The most important, and at once obvious thing if it is not at all apparent until one wades into the deep thick end of these waters, is that the awards season up to the final lane of the Oscars is not stuck in amber.
By Tobi Ogunyemi
Ideally, the most important aspect of all of this are the movies that brought us here - the artistic achievements of the people who create the works we cherish to different degrees. Realistically though, this is mostly about campaigns and how narratives evolve, morph and based more on the whims of those who cater to calibrate all of this. To put it short, we humans get bored and we look for anything to offset that boredom, even if the end result isn't what we want. The ends do not justify the means, let alone what ends up winning the Best Picture Oscar. What does all this mean?
Let's go back a bit here when in September, with the Toronto International Film Festival and their top Audience Award, that has been a significant bellwether on what to look forward to who can do some damage in the awards season from there. Kenneth Branagh's Belfast, a monochromatic nostalgic childhood tale (like that of Roma and Cold War from 2018 that has been referenced numerous of times) set during the Irish Troubles of 1968, won the coveted Audience Award and looked in prime position to do well going forward. But there's always a rule of thumb to keep hold of with all of this: you never want to be the frontrunner too early. Don't peak or start out the race too far out ahead, that gives your opponents time to close the gap and overtake you, and for the discourse and hit pieces to come along and chip away at your hull.
Belfast, at one time a great crowd pleaser everyone can engage with, then became 'too slight', 'not much here' and so forth. Then Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog took the lead, backed by Netflix, written and helmed by a living legend, expertly crafted across the board with career best performances leading the way. Surely this is it, right?
Well, yes and no -
"Are we just saying it's the best because that's what everyone is supposed to say?"
"Admired it, didn't love it though."
"Wasn't it boring though?"
The race has taken another turn. But here comes a new challenger: Sian Heder's CODA, the charming tale out of Sundance (where Apple bought it for a record-breaking $25 million) of a child of deaf adults and her family of fishermen in Massachusetts. With clear and identifiable arcs for the characters, familiar formula that works for anyone to sit in front of and be captivated by at home - it just works. This has taken not only Belfast's lane, but the race in general, and has made it a legit competition with The Power of the Dog.
All of this to say: campaigning always matters. Getting out in front, glad handing and rubbing elbows, promoting your film, highlighting your people, detailing what about your particular film is important matters to those voting for any of these. Momentum, like in sports, is real here like a hot goalie on a streak, the loud bats hitting everything across the field, and the engaging cast and filmmakers that the industry has been seduced by that they want to see over and over again.
The status and story of how the awards season has shaped up, between when the nominations were announced and after the guilds have presented their awards before the Oscars being the last show left, is a wide gulf. If the nominations came out now, CODA would be better represented across the board instead of having just three nominations to its name (Picture, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay), and looking to make groundbreaking history accordingly. But that is exactly what it will be trying to do this Sunday against the leading nomination getter in Campion's The Power of the Dog running away with 12.
It's the heart versus the art corollary, and it's not the only heated category in play and up for grabs at this year's Oscar ceremony. Let's take a look at the main categories.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Still going with the presumed frontrunner here, even though CODA has done some serious and significant damage, winning at the SAGs, Critics Choice, WGA and PGA, which is a significant feather in it’s cap as the Producers Guild has the same preferential ballot that the Oscars have for the Best Picture Oscar. Leaning either way between the two films is a hefty gamble at this point, and both possibilities are entirely possible. Either way, it will be the first time a streamer will win the top prize - a major paradigm shift no matter what.
Alternate pick: CODA
Jane Campion - The Power of the Dog
This has been Campion's race to lose all season and she most likely isn't going to, pretty much cleaning up every award she's been nominated for including the DGA and at the BAFTAs. She's so far ahead in front, there's not really any competition at this point, not even a fun rematch between her and Steven Spielberg from the 1993 ceremony. This is the anointing of Campion.
Alternate pick: Steven Spielberg - West Side Story (why not?)
Jessica Chastain - The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The other major category where literally anything can happen. The entire preamble up top about Best Picture, multiply that for here and that still doesn't come close to how chaotic this race has been.
First it was Stewart, then it was Lady Gaga(who wasn't nominated), then it was Kidman, THEN Chastain started winning awards and she's been in front since. And in the wings are the entirely respected Olivia Colman who could win due to reputation as one of the best actors working today, and Penelope Cruz giving the best performance in her career. Chastain has all the momentum right now in a scattershot season, and she's been on the campaign trail even while working, but do not be surprised on this going in any direction really.
Alternate pick: Olivia Colman - The Lost Daughter
Will Smith - King Richard
Like the exact opposite of it’s lead counterpart, this case has been closed for a while now; Smith has run a brilliant campaign with endearing speeches celebrating his co-stars and he also has the "it's time" narrative behind him (being twice nominated before). As Benedict Cumberbatch charmingly said at the BAFTAs, "You don't lose to Will Smith, you win by being in his company."
Alternate pick: Benedict Cumberbatch - The Power of the Dog
Best Supporting Actress
Ariana DeBose - West Side Story
Maybe even more so than Smith, DeBose has been on an absolute tear this season, sweeping everything. This particular race is over. She will be the first self-identified non-binary winner for a role that won this category exactly 60 years ago, and even last year she was hosting the pre-show at the Oscars. What a journey for her.
Alternate pick: Kirsten Dunst - The Power of the Dog
Best Supporting Actor
Troy Kotsur - CODA
Kotsur has been sweeping the category in an impressive fashion, taking the reins from former race leader Kodi Smit-McPhee. People love seeing him on the awards trail and love rooting for him. The fact he gives a textured, fully formed performance as the deaf father of a daughter who yearns for more in life definitely helps too.
Alternate pick: Kodi Smit-McPhee - The Power of the Dog
Best Adapted Screenplay
CODA - Sian Heder
Another bloodbath of a category that is basically a three-way to the finish.
CODA, Power of the Dog and Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter all have notches on their belts to make claims here (CODA won at the WGA and BAFTA, Power of the Dog won the Critic's Choice andThe Lost Daughter won at the Spirit Awards). If the CODA momentum is real, this would be the other place for the film to show up with a win. And, if it does, the expectation for it to go 3 for 3 including the big prize won't be too far off then.
Alternate pick: The Power of the Dog - Jane Campion
Best Original Screenplay
Belfast - Kenneth Branagh
Remember how Belfast was the crowd pleasing favorite at the beginning of this? This category might be the only place for the Oscars to award it and Branagh accordingly. Don't be surprised if Paul Thomas Anderson succeeds here though, as it would be a great chance to award one of, if not THE, best directors in the world today with his first Oscar. Adam McKay's Don't Look Up also won the WGA and he is a former winner, but that possibility doesn't seem likely.
Alternate pick: Licorice Pizza - Paul Thomas Anderson
Best Cinematography: Dune
Alternate pick: The Power of the Dog
Best Editing: King Richard
Alternate pick: Dune
Best Production Design: Dune
Alternate pick: Nightmare Alley
Best Animated Feature: Encanto
Alternate pick: The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul
Alternate pick: Flee
Best International Feature: Drive My Car (Japan)
Alternate pick: The Worst Person in the World (Sweden)
Best Hair and Makeup: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Alternate pick: Dune
Best Costume Design: Cruella
Alternate pick: West Side Story
Best Original Score: Dune
Alternate pick: The Power of the Dog
Best Original Song: "No Time To Die" - No Time To Die
Alternate pick: "Be Alive" - King Richard
Best Sound: Dune
Alternate pick: No Time To Die
Best Visual Effects: Dune
Alternate pick: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Best Animated Short: The Windshield Wiper
Alternate pick: Robin, Robin
Best Documentary Short: The Queen of Basketball
Alternate pick: Three Songs for Benazir
Best Live-Action Short: The Long Goodbye
Alternate pick: On My Mind