Oscar voting will be underway in a week, two days after the Golden Globes Awards take place and three days before the Critics Choice Awards. And while there are still doubts about which films will land the final few Best Picture nominations and a huge question of which one will win, we shouldn’t expect either of those ceremonies to give us any answers.
After all, a year ago those shows didn’t give us any hints that a little Sundance movie, “CODA,” could surge in February and March and actually end up winning Best Picture.
The key thing to remember is that we’re still in the stage where critics and journalists are voting, rather than when film professionals are casting ballots. And until we get some solid info from bodies like the Producers Guild (nominations Jan. 12, awards Feb. 25), the Directors Guild (noms Jan. 11, awards Feb. 18), the Writers Guild (noms Jan. 25, awards March 5) and the Screen Actors Guild (noms Jan. 11, awards Feb. 26), we don’t know as much as we might think we do.
This has been especially true in the six years since the Academy began its concerted effort to expand its ranks and create a more diverse and more international body of voters. In that period, the top Golden Globes winners have matched the Oscar Best Picture winner only three times, even with two Globes’ Best Film categories (one for dramas and one for musicals and comedies) presumably giving them twice as much chance to predict the Oscar winner.
The Critics Choice Awards, meanwhile, have only matched twice over those six years, agreeing with the Academy on “Nomadland” and “The Shape of Water” but missing Oscar winners “CODA,” “Parasite,” “Green Book” and “Moonlight.” (The CCA choices those years were “The Power of the Dog,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Roma” and “La La Land,” respectively.)
In other words, “The Fabelmans” could win the top Golden Globe on Tuesday and the Critics Choice Award the following Sunday without being any more assured the Oscar; “The Banshees of Inisherin” or “Everything Everywhere All at Once” could be upset winners without significantly improving their chances with Academy voters.
Remember: Last year at this point in the awards calendar, “CODA” was a heartwarming little indie that was going to be honored just to be nominated. The very definition of a late-breaking film, it scored its two big wins on Feb. 27 at the SAG Awards and March 19 at the Producers Guild Awards.
Is there a “CODA” lurking in the shadows this year? If so, it’ll take industry voters, not critics’ or reporters’ groups, to bring it into the light.
In the meantime, here’s the Best Picture outlook as we head into the final two months of awards season.
The Surest Bets
“The Fabelmans” (Universal)
“The Banshees of Inisherin” (Searchlight)
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)
These three seem pretty unassailable. “The Fabelmans” has been a presumed frontrunner since it premiered in Toronto in September, though it’s by no means a secure bet to win. The black humor of “Banshees” turns some people off, but it will easily have enough passionate support to advance. And “Everything Everywhere” can be similarly divisive, but divisiveness doesn’t hurt a film in the nomination round of voting.
The Popular Movies That Should Lure Voters
“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount)
“Avatar: The Way of Water” (20th Century)
“Elvis” (Warner Bros.)
Big hits aren’t usually Oscar movies, but this year it’s hard to imagine that voters won’t recognize these three. “Top Gun” is probably the one lock in the group, but the others are formidable as well.
The Indie Movies That Should Lure Voters
“Women Talking” (United Artists Releasing)
The Best Picture slate was expanded from five to 10 nominees in 2009 to bring in a larger variety of films and hopefully some commercial movies as well, but it mainly resulted in more indies landing nominations. Todd Field’s “Tár” is the top film with critics groups this year – and while that doesn’t get you a Best Picture win unless you’re “Parasite,” it usually gets you a nomination. And Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” is a quiet tour de force from a female director, the kind of movie the Academy needs to embrace.
The Films Fighting for the Last Two Slots
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix)
“Living” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (Netflix)
“The Woman King” (Sony)
“She Said” (Universal)
“The Whale” (A24)
There are some intriguing wild cards here. “Glass Onion” might well be Netflix’s best shot at a Best Picture nomination, but the German-language “All Quiet on the Western Front” was so strong on the Oscar shortlists and the BAFTA longlists that it shouldn’t be underestimated. And with an increasingly international Academy membership, the Indian sensation “RRR” can’t be overlooked, either.
“Babylon,” “The Woman King” and “She Said” would be more typical choices, while “Living” is subtle but beloved and “The Whale” is tough but with passionate adherents. If I had to guess right now, I’d take a risk on the quiet movie, “Living,” and the loud one with the word quiet in its title, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”