The Screen Actors Guild had their say a couple weeks ago when they announced their slate of nominees. Next week our friends across the Pond will get their turn when the BAFTA Award nominees come out. Today, we have the meat of this Awards Season undercard sandwich, as the other three major American production unions have all given us their fields.
We’re less than two weeks away from Oscar nominations, and with each day the picture comes more into focus. Do we have a Best Picture front-runner? Which film is likely to lead the party and compete in the most categories? The guilds typically give us some pretty solid insight, so let’s get to it.
Directors Guild of America – March 12
Feature Film Director
Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog
Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
Denis Villeneuve – Dune
First-Time Feature Film Director
Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter
Rebecca Hall – Passing
Tatiana Huezo – Prayers for the Stolen
Lin-Manuel Miranda – tick, tick… BOOM!
Michael Sarnoski – Pig
Emma Seligman – Shiva Baby
Documentary Film Director
Jessica Kingdon – Ascension
Stanley Nelson, Jr. – Attica
Raoul Peck – Exterminate All the Brutes
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – Summer of Soul
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin – The Rescue
I have two major thoughts here. One is, how dare you nominate Spielberg for his tainting of cinema? The second is, phew, I think my Blitz viewings might end up being pretty minimal this time around. Of all the films listed here, the only ones I haven’t seen are Passing, which is next up on my Netflix catch-up, and Exterminate All the Brutes, which is on HBO Max if I ever get around to it. It’s not on the Academy’s shortlist, so it’s extremely low priority.
Producers Guild of America – March 19
Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures
Being the Ricardos
Don’t Look Up
The Power of the Dog
tick, tick… BOOM!
West Side Story
Okay, this is the big one of the group, as Best Picture is given to the film’s producers on Oscar Night, and I believe that this year the Academy is fully expanding to 10 nominees (it’s been “up to 10” since the 2009 expansion, but they only went that high twice), so there’s a very good chance that the list you see here will be the list we get from the Academy in 11 days. There’s a chance for something to swap out, as the entire body gets to nominate Best Picture rather than just the Producing Branch, but be prepared. For me, this means making CODA a priority. I remember wanting to see it when it first came out, but it left theatres pretty quickly, and I didn’t get the chance. It’s on Apple TV right now, which means I have to wait until my roommates are out of the house so I can use the upstairs TV that has that particular streamer on it.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Don’t Look Up is the most likely to get bumped off this list, as it has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating by far. It currently stands at a “rotten” 56%, compared to an average of 87.67% for the rest of the field (Being the Ricardos is the only other nominee not “Certified Fresh” at only 68% approval). Now, it’s not impossible to get a Best Picture nod with that low of a rating, as Bohemian Rhapsody got on the list a couple years ago despite hovering around 60% at best. But it should also be noted that the audience score for that film was well over 90% at the time, and currently sits at 85%. For Don’t Look Up, the audience score is only 78%, which is fine, but not great, so it might be seen as either a mistake or a favor to Adam McKay for the Academy to include it in the final list.
The question is, if anything does fail to make the final cut, what goes in in their place? I see four possible answers (I can pine for Annette all I want, but I doubt it’ll get anything other than an Original Song nomination and maybe an acting nod for either Marion Cotillard or Adam Driver, though the latter could be up for any number of films from last year). I think the most likely is House of Gucci, which some outlets consider as a snub. I don’t know why, as consensus is that its only entertainment is in camp value, and it bridges the gap between Don’t Look Up and Being the Ricardos with a 63% rating. However, it does have an 83% audience score, which might be enough to get that Bohemian boost. If the Academy is going for something more mainstream and audience-friendly, however, their best bet is Spider-Man: No Way Home, which sits at 98% with viewers, but more importantly, 93% with critics. The other two dark horse candidates would be The Tragedy of Macbeth, which sits at 93% as well, and also has the heft of its cast and Joel Coen behind it, and C’mon C’mon, which has that Nebraska-esque feel of a true indie darling. It’s rated at 94% with 78% approval with the public.
On the animation front, it’s a little surprising to see Sing 2 nominated, because the critical consensus is that it’s only good if directly compared to its predecessor. But honestly, I wouldn’t read too much into this, as this is about the American union, which means foreign animated films like Flee and Belle wouldn’t be eligible. They had to pad the list to five somehow, and the only other option was probably Boss Baby 2, so they likely just flipped a coin and held their nose.
As for the documentaries, this may be the second consecutive year where we get relative agreement between all governing bodies. Only one DGA nominee isn’t on the Academy shortlist, and all eight PGA candidates are among the final 15 for the Oscar. Also, like last year, I’m sensing a consensus building around Summer of Soul, which I sort of resent, because while I loved the film, I can’t get over the fact that by having Questlove essentially serve as a sub-host for last year’s ceremony, AND by devoting broadcast time to promoting his project, the jury might be tainted on this one, leaving more deserving films in the proverbial lurch.
Writers Guild of America – March 20
Aaron Sorkin – Being the Ricardos
Adam McKay and David Sirota – Don’t Look Up
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman – The French Dispatch
Zach Baylin – King Richard
Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Siân Heder – CODA
Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth – Dune
Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan – Nightmare Alley
Steven Levenson – tick, tick… BOOM!
Tony Kushner – West Side Story
Max Monroe and Pax Wasserman – Being Cousteau
Marc Shaffer – Exposing Muybridge
Suzanne Joe Kai – Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres
Okay, we can immediately dispense with the Documentary field here. None of the nominees are in the Academy shortlist (Being Cousteau was the only one I’d even heard of), and honestly, even if they were, it wouldn’t really factor in to where the Documentary Branch’s collective thinking might go (to say nothing of the Academy writ large). And that’s because screenplays for documentaries are chiefly concerned with narration and voiceover, as well as any planned scenes. Someone like Michael Moore likely has good need of a screenplay, not because his work is fictional, but because he needs to map out his intentionally confrontational moments to fit his gonzo style. He can’t just show up at the Michigan governor’s mansion to yell at Rick Snyder from outside a gate. He’s a provocateur, so he needs to plan his speeches and his stunts. Even something as asinine as a Jackass movie technically counts as a documentary, as it’s non-fiction, but it still needs a script for all the introductions and explanations of the pranks.
Anyway, onto what really matters. For one, I am stunned that Kenneth Branagh was not nominated for Original Screenplay, especially when you consider that Don’t Look Up is in the mix despite massive criticism for McKay’s script (criticism he has not handled well, by all accounts). My initial thought was maybe that Branagh just isn’t in the WGA, so he wouldn’t be eligible, but he is in the DGA, as evidenced by his nomination there, so it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be a part of both unions. It’s not like he has to be an American citizen or anything. I will be very curious to see if this holds up when the Academy has their say in a few days.
Second, I’m a little disheartened that three of the five Adapted Screenplay nominees are all remakes. It’s even worse when not one of them acknowledges in their entry that they’re adapting not just the source material, but the previous films. For example, Spielberg and Kushner can say that they’re just re-adapting the stage show of West Side Story until they’re blue in the face. The fact remains that several scenes and pieces of choreography either reference or outright match the first movie, including having Bernardo duet with Anita on “America,” which was in the original cinematic adaptation and NOT the play. It’s just intellectually and artistically dishonest to keep pretending it’s not a remake. The only one who can make even the slightest credible argument is Dune, because this adaptation intentionally only covers half of Frank Herbert’s book, whereas the original film adapted the whole thing. But even then, it’s a stretch. It’s also just a reflection of the sad state of affairs with American film that we couldn’t get five first-time adaptations. Hopefully the Writing Branch of the Academy rectifies this by putting forward The Power of the Dog or The Lost Daughter. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to think that 60% of the best adapted screenplays have already been fucking done before. It just opens the door for so much future laziness on Hollywood’s part.
Join the conversation in the comments below! Do you agree with these nominees? Who do you think got snubbed? Am I just an old man yelling at a cloud when it comes to my position on remakes? Let me know!