In the stratosphere of cinephiles, the anticipation for a new David Fincher film is palpable. Unveiled by Netflix before a crowd of film critics and journalists on Thursday night, his 11th feature film “Mank” is both personal and technically proficient. It’s been a decade since Fincher received a nomination for best director for “The Social Network,” a loss that still resonates with many awards enthusiasts today. With “Mank,” he’ll most likely pick up another nomination in the category.
On the visual merits alone, “Mank,” which Netflix will release on its streaming platform on Dec. 4, is an impressive feat, likely to emulate past successes like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” or George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” — movies that ran up the numbers with multiple statuettes in previous awards years. As grand and impressive as the film is, it may have some challenges to maneuver on its way to the Dolby Theatre. In a year that has seen the movie industry (and movie theaters) put on hold, the celebration of the movies is likely to be top of mind for awards voters. With that said, the look at the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz’s development of Orson Welles’ iconic “Citizen Kane” unfolds as an advanced placement course in cinema, with maybe some Cliffs Notes needed to comprehend the story.
In fairness, older awards voters will devour this take on classic Hollywood, taking in all its gorgeous sets, costumes and cinematic structure. It’s likely to be a favorite of the actors branch, and very well could be a favorite at the SAG Awards for best cast ensemble, many of its players could end up among the nominated five in their respective categories. Gary Oldman, who won his Oscar in 2018 for “Darkest Hour,” is just as effortless in his portrayal as Herman J. Mankiewicz as you would expect from an actor of his stature. In a year that looks to be very competitive, he could coast his way to a nomination. But it’s also possible, as with Robert DeNiro in “The Irishman” last year, he could be snubbed in the best actor category.
Amanda Seyfried, an underrated actress in the dramatic space, has the type of role to which AMPAS voters have typically responded positively. Playing classic star Marion Davies, partnered with a seemingly thin supporting actress field so far, the “Les Miserables” and “Mean Girls” star could nab her first Academy Award nomination.
For the supporting men, there may be more difficulty deciding which, or if any of them, will be able to make headway in a robust field. I found Arliss Howard’s Louis B. Mayer incredibly engaging and invigorating in a walk-down-the-hallway tracking shot — my favorite scene of the movie. British veteran Charles Dance may have enough juice to propel him to his first Oscar nomination with two-scene punch that could get a response from voters. As Mank’s brother Joseph Mankiewicz, the famous four-time Oscar-winner for films like “All About Eve,” Tom Pelphrey hones in on the heart of the picture, which admittedly could be seen as lacking to some while Tom Burke is fully transformative as Orson Welles himself, and a standout.
The meticulous details place this film as the clear frontrunner in several key categories. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, in his feature narrative debut, could make history as the first person to win an Oscar for best cinematography on his first movie. Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda nearly achieved this feat with “Benjamin Button,” following his first work on “Failure to Launch.”
Production designer Donald Graham Burt, who won his first Academy Award with Fincher for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” along with Oscar-nominated set designer Jan Pascale (“Good Night, and Good Luck.”) leap out as the clear frontrunners for their respective categories. The recreation of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood is beautifully invented.
Made to feel like any classic movie of the modern era, the sound team will be most definitively embraced while Emmy nominee Trish Summerville (HBO’s “Westworld”) is barreling towards her first Oscar nomination for best costumes.
Composing duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won their Academy Award in 2010 for “The Social Network” but have failed to be invited back despite strong efforts with “Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” put forth their most innovative efforts yet. Unrecognizable to anything they’ve ever composed, the pairing may be a double threat with upcoming work in Pixar’s “Soul,” which would make them the first double-nominated composers since Alexandre Desplat, who won his Oscar for “The Shape of Water.”
So where does all this ultimately land? While critics and Film Twitter will love “Mank,” most of Netflix’s subscribers, like anyone in my own family, will be bored by it. But in 2018, that didn’t hurt “Roma” from picking up 10 Oscar nominations. The story, penned by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher, very well could be the first posthumous winner in a screenplay category since Sidney Howard for “Gone with the Wind” in 1939. The dialogue is rich and dense, and this is a passion project for Fincher, who was supposed to make this film following “The Game” in the late 1990s. Any heavy criticism that could come the film’s way in terms of story structure, could be muted or unspoken due to the filmmaker’s relationship with the screenwriter.
As for Fincher himself, we may see a real battle in the best director field between him and Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland.” The two films, along with Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” from Aaron Sorkin and Amazon Studios’ “One Night in Miami” may be the ones to duke it out for the top prize.
I can foresee a scenario where “Mank” leads in the nomination tally with 13, garnering every technical nomination available, even visual effects and makeup and hairstyling. At least that’s what’s currently predicted in my Oscar prediction charts. But I can’t help but wonder: What if “Roma” and “Mank” were swapped in their calendar years, proving the point that timing is everything? I think “Mank” would steamroll over “Green Book” in 2019, and that would have been Netflix’s first best picture win. But this year at least, the streamer still has much more in the running.