It’s never too early to talk Oscars. Here are 5 things to think about now
Los Angeles – When we last left off, Joaquin Phoenix had just announced Anthony Hopkins as the winner of the evening’s final Oscar. Hopkins wasn’t on hand to accept. There was scattered applause from the few people sitting inside a nearly empty train station and … that’s all folks. The 93rd Academy Awards ended not with a bang but a bleat.
Seven months, two vaccination shots and a booster later, the motion picture academy is ready to try again, anxious, like so many people here and outside Hollywood, to forget the last couple of miserable years, put on a happy face and celebrate the magic of movies and, sure, content-churning streaming platforms.
After inviting an additional 395 people to join this year, the academy now has about 10,700 members, half of which seemed to be at the screening of George Clooney’s pleasant-enough coming-of-age tale “The Tender Bar” early last month, packing the lobby of the Directors Guild just to get a glimpse of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez holding hands. Delta variant be damned, there are plenty of parties and receptions happening every night around town these days and even the post-screening buffets are once again booming. (Along with the Arclight Hollywood, can someone please resuscitate Souplantation?)
In other words, it’s business as usual, even if the academy still isn’t hosting its regular weekend screenings for members, the disgraced Golden Globes might be announced next year on Facebook Live for all we know, and nobody in Hollywood has a clue where the film industry is heading.
So what do we know? Here are five thoughts as we count the final days before the last two contenders – Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” adaptation and Guillermo del Toro’s psychological thriller “Nightmare Alley” – finally begin screening for voters and critics.
1. There will be a fixed 10 best picture nominees this year.
After “The Dark Knight” best picture “snub,” the academy expanded the best picture pool to 10. That held for two years until leadership bowed to traditionalists’ complaints that the prestige of a nomination had been cheapened. In retrospect, that outrage seems a bit silly, given that the movies nominated in 2008, the last year with a fixed five, were “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” No … you wouldn’t want to dilute that kind of prestige, would you?
For the next decade, rules were in place that would (supposedly) lead to five to 10 best picture nominees. (It always ended up being eight or nine.) But now we’re back to 10, and that’s cause for celebration. For one thing, academy members will now once again rank 10 movies on their nomination ballots instead of five, a mind- and bias-freeing improvement that will open up the best picture pool in a way that should satisfy anyone championing that proposed Popular Film Oscar three years ago.
Consider the movies that were nominated in those two years of 10: “Up” (a classic that managed to escape the kids table that is the animated feature Oscar), “District 9” (smart sci-fi decrying xenophobia), “Winter’s Bone” (the kind of austere indie movie that rarely found favor before the expansion) and, yes, a Christopher Nolan movie, “Inception.” The new rules worked!
And they will work again … provided that tedious Bond movie doesn’t make it in.
2. “Dune” will be nominated for best picture.
Or maybe I should say, in honor of Hans Zimmer’s molar-rattling score: DUNE WILL BE NOMINATED FOR BEST PICTURE!!!!!!!!!!!!
And it would have been nominated even if the rules hadn’t changed. I’ve spoken with a few academy members who love Denis Villeneuve’s polished, ponderous adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic. I’ve spoken with many who respect the scale, even if they needed to be occasionally nudged awake. (The true purpose of the Zimmer score, perhaps?) But everyone I’ve run into has at least seen it, either on (shudder) HBO Max or at one of the many, many screenings held for voters on the Warner Bros. lot.
Factor in all the likely crafts recognition – sound, visual effects, film editing, production design, cinematography and, yes, original score – and “Dune” could prove to be a juggernaut on nominations morning. Acting nods will likely prove elusive, though, unless voters can’t shake the image of a jowly, naked Stellan Skarsgard from their memory banks. (Maybe that is what Timothée Chalamet sees when he puts his hand in the pain box.)
3. “House of Gucci” and “The Last Duel” probably won’t be nominated.
Or, at least, they shouldn’t. Two new, big-swing movies from Ridley Scott, who will turn 84 at the end of the month, cannot be easily dismissed. But both films are crippled by cluttered, unfocused scripts and, in the case of the near-three-hour “Gucci,” an ensemble of actors who appear to have wildly different ideas about what movie they’re making.
“Duel” died a quick death at the multiplex, though in these uncertain times, that’s not the badge of shame it used to be. “Gucci” has won some ardent fans swooning over Lady Gaga’s scenery-chewing, roaring, Haaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ahhaaaaaa-ahhhh-ahhh-ohhhh-ah!!! turn as the story’s aggrieved Lady Macbeth stand-in, which I can appreciate up till the movie consigns her to the background. And by that point, a bald Jared Leto has already urinated on a Gucci scarf. I mean, where do you go from there?
4. Academy membership continues to grow globally. Let’s see that reflected in the voting.
Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English-language movie to win best picture two years ago; Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg earned a directing nomination last year for “Another Round,” an Oscar that Bong also won. This year, you could make a strong case that both lead acting awards should go to actors in films originating from other countries: Norwegian standout Renate Reinsve for her star-making turn as a young woman navigating adulthood in Joachim Trier’s sublime “The Worst Person in the World” and Japan’s Hidetoshi Nishijima, spellbinding in what might be the year’s best movie, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s epic “Drive My Car.”
You wouldn’t think most academy members would need to, in the immortal words of Bong, “overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles,” but it remains to be seen whether we’ll ever have a slate of nominations that truly reflect the best in film, unbound by borders.
5. Make sure this year’s ceremony has a host. And a sense of purpose.
For reasons that were beyond the academy’s control (and others that could have easily been foreseen and fixed), last year’s Oscars felt diminished. Emulate Sir Ridley and take a big swing, even if it misses. The show needs to be big, bold and worthy of the grand tradition that is the Academy Awards.
Bonus thought: Hire Hans Zimmer to conduct the orchestra. It’d be worth a little temporary tinnitus to help get that Oscar swagger back.