It’s not just about the best when it comes to the Oscars. It’s about the most watched. The voters are made up of working industry folks who don’t have the luxury of dedicating infinite hours to watching hundreds of films in the calendar year. That’s where awards strategists come in: They help create and build upon the narratives around the movies you “need” to watch before filling out your ballot. This strategy has benefited studios with hefty marketing budgets, such as streamers Apple and Netflix, and box office titans like “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Each year, after multiple conversations with voters during varying times in the season about which movies they are favoring, I’m still surprised not to hear them mention some of the critically lauded features, even high-profile ones pundits have been touting. One member of the actors branch says they’ve seen three movies this year — “The Batman,” “Thirteen Lives” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” “I loved them all,” they tell Variety. “There’s so much I have to catch up on. I plan on doing it over the Christmas break.”
It’s impossible to pack an entire year’s worth of cinema into the final two weeks. This year, many films have generated buzz, but certain factors work against genre and smaller, independent features that are deserving of notice.
Films portraying historical moments, especially those surrounding racial and gender-equality issues, can be perceived as “homework” by Academy voters. Although “Till,” which depicts the harrowing story of the mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till following his murder, is surging enough for best actress contender Danielle Deadwyler, but other elements of the film are worth considering, especially the heartbreaking script and tender direction by Chinonye Chukwu.
Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” looks at the women of an isolated religious community who grapple with the brutal reality of their faith. Some strategists fear the film will not be given a proper shake by grumpy old men in the industry. But it boasts the year’s most impressive ensemble of acting performances and a fleeting 104-minute run time, and Hollywood shouldn’t be shy about engaging with the cold hard truth of inequality in our society.
Films released in the first half of the year struggle to keep afloat on the circuit. Critics and social media cinephiles are helping A24’s multiverse comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Warner Bros.’ “Elvis,” which debuted in March and June respectively, overcome the obstacle. However, the Viking epic “The Northman” and the meta action film “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which were highly anticipated at the time of their release, haven’t been brought up in many circles lately.
To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.
Genre bias will always hold horror and science fiction films back — mostly due to an elitist view of them — which is why we can’t bet on the fifth installment of “Scream” or the slasher flick “Pearl” making any noise. But if voters can find a soft spot for comedy, perhaps lighthearted fare such as Apple Original Films’ “Cha Cha Real Smooth” or A24’s animated-live action hybrid “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” will be given its due. In the case of the latter, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more delightfully worthy entrant for adapted screenplay, and yes, even best picture.
When it comes to non-English-language titles, we’ve seen progress with the representation of international titles receiving accolades. One year after Japan’s “Drive My Car” beat the odds and landed in major categories such as best picture, there’s a probable chance two international features — Germany’s war drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” and South Korea’s crime thriller “Decision to Leave” — could break out of their category, which would be a first in Academy history. I’m deep in the trenches for Belgium’s coming-of-age story “Close,” Denmark’s religious thriller “Holy Spider” and France’s courtroom drama “Saint Omer,” not only for best picture but for acting and technical accolades. All use suspense, tension and heartbreaking emotion to convey their respective themes.
Also flying under the radar, mostly because voters tend to confine them to their own category, are nonfiction films such as Amazon Studios’ “Good Night Oppy.” About the two Mars rovers that were expected to be operational for 90 days but went on for 15 years, it’s the “CODA” of documentaries this year. Bringing warm feelings of delight, the story of two robots and a whole lot of scientists just might make you physically weep. Not acknowledging that the sound, visuals and music are also awards caliber would be an exercise in insanity.
Similarly, Chris Smith’s “Sr.” — about director Robert Downey, the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. — has remained top of mind since debuting at Telluride. The thought of Downey Jr., who appears in the film and produced it, getting an Oscar is too cool to ignore.
An alarming trend that has developed this season, one that multiple industry insiders and strategists have cited, is the difficulty of getting Academy members to attend official in-person screenings. Some voters say COVID fears still loom, while others have grown accustomed to watching films online in the Academy Screening Room. Not only the Academy but other organizations, such as BAFTA, have begun allowing three or even four guests to make attendance easier for members with families and to encourage participation.
We need movies, and in turn, they need us. Show it by showing up.
Oscar voters should also make time for any and all of the following 10 movies — Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun” (A24), J.D. Dillard’s “Devotion” (Sony Pictures), Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation” (Apple Original Films), Elegance Bratton’s “The Inspection” (A24), James Morosini’s “I Love My Dad” (Magnolia Pictures), Max Walker-Silverman’s “A Love Song” (Bleecker Street), Nikyatu Jusu’s “Nanny” (Amazon Studios), Kathryn Ferguson’s “Nothing Compares” (Showtime Documentary Films), S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” (Variance Films) and Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Silent Twins” (Focus Features).
Updated predictions for the Academy Awards pages will come Wednesday of this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
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