How the Oscar Race Stacks Up Now That the Guilds Have Spoken (Sorry, ‘Spider-Man’)

·6-min read

A baker’s dozen of different Hollywood guilds have now made their choices for the best film accomplishments of 2021, culminating this week with a day in which the Producers Guild, Writers Guild and Directors Guild all announced their nominations within a few hours of each other.

And when the dust cleared, the Oscar race looked pretty much the same way it did before the guilds started announcing nominations.

“Belfast?” Check. “The Power of the Dog?” Yep. “West Side Story,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “CODA,” “Dune,” “Don’t Look Up”? It sure looks that way.

Yes, the guilds did put a dent in a few films’ chances. Sorry about that, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “No Time to Die.” You deserve better, “C’mon C’mon” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

But there were no dramatic changes when awards season shifted from critics, journalists and academics to film professionals, except among those who thought that rave reviews and critics’ awards for “Drive My Car” and “Spencer” meant that those films would be getting some real traction in the race.

And if the guild awards narrowed the field a bit and shone a spotlight on a handful of contenders, they didn’t anoint a real front runner, because every film came out of the guilds with a dent or two.

If there’s a grand slam of film awards on the road to Oscars, it consists of landing nominations in the top film categories at the Directors Guild, Producers Guild and Writers Guild, and also getting an ensemble-cast nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. This year, no film did all four of those things.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” were nominated by all four groups, but their SAG nominations were for individual actors, not their ensembles. Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” got a SAG ensemble nomination and followed with noms from the PGA and DGA, but it wasn’t eligible for a WGA nomination because of guild rules limiting eligibility to screenplays written under their jurisdiction. And Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” was also disqualified from the WGA Awards – and although it received three individual SAG nominations, the most of any film, it somehow failed to get an ensemble nod.

Still, “Belfast” and “The Power of the Dog” were nominated for every major guild award they were eligible for, and also for the crucial film-editing prize from the American Cinema Editors. That puts them at the top of the list of contenders, along with “West Side Story” and perhaps “Licorice Pizza” (though the fact that the latter film’s sole SAG nomination came for Bradley Cooper’s extended cameo is hardly a show of strength).

Then you’ve got to come to terms with Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” which wasn’t nominated for any SAG Awards unless you include the stunt category. Apart from that, though, it swept the table with a dozen nominations from every other guild or professional society, three more than “West Side Story” managed. There’s not much recent precedent for a big movie like this winning the top Oscar, but a hefty chunk of the Academy consists of below-the-line craftspeople, and “Dune” likely belongs in the top five.

But if those are the top five, what are the next five for the Best Picture category – which, after all, is back to a guaranteed 10 nominees? Well, the guilds give us exactly five films that were nominated by SAG, PGA and WGA, missing only the DGA (which offered up a formidable quintet of Anderson, Branagh, Campion, Spielberg and Villeneuve, a hard club to crash). Those five are Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos,” Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,”  Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard,” Sian Heder’s “CODA” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “tick, tick…BOOM!”

It’s conceivable those five films will complete the Best Picture category, but history suggests not: Since the Academy and the PGA expanded their slate of nominees, the two bodies have never matched exactly.

“Being the Ricardos” was the closest thing to a surprise on the PGA lineup – and if there’s a difference between that guild and the Oscar voters, it could be the most vulnerable film. Andrew Garfield is a sure thing for “tick, tick…BOOM!” but the film itself isn’t a slam dunk to give the slate of nominees a second musical alongside “West Side Story.” (It’s not unprecedented for two musicals to be nominated for Best Picture in the same year – but unless you count “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” as musicals, it hasn’t happened since 1968.)

It seems more likely that “Don’t Look Up,” “CODA” and “King Richard” (all of which have SAG ensemble nominations) are the safest films in that group of five, and that “Ricardos” and “tick, tick” will join a group of several films vying for the last two spots.

Others in that group are Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” (SAG and WGA, plus five more craft nominations), Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (which could have enough passionate fans to benefit from the Academy’s ranked-choice voting system), Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” (divisive isn’t necessarily bad in this system), Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” (which would get a big boost if Penélope Cruz lands the Best Actress nomination she richly deserves) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” (but only if the Academy’s increasingly large international contingent really flexes its muscles, which seems unlikely).

And then there’s the year’s one true blockbuster, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which seemed to be accumulating lots of good will as a very entertaining film that actually brought people back to theaters. But its failure to receive a PGA nomination doesn’t bode well for its Oscar chances; if the producers didn’t embrace a $1.7 billion hit, who will? Meanwhile, the surprisingly touching “No Time to Die,” the capper to Daniel Craig’s career as James Bond, seems to have lost momentum since its opening in the fall.

Conspicuously missing in action: Pablo Larrain’s “Spencer,” which after its Venice Film Festival premiere was acclaimed as a brilliant slow-burn gem that would catapult Kristen Stewart to a sure Best Actress nomination and a likely win. The critics loved it but the guilds were not kind: Jonny Greenwood picked up a Society of Composers and Lyricists nomination for his score, but otherwise it has been completely shut out, with Stewart a shocking casualty as SAG’s biggest snub. Oscar voters can still rally behind it before polls close on Feb. 1, but so far we haven’t seen any evidence that they will.

So here, I suspect, is where we stand, post-guilds:

Top 10:
“Belfast” (Focus Features)
“The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
“West Side Story” (20th Century)
“Licorice Pizza” (MGM)
“Dune” (Warner Bros.)
“King Richard” (Warner Bros.)
“Don’t Look Up” (Netflix)
“CODA” (Apple)
“tick, tick…BOOM!” (Netflix)
“Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight)

Next 5:
“Being the Ricardos” (Amazon)
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple)
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony)
“Parallel Mothers” (Sony Classics)
“House of Gucci” (MGM)

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