Sat. Aug 8th, 2020

Frontrunner Friday: Stuck in the Middle of Oscar Voting

We’re just over a week from the Oscars and while a handful of races seem pretty locked up right now (Adapted Screenplay, Director, ALL four acting categories), we still have some real nail-biters that will be keeping us on the edge of our seat right until the envelope is opened (barring some fiasco like last year…).

Best Picture has never been harder to pin down than this season. With every film coming in with an obstacle to overcome this is a year where gut and instinct need to take over. By all appearances, Three Billboards should be the winner. Despite its Director snub, it’s won virtually everywhere it needed to with the exception of the PGA. This is an important miss though as it’s the only place that uses a preferential ballot like the Academy does. In some ways, it’s actually a bigger miss than that director nom. Everyone points to Ben Affleck missing that nomination as justification for Three Billboards to be able to win but Affleck won every directing award leading up to the Oscars and Argo won PGA, making it significantly stronger. The Affleck snub probably pushed the film over the top to win. Martin McDonagh hasn’t won anything and no one is clamoring to reward his film as a makeup for his snub.

We’re right in the middle of Oscar voting and members are deciding not just what they liked best but what is going to be the legacy of this year. Socially and politically progressive members could very well shift the balance away from the controversial and think piece-ridden Three Billboards (although Frances McDormand has done an amazing job trying to turn that around all on her own) to something zeitgeisty and relevant like Get Out or female-directed like Lady Bird. The old guard of the Academy could revolt and push for something more traditional like Dunkirk. In the end, Three Billboards might be both; of the moment (the Time’s Up revolution) and old school (white male POV of both female and race-based themes). Don’t count out The Shape of Water, which hits a lot of bases with its societal fringe cast of heroes (a mute woman, a black woman, a gay man) against the evils of white men and Russian subterfuge. Despite its SAG snub, the PGA and DGA winning film is both a retro throwback and a socially progressive fantasy.

Original Screenplay might be the signifier (if it’s early enough in the show) to tell us how things will end. Last year, as La La Land kept losing so many awards (including ones it should have been locked for like Sound Mixing) we saw the makings of the upset that would eventually take place. This year, if anything other than Three Billboards wins Original Screenplay that could mark that film’s weakness. If Get Out wins, which many people are predicting, you might want to switch your at home ballot before anyone notices. But does that mean a Lady Bird win there would signal a Best Picture win too? What if The Shape of Water wins? The very recent history of Best Picture has correlated with one of the screenplay wins more than any other category so it’s a (mostly) safe bet to predict them together.

Film Editing and the Sound categories are ripe for some surprises (like last year’s Hacksaw Ridge win in Sound Mixing) as Dunkirk and Baby Driver seem neck and neck. Baby Driver has won the most editing prizes from critics but Dunkirk is the ACE winner in Drama. I, Tonya could be planning a sneak attack on them both but I’m not counting on it. By all appearances, Dunkirk should have had these in the bag but now it’s fighting to win even one of its eight nominations.

Documentary Feature finds itself without a frontrunner since the film that won the most documentary prizes, Jane, isn’t even nominated. Netflix has two powerful contenders in Icarus and Strong Island (I give the edge to Icarus) and the inability for the filmmakers of Last Men in Aleppo to gain entry into the US to attend the Oscars is an echo of last year when the Trump travel ban prevented Iran’s Asghar Farhadi from attending. That unquestionably put The Salesman over the top in the Foreign Language Film race. Faces Places might be the winner here by virtue of director Agnès Varda’s extraordinary career (that earned her an Honorary Oscar this year) as one of the most prolific female filmmakers of all time. In a year of female visibility, that could put her over the top.

Check out where the Gold Rush Gang thinks the Oscar race is right now, right here.

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