“And the OSCAR goes to …”
But, hold on. Before we start handing out eight-and-a-half-pound statues, let’s begin with how we get there.
The OSCARS … the Academy Awards … are presented every year
by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). That esteemed body is made up of 8,469 individuals who are professionally related to the film business. They are directors, producers, actors, wardrobe masters, make-up artists, composers, editors, etc. – divided into 17 “branches” that cluster together individuals by the specific role they play in making movies.
The members of those 17 branches are invited, every year in early January, to submit their nominations for stand out effort within their specialty. Only directors nominate directors. Only actors nominate actors, etc. Five nominations, each. The only exception to the nominating restriction by branch is Best Picture. Everyone gets to nominate their favorite films – minimum five, maximum ten titles submitted.
Then, the fun begins.
PriceWaterhouse Coopers, the giant accounting firm, handles the intricate math that sorts through all of the nominating ballots and comes up with five nominees in each category … up to ten in the Best Picture category.
When the lists have been narrowed down to the final slate of nominees, ballots are sent out to every member of the Academy – all 8,469 – and the voting begins. Everyone votes in every category. There is a presumption – perhaps more a hope – that the voting members have seen the films, performances, and skills nominated. Since the nominations are released in January, there is usually a short window when AMPAS members have the chance to catch up on films they haven’t seen, specialties they haven’t noticed, and mark their ballots.
And, on Sunday, February 9, the red carpet is rolled out in front of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and the annual extravaganza begins.
There are two award ceremonies that happen earlier in January that are often the predictors of how the major category awards will be decided when OSCAR takes the spotlight.
The Golden Globe Awards, aired early in January, has managed to earn a spot on prime time broadcast television through the concerted efforts of Dick Clark Productions and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group that originated the awards. A mix of feature film and television awards, the Golden Globes are awarded based on the voting of 93 people – the entire membership of the association – who are journalists located in greater Los Angeles who cover motion pictures for the global press. The broadcast, usually smattered with audacious comedy stirred up by host Ricky Gervais and acceptance speeches fueled by copious amounts of wine served at the dinner, attracts 19 million viewers.
The SAG Awards, presented by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA) confines the voting to performers in film and broadcast and concentrates on individual achievement as well as ensemble efforts. The SAG Awards were presented on January 19 with the event shown on both TBS and TNT. Ratings are fairly anemic for the telecast, since the annual event competes with a National Football League Conference Championship game.
As one might judge from watching meteorologists perform their daily rituals, predictions are always seasoned with a great deal of luck. When those predictions are made on things subjective as whether the audience liked the performance of a female lead or if the story held together, then caution is thrown to the wind.
January publications and broadcasts are filled with the presumed intelligence of critics, both foreign and domestic, who handicap the OSCAR race based primarily on whether they liked a film or did not. Personal tastes, prior reactions to a director’s work or an actor’s suitability for a role play heavily in those selections. When seasoned by the outcomes of The Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, things can get jumbled in a hurry, or the “mob mentality” may win out and rally voices in support of what is considered the easy choice.
This article will not predict, not for fear of being wrong, which we would most certainly be, but in humble acknowledgement of the universal truth first offered by Roman poet Lucretius who died 1900 years before the first motion picture was introduced. With a modest adjustment for gender equality, he asserted “One person’s meat is another person’s poison.” Or, as it appeared in an 1846 edition of Punch, “you pays your money and you takes your choice.”
In that context, here is a simple, subjective listing of likely contenders for OSCAR glory in five categories: Best motion picture, best female and best male in a starring role and best male and best female in a supporting role. We invite your reference to reviews of many of these films posted on the Main Street Magazine website (mainstreetmag.com) and offered under “The Arts,” “Film Reviews.”
Best motion picture
Early speculation (because of its early release date and amazing box office revenues) focused on Joker.
It may survive the late season deluge of high budget offerings, but may have to focus its attention on the performance of Joaquin Phoenix, who won the Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Drama (see below). Both Marriage Story and The Irishman entered the competition under the cloud and confusion of Netflix control of release dates and exclusivity, but both will be strong contenders for the top award. Marriage Story captured an award for Laura Dern (below), but The Irishman was all but shut out.
Films must play theatrically in some major markets for seven days prior to midnight on December 31 to qualify. Being on Netflix is not considered playing in a major market, so the dominant satellite distribution network made sure that screens in New York and Los Angeles (among other cities) presented these two films. Both are exceptional in story, acting, directing and general production credits. On many lists, they are a toss up for best of the year.
1917 captured Best Drama and Best Director for Sam Mendes at the Golden Globes soirée. The scope and intensity of the World War I epic are exceptional. The assembled cast is supremely talented and the production technique employed by director Mendes is breathtaking.
The latest film by Greta Gerwig, Little Women, has created a storm of “buzz” because of the ensemble cast, the lucid script, and the positive message. Although films of controversy and struggle often appear at the top of Academy voting, this feel-good costume drama could be a great alternate for Academy voters.
Another ensemble cast driven piece that has gotten strong audience support is Bombshell, the story of the decline and fall of Roger Ailes of Fox News. The cast is superb and reflected, below, in other categories. The combination of excellent performances might well lead to a strong nomination for the film.
An “early” entry into the race is the historically based Ford v Ferrari that dramatizes the battle between the two marques as played out in the 24 hours of Le Mans. At times comedic and at times purely dramatic, the film boasts great performances and had strong, positive audience reaction.
The same is true for Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood, which got Brad Pitt a Golden Globe and rewarded Quentin Tarantino for the script. If that acknowledgement carries into the Academy voting is a very good question.
Best Performances – lead and supporting women
Saorise Ronan offered such a compelling performance in Little Women that she has to be considered a top contender for Best Performance by a Woman in a Lead Role. She’s got plenty of solid competition, however, and some of the contenders have appeared in two films in 2019 and, therefore, could appear in both lead and supporting nominations.
Scarlett Johansson is one of those two film contenders who was striking in Marriage Story and compelling in a very different role in Jojo Rabbit. Charlize Theron’s performance in Bombshell was electrifying, with two of her fellow actors competing for best supporting role honors.
Although Judy appeared earlier in the year (timing is very important, since some films are almost forgotten by the time the deluge of releases hits in December), Renee Zellweger’s portrayal of Judy Garland got rave reviews at the time of release and led to her being awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actress. Certainly something to watch come OSCAR night. The performance by Cynthia Erivo in Harriet had a similar, early season fate. Both offered moving performances … we’ll see if the voters can remember.
Supporting roles are often only modestly different in screen time and intensity from leading roles. Laura Dern offered two supporting performances in wildly different roles in 2019, playing the domineering attorney in Marriage Story – her Golden Globe winning role – and the loving, supportive mother in Little Women. Either performance should get her a nomination, if not an award.
Two of the main characters in Bombshell may have to compete with each other for the golden statue. Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie both offered amazing portrayals of women caught in the Ailes world of Fox News and could easily get nominations.
Best Performance – lead and supporting men
A few of the films under consideration provided excellent acting platforms for experienced leading men. The currently circulated lists do not show many, if any, newcomers contending for recognition in these two categories. That being said, Christian Bale, Adam Driver, Robert De Niro, Leonardo Di Caprio, Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Sandler, and Matt Damon each deserve serious consideration for their roles. Damon’s performance in Ad Astra has the added baggage of being an “early release” film as does Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbingly brilliant performance in Joker, which captured the Golden Globe.
Adam Driver was so compelling in his role in Marriage Story that he has gotten significant early support for the OSCAR. He also graced the final Star Wars installment and in the midst of a cast assembled for nostalgia and comic book action was quite solid. It’s doubtful that he’ll get a supporting actor nomination for that performance, but he’s demonstrated great range and strength.
The mention of De Niro brings up The Irishman, again, and the epic film could be quite dominant in an academy still very much controlled by long time, somewhat creatively conservative voters. The Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci cabal may not have fared well in early January voting, but there’s a long history of loyalty and tradition skewing the OSCAR results.
The supporting role nominations for the men should be another curtain call for names quite familiar to movie audiences. Tom Hanks portrayal of Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was mesmerizing in a totally different way than John Lithgow’s portrayal of Roger Ailes in Bombshell. Both were brilliant.
Timothee Chalamet is a young man who has already garnered attention for his performances in other films. His presence in Little Women provides perfect counterpoint to the characters of the four sisters of the Marsh household.
Finally, Brad Pitt’s laid back performance in Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood was the perfect counterpoint to Leonardo Di Caprio’s portrayal of the fading actor.
Then, once again, there’s The Irishman. Both Joe Pesci and Al Pacino deliver performances worthy of a nomination and may, as others, above, contend with each other for the OSCAR.
The bottom line
The bottom line is the bottom line. Advertisers will judge the effectiveness of their ad buy on the February 9 telecast of the Academy Awards by evaluating the overnight audience numbers, but the real benefactors of that usually over-long evening of relentless television will be the studios and distributors of the winning films.
Those who have not seen all of the contenders can wait until the envelopes are opened, the shrieks of surprise echo through the cavernous theatre, the rambling acceptance speeches drone on, and the swelling music of the play off cues fades into the late evening. Once winners and losers have been identified, the victory laps will begin with films booked into local movie houses for one or two week runs in late February, March, and early April to fill the gap created by limited releases of new titles. If you didn’t see the Best Picture when it was released, wait for it to come around, again, and marvel at the attributes that garnered enough of those 8,469 votes to be named “Winner.”