Oscars: ‘The Power of the Dog’ Dominates Awards Weekend, But the Answer to Best Picture Lies Within the Screenplay Races
Netflix has the right to flex after this weekend’s trio of big wins from the Directors Guild of America (DGA), BAFTA and Critics Choice Awards, where it won the top prizes with Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog.” With its mighty 12 nomination haul, and the criticism from Oscar-nominee Sam Elliott over the movie’s homosexual themes, arguably helping it along, the film could be headed for B-E-S-T-P-I-C-T-U-R-E (so to speak). However, with two 50/50 screenplay categories up for grabs — “Belfast” and “Licorice Pizza” battling for original, and “CODA” and “The Power of the Dog” angling for adapted — the answer to which film wins the Academy’s top prize is within those races.
Walking into a ceremony with the most nominations is not always a given for Oscar success, shown by our last three tally leaders: “Mank” (2020), “Joker” (2019), “The Favourite” and “Roma” (2018). Campion’s methodical drama has brought Netflix the closest it’s ever been to winning the top prize from the Academy, something that’s been an obvious focus for the streamer. With final Oscar voting set to begin on Thursday and closing on March 22, massive momentum is in Netflix’s favor leading into the window. However, BAFTA provided a nail-biter for the Western, especially after losing adapted screenplay to Siân Heder’s “CODA,” which also won supporting actor (Troy Kotsur). The beloved auteur still managed to walk away with the top prizes for best film and director. Typically, the BAFTAs don’t “over-reward” movies. While the Oscars have awarded “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) with 11 statuettes each, George Roy Hill’s classic western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) is the most BAFTA-awarded movie ever with nine.
Assessing the pathway to victory, “Power” could mimic its BAFTA tally for best picture and director, but that outcome could be less likely than it picking up another one or two prizes for screenplay and possibly cinematography for Ari Wegner, who won CCA. Only Lewis Milestone’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) and Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938) have won best picture and director only. Since the best picture expansion in 2009, the most-awarded film has been “The Hurt Locker” (2009) with six and “The Artist” (2011) with five, with the rest with four or less. Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” (2015), a look at journalists exposing sexual abuse in the Catholic church, won two prizes for original screenplay and picture, the first winner with only two since “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952). Coincidentally, 1952 was the first year that “The Bad and the Beautiful” became the most awarded film with five, not nominated for picture and director. Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” could be barreling towards unseating it on the director’s side.
The scenario for a “CODA” winning night for Apple Original Films would be a sweep of its three Oscar noms — picture, supporting actor and adapted screenplay. It wasn’t nominated in BAFTA’s best film category, and a movie hasn’t won the Oscar without a nom there since “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) due to its late release. You have to go back to “Braveheart” (1995) for a film that was able to overcome the obstacles, but it’s worth nothing that BAFTA took place after the Oscar ceremony. However, “CODA” still won the two crossover categories it has with the Oscars.
BAFTAs adapted screenplay track record has been sound, with five of the last six winners winning the Academy Award. Also noteworthy, the one “discrepancy” of “Lion” (2016) saw the ultimate Oscar winner “Moonlight” nominated in original screenplay at the ceremony due to the WGA and Oscar ruling mismatch.
On the original screenplay side of the house, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” won BAFTA. At the same time, Branagh’s film took home the Critics Choice, something many predicted would be vice versa by the methodology and makeup of the two groups. With 11 career noms, this could be Anderson’s overdue moment with the Academy with his dramedy that’s also nominated for picture and director. However, Branagh has eight career nominations, and seven are in separate categories, making him the first to achieve such a feat. While no one is thinking “Licorice Pizza” is a threat to win best picture for MGM/United Artists Releasing, an Anderson winning moment would likely tell us that “Belfast” could be going home empty-handed.
The pathway for “Belfast” could mimic the “Spotlight” route, with the film taking original screenplay and picture. If the monochrome drama has any chance, it would be due to the preferential ballot, which is how AMPAS members vote for best picture, while BAFTA and Critics Choice do not. That would put Branagh’s personal drama in place to emulate the only three best picture winners that only won the top prize: “The Broadway Melody” (1929), “Grand Hotel” (1932) and “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935). With statistical records falling every year, it would make sense in such a topsy-turvy season.
It’s also important to highlight that last year’s BAFTA winner “Nomadland” (2020) was the first match with Oscar since “12 Years a Slave” (2013). Critics Choice has matched four times in that same timeframe with the aforementioned two, and adding “Spotlight” (2015) and “The Shape of Water” (2017).
If you are someone that believes that “The Power of the Dog” could win director solely, you have to go back to Mike Nichols for “The Graduate” (1967) for a movie to win that category only. In fact, there are seven in total that have done it, with the majority of them being in the first few years of the Academy.
Mike Nichols, “The Graduate” (1967)
George Stevens, “Giant” (1956)
Leo McCarey, “The Awful Truth” (1937)
Frank Capra, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936)
Norman Taurog, “Skippy” (1931)
Frank Lloyd, “The Divine Lady” (1928)
Lewis Milestone, “Two Arabian Knights” (1927)** **at the first Oscar ceremony, directing was divided into dramatic picture and comedy picture. Milestone won for comedy and was the film’s only nomination.
The ranked theories and probabilities for Oscar night for winning PICTURE / DIRECTOR / ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY / ADAPTED SCREENPLAY are:
The Power of the Dog / Jane Campion / Licorice Pizza / The Power of the Dog
CODA / Jane Campion / Belfast / CODA
CODA / Jane Campion / Licorice Pizza / CODA
The Power of the Dog / Jane Campion / Belfast / The Power of the Dog
Belfast / Jane Campion / Belfast / CODA
Belfast / Jane Campion / Licorice Pizza / CODA
Simply: “The Power of the Dog” can’t win without winning screenplay, “CODA” can’t win without sweeping and “Belfast” can’t win without “The Power of the Dog” losing adapted screenplay. Either way, Jane Campion is going to win director.
We’re almost there. and PGA, as always, will be crucial. The Oscar predicted winners (as of March 14) are down below, and yes, they are likely to change.
Best Picture: “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix) – Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappie
Director: Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
Actor: Will Smith, “King Richard” (Warner Bros)
Actress: Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures)
Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, “CODA” (Apple Original Films)
Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)
Original Screenplay: “Belfast” (Focus Features) – Kenneth Branagh
Adapted Screenplay: “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix) – Jane Campion
Animated Feature: “Encanto” (Walt Disney Pictures) – Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer
Production Design: “Dune” (Warner Bros) – Patrice Vermette, Zsuzsanna Sipos