters but top placements only take you so far. The preferential ballot is a consensus vote so you need to appear on #2, #3 and #4 spots once those ballots are circled back into the count. Check out Vanity Fair’s breakdown of how this works here. This is where Parasite could find its advantage. When you look at the recent history of Best Picture winners you’ll find the film with the socially conscience message has triumphed over the director-winning spectacle: Green Book, The Shape of Water, Moonlight and Spotlight all fall under that. Going back earlier, 12 Years a Slave is certainly the more message-heavy film over Gravity. In the race between 1917 and Parasite, the latter is the clear winner of ‘movie with a message’ over the action cavalcade that did great at BAFTA but could come up short at the Oscars. Speaking of BAFTA…their Best Film winner hasn’t aligned with Oscar’s Best Picture winner since 12 Years a Slave (2013), a clear sign that the Academy’s preferential ballot is providing a very different perspective on ‘best’ and that the consensus vote is doing what it was intended to do. That said, in a plurality vote, those four winners above probably would have lost so you can make arguments either way as to its efficacy or its accuracy.
In order for Parasite to win, it’s got to bring in something else. I’m predicting it to win Original Screenplay over Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but if it also wins Film Editing early in the show (or Production Design, an even longer shot) then look out, because that means we’re probably looking at the season’s biggest upset next to Moonlight. Let’s just hope they have the right envelope this time.
What else could happen? Is there a third option lurking because we’ve focused all of our energy on this as a two-horse race? Possibly. Unlikely, but possibly. Jojo Rabbit has the bits and pieces to be a surprise winner love from BAFTA and the WGA for its screenplay. It has an editing nomination (something 1917 doesn’t have) and director Taika Waititi was DGA nominated. It’s a stretch and a longshot, and it should have won some major picture prize first, but it’s sitting in third just waiting for an open door.
Another thing Academy voters like about their Best Picture is a film that makes them feel good, or feel good about their choice. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy ending exactly, but something that they feel they can stand behind without too much outside influence. Does Parasite‘s ending make voters happy? What does it say about them to support it? Is 1917‘s ending the right balance of solemnness and success the way that 2009’s The Hurt Locker, the last war film to win and the first year of the preferential ballot, did? Jojo Rabbit ends on a super high note after some dire circumstances. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, once you get past the gruesome third act, ends on a really high (if entirely fictional) note. But then why couldn’t it win SAG and/or PGA? Last year, I think I let my hopedicting overtake logic in my Best Picture prediction. Am I going to do it again? I know PGA is still the best predictor here but in a year without much logic or rhyme or reason, sometimes it’s not hopedicting and gut instinct is the only option.
Regardless of who wins on Sunday, it’s going to be a bit of history and give us a lot to talk about on Monday and beyond.
Here are my ranked Final Oscar predictions for Best Picture with a chart of a decade of related precursors and history.
|1. Parasite (Neon)||BAFTA, BAFTA (Foreign), CCA, GG (Foreign), PGA, SAG|
|2. 1917 (Universal)||BAFTA, CCA, GG (Drama), PGA|
|3. Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)||CCA, GG (Comedy/Musical), PGA, SAG|
|4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)||BAFTA, CCA, GG (Comedy/Musical), PGA, SAG|
|5. Joker (Warner Bros)||BAFTA, CCA, GG (Drama), PGA|
|6. The Irishman (Netflix)||BAFTA, CCA, GG (Drama), PGA, SAG|
|7. Marriage Story (Netflix)||CCA, GG (Drama), PGA|
|8. Little Women (Sony/Columbia)||CCA, PGA|
|9. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)||CCA, PGA|